It was a time of great spiritual awakening. If you lived during this period (late 1700s to 1950s or 60s), you would have felt the fire of evangelism sparking in the hearts of so many around you. You might have been caught up in the fire yourself, like tens of thousands of others. These left the comforts of life in Europe or America and traveled to the remotest parts of the earth, taking the light of salvation to those in spiritual darkness.
Many of these brave individuals died at sea, in the jungles of Africa and South America, or at the hands of the very people they abandoned everything to help. Still, they went. Their fire was contagious, their sacrifices not in vain. Thousands upon thousands heard the gospel and came to salvation because of them. Some of missions’ great heroes come to my mind: Adoniram Judson of Burma; Hudson Taylor and Lottie Moon of China; David Livingstone of Africa; Jim Elliott and his brave co-workers in Ecuador — just to name a few.
I was a child of this great evangelical movement. My parents were among the courageous men and women who left everything and crossed a vast ocean to an unknown land because of their passion for the souls of people they had never met. I owe my wonderful childhood memories of growing up in Africa to this movement. More than that, I owe my passion for missions to the brave men and women who belonged to the generations before me.
In Revelation 3:8, God tells the church in Philadelphia, “I have placed before you an open door that no one can shut.” Previous generations had an open door too. Theirs was a great calling, and many heeded it. This calling was filled with adventure, challenge, love for their fellow man, and the joy of seeing God move and lost souls saved.
I stood at the feet of those generations who had bravely gone through an open door. I saw their zeal for the Lord and their courage in the face of difficulties. The Nigerian mission where I grew up faced the Biafran War. My parents and missionary aunts and uncles witnessed the genocide of the Igbo people, the constant presence of armed soldiers, sudden evacuations, and the fear that the civil war could be in their front yard at any time. Yet they kept their course, loving the hurting people around them and leading many to Christ.
These missionaries that came before me remained faithful to their Lord and to their calling. My prayer is that the generation that comes after ours will find us faithful, too, in whatever tasks God gives us. Maybe that task does not require leaving our homes, but if God plans it for us, we need to go and do, even if it’s just go out our front doors and share Jesus with our neighbor or even our family.
To appreciate that movement so long ago, let’s continue the journey in our imaginations. Climb aboard a boat with me, bound for a foreign land you have known only from books and lectures. You don’t know how to speak the language; you have only a sketchy understanding of the culture, and no idea of what lies ahead. You have said goodbye to the family you love, and will not see them again for several years.
You look back and see the coastline fading from view behind you. You turn your face forward. A salty mist hits your face as the breeze blows through your hair. A grand adventure beckons you. There are places to go, people to meet, souls in need of a Savior.