Let's see what Mr. Beaver did. When assigned to this new, untouched field, his heart and the heart of his wife were deeply moved. Ten thousand souls and more, and probably not one of them a Christian! Ten thousand souls and more, and it might well be that none of them had ever heard the Gospel preached in any adequate way! Ten thousand souls and more, and the large majority of them had never even heard the name of Jesus! What an opportunity! What a challenge!
"Such a challenge calls for action," ruminated Mr. Beaver. "It calls for immediate action, and yet action that is well planned, and will be as effective as possible. How can we reach the largest number of souls for Christ in the shortest time? But what can two people do, anyway? We must have helpers. We must have a church building, and a native evangelist or two. We must have a street chapel. We must have a Christian school, for through it we can reach countless numbers of young people. Our church and school will be established in the central city of the area, of course. But then, think of all the smaller towns and villages! As soon as things get going in the city, we must start outstations in strategic market towns as well. We must organize tent campaigns, making use of modern equipment -- public address system, recordings, films, and all the rest. We must also start a social welfare program that will help us to get in touch with the poorer classes -- and aren't the bulk of the people always poor? A certain amount of relief funds, administered carefully to the deserving, will make the love of Christ known in a practical way, and surely will attract folk to our church."
So ran the thoughts of Mr. and Mrs. Beaver, and, because they were "go-getters," their plans were soon put into effect. A fine piece of property was purchased. Buildings were erected: a residence for themselves, a preaching hall opening directly on the main street, fine school buildings, and a beautiful church building. Crowds of people came to listen to the singing, to see Christian films, and to hear the Gospel preached in simplicity and power. It was not long before people were giving their names as inquirers. The missionaries' servants were among the first to respond, and their friends and relatives followed. Other helpers around the place were needed: a gardener, a gatekeeper, and so on, and naturally these were chosen from among the first converts. Soon the busy compound was like one happy family -- all gathering the first thing in the morning for prayer, and joining their voices in song, praising the One of whom they had never heard three months ago, but who now was their acknowledged Saviour. Callers came from morning till night. Mr. Beaver was never too busy to see them, to hear their tales of woe, to point them to the Saviour, and to give them a little judicious help.
"It's not too wise," he thought, "to give out a lot of money for nothing. I don't want to make paupers of these people. What they need is jobs, and someone who will encourage them to work, training them if necessary. Let's see -- I've got quite a bit of relief funds in hand; and there's plenty of work that needs to be done to improve this property. So-and-so [one of the new inquirers] is a builder; I'll put him in charge of operations, and we'll take on all these poor people who need help -- much better than giving them help outright -- and we'll really put this place into shape. Not only will our property benefit, but it will also give these people a chance to hear the Gospel again and again, until they really understand it. I'm sure that many of them will accept the Lord if this plan goes through!"
And so things went. Such large numbers gave their names as inquirers, and they studied and attended services so faithfully that within six months the first baptismal service was held. What joy it brought to the hearts of Mr. and Mrs. Beaver! Two other such services were held before the first year was up, and by that time Mr. Beaver felt it right to appoint deacons, and to get the church on an organized basis. He chose several of the most promising young people, including one who had served in his home, and sent them off to a Bible institute, looking forward with great joy to the time when they would graduate and come back to help him in the work. Then he would be able to let his original evangelists go (they were getting a bit too bossy anyway, and thought they knew how the Lord's work should be carried on better than he did!), and have only his own spiritual children associated with him in the work. They would all work happily under his direction, and surely the Lord could bless more where the workers were all one in heart. Well, he wouldn't say that these evangelists were not one in heart with him, but still -- sometimes he felt that there was just a little something lacking. Sometimes they didn't support his plans with all the enthusiasm that they might.
By the time three more years had passed, Mr. Beaver had put up church buildings in six market towns, and was just waiting until his first young people graduated from the Bible institute and came back before starting regular weekly services in the last three of the six towns. He traveled constantly, and wherever he went the people flocked to him for help and advice. True, there were one or two that turned against him, but one couldn't expect the Lord's work always to be easy; and the large majority looked to him as children to a father. There were elders as well as deacons in the church now, and when he presided at their meetings and looked over the group, his own spiritual children now taking their places as leaders in the church, his heart just melted. True, they were a bit hesitant about going ahead, and always consulted him before making plans, but that was only natural and right. After all, they had only a few years' experience in the church and couldn't be expected to know how best to govern the House of God. Indeed, several times he had found it necessary to put his foot down when one of them, a little less experienced and more reckless than the others, had advanced his own ideas of how church affairs should be managed. But he had soon subsided and realized his mistake. What a happy family the church was, indeed, with everything working out just as he had planned it! Truly God was good!
* * * * *
At the time when Mr. Beaver went to his new station and began putting his magnificent plans into effect, another worker was sent, in the same way, to a new area. Mr. Trainer was perhaps not so dynamic an individual, but he knew just as clearly what his plans were for the church that was as yet unborn. "The church, which is his body" -- the Body of Christ! The Church which is, through the indwelling Christ, the light of the world! The Church, where each member is in vital contact with the Head, and so, necessarily, is in vital contact with every other member! The Church, each member of which is indwelt by the Holy Spirit, and each member of which feels his responsibility to live and witness for the One who means all in all to him! The church Mr. Trainer wanted to plant was a church which was all this -- a church which was a living plant, with its roots going down into God; a church which did not look to the missionary, or any other man, for its needs, but which was centered upon Christ; a church which would be given "gifts" by the Holy Spirit, and would be able to use those gifts to the edifying of itself, and the bringing of souls into the kingdom.
Mr. Trainer, like Mr. Beaver, went to the central city of his area and located on a main street. His "compound" was a tiny rented house, with a pocket-handkerchief-size courtyard. He did no building at all, and his few rooms were sparsely furnished. Books were the only things he seemed to own. There were books everywhere, said his callers, but not much else -- some perfectly ordinary furniture, and that was all. He had no street chapel, and no paid workers brought in from the outside; but day by day he set a table and a few stools in his gateway, covered the table with attractive Gospel literature printed in the language of the people, and there he sat and read. Passersby stopped to examine his books. One and all received an attractive Gospel tract, and had the message explained in simple language as long as they cared to listen. Some bought Gospels and other booklets. A few got into the habit of dropping by every evening, when work was done; and Mr. Trainer taught them to sing Gospel songs and choruses, and read the Word with them. At other times he went from shop to shop, giving out tracts, and inviting people to call when they had time.
The compound of Mr. Trainer was tiny, compared with that of Mr. Beaver. He had no school, and no church building. He did not even hold church services at first -- who was there to come? Not another Christian in all that area. He did not attract huge crowds. He did not spend large sums of money, nor employ large numbers of people. People did not come to him for financial assistance -- what would be the use, when he did not seem to have any more money than anyone else? But he attracted a few, a few "whose heart the Lord opened," and day by day he taught them more about the Saviour. It was a full year before he had a baptismal service. The numbers baptized were far smaller than those baptized by Mr. Beaver, but the joy in his heart was just as real.
Even before these converts were baptized, Mr. Trainer started teaching them about the Church. He taught them that they were indwelt by the Holy Spirit. He led them daily to the Throne of Grace, and from the beginning they learned to pray. He encouraged in them the desire to win others of their own households and their friends. He encouraged them to witness, both in their own group, and to those who did not know Christ. He encouraged them to bring others to the little evening gathering, and then to testify in front of these whom they had brought. He did not make too many concrete suggestions, but prayed, and waited for the Holy Spirit to suggest ways and means of witnessing to them. Soon he was invited to their homes to talk to others in their families about the Lord. He always made such occasions an opportunity for the one who invited him there to speak, asking for that one's personal testimony, as well as speaking himself. Sometimes others of the group went along, and they too had a chance to testify. Then it came about quite naturally that the little informal evening meeting was held in the different homes, rather than always in that of Mr. Trainer. Soon different ones were taking turns leading, with spontaneous testimonies, or sharing of "wonderful thoughts" from the Word that came to them in their own private devotions. They would tell about opportunities they had to witness for the Lord, and there would be prayer all around for the requests brought before the group. Soon other souls were coming to the Saviour, not because of the direct efforts of the missionary, but rather through the instrumentality of these young Christians. That, felt Mr. Trainer, was the greatest triumph of all!
Although he was eager to start street meetings, Mr. Trainer did not want this to be his own personal effort, but rather a church effort. So he restrained himself and said nothing, but prayed constantly about the matter. What was his joy when one day one of them asked, "Couldn't we have a meeting somewhere where more people would come, and we could preach the Gospel to them?" When no one seemed to be able to think of a building both suitable and available, he permitted himself to make a suggestion about open-air meetings he had attended. Never having heard of such a thing, some were doubtful, others amazed. He answered questions about how such meetings were run, but made no recommendation. He heard no more about the subject for a week or two, and then suddenly the whole group (who had been consulting together, it seemed) came to him, eager to have an open-air meeting, with his assistance. Careful preparations were made, musical instruments some of them had were requisitioned, and the first street meeting was held. Although no actual decisions for Christ were made, a good crowd listened, and the Christians were so pleased that from that day the open-air meeting became a regular thing.
Trying to witness or bring a short Gospel message in these meetings brought home to the young Christians their need for more Bible study, so a regular Bible study class was instituted two nights a week, instead of the usual meeting for testimony and prayer. At first they concentrated on helping the speakers prepare their messages for the next street meeting. Later they chose a Book of the Bible, or a certain topic, and asked Mr. Trainer to lead them in their study. Notebooks were filled, and practical methods of Bible study became familiar processes, but most of all they learned to look to the Holy Spirit to take the Word given by His own inspiration and interpret it to their hearts.
When the very first ones came to the Lord, Mr. Trainer had suggested that they meet on the Lord's Day. He had usually taken charge of that service himself. By the time there were a dozen or so baptized Christians, he encouraged them to feel that they, like the Jerusalem church in Acts 6, should choose deacons. The group spent much time in prayer, looking to the Lord for His guidance, and when the deacons were actually chosen, all felt that they were not just their own choice, but men chosen by the Holy Spirit. After they were chosen, he turned over all the services to them, and suggested that they take turns in leading the Sunday morning service, and also speaking at that service. He would be glad to take his turn with the others. And so it was carried out.
All this time they had been meeting in the various homes. The inconvenience of unsuitable rooms and never having enough benches had been felt for some time, so when the deacons took over they decided that something must be done about it. Didn't other places have church buildings? Why couldn't they? Some of the group had the idea that there was some kind of a mission or church somewhere that provided money for such things, so off they went to inquire of the missionary. He explained to them clearly that there were mission boards that provided funds, in whole or part, for church buildings in many places; but that this did not seem to be the New Testament way, nor was it the way to build a strong local church. "It would be far better," he said, "to meet in a shanty put up by yourselves, than in a beautiful building that cost you nothing." They had several long talks on the subject, and soon all the Christians were deeply concerned. It seemed impossible to out-argue Mr. Trainer. At the same time it seemed even more impossible to do what he thought they ought to do -- contribute enough money to build their own church building! Only twelve or fifteen baptized Christians, and several of them women or young people from homes where the head of the house did not believe -- what could they do? Mr. Trainer would only counsel them to pray. And pray they did -- there seemed to be nothing else they could do. Finally the deacons made a special offering box for gifts for the new church building, and the money began to come in. The gifts were more than they expected; and yet they were but a drop in the bucket compared with what was needed. Time passed, and the fund slowly grew. Suggestions of "church bazaars" and "fun fairs" were made several times (wherever had they heard of such things?). Mr. Trainer counseled against them, but did not feel that he had the authority to forbid. After all, the church was standing on its own feet, and it stood or fell to Christ alone! But he spent much time in prayer, and none of these suggestions was put into effect.
One Sunday an electrifying announcement was made. A wealthy businessman in the city was offering them a suitable piece of property for their building as an outright gift! The Christians redoubled their efforts in giving, and that month they received ten times as much as they had received in any one month before. A church in a city not too far away heard of their efforts, and sent a contribution. Church membership was growing, and all the new believers became interested in giving. Then two of the deacons made a proposal: "Why can't we do most of the work on the building ourselves? That will make it much less expensive!"
The plans needed careful working out, but assistance was given by someone's neighbor, who was a builder, and finally the work started. Many of them put in long hours of back-breaking labor after their regular work for the day had been completed. Difficulties appeared, but prayer and perseverance prevailed. After the building was started, many more gifts came in; and great was the rejoicing when the simple little chapel was at last finished, and used for its first Sunday morning service! Throngs of interested neighbors and friends turned up for the meeting, and several of the deacons took turns at preaching. A guest speaker had also been invited, the pastor of the church that had sent an unsolicited offering to help with the building. The meeting went on for more than two hours, but everyone was happy, and again and again praises ascended to God for their own church building!
* * * * *
A couple of years passed. The work of Mr. Beaver and Mr. Trainer continued as begun. Then suddenly the country was threatened by war. Worse still, the missionaries were labeled as "enemy nationals." A general evacuation took place. Both Mr. Beaver and Mr. Trainer were due for furloughs; and even if they had not been, remaining on the field could only bring harm to the Christians. Both of them gathered up a few things and departed, escaping from the country just in time. If they had remained a few days longer, they would have found themselves in concentration camps. When they arrived at home, each had a thrilling tale to tell of how God had worked in saving souls and building up His Church, and also of personal deliverance in time of danger. At the end of every message they gave came these words: "Pray for the Christians there. Because of the war, there is no way of getting news from them, and we have heard nothing since we left. Pray that they may be kept true, and that in spite of war and distress, the churches may grow and expand, and that many more souls may be brought to Christ."
* * * * *
The war was over. Friendly relations between countries were again established. Both missionaries had had profitable furloughs: time for rest and spiritual refreshment, and many opportunities to make known the needs, the difficulties, and the triumphs of the mission field. Then -- something happened. Both men fully expected to get back to their original fields of work, to see again those dear Christians, their sons and daughters in the Lord -- but neither did. Another call came to each, and neither could return to his former field. Others went instead -- others who knew little about the history of the stations, or what work had been done there. What did these men find in these two fields? I think you can guess!
Mr. Beaver's station had always been supplied with plenty of money from abroad. By becoming a Christian a man could obtain a certain amount of relief money, perhaps a job, or free schooling for his children. Many had learned "the language of Zion" and had been taken into the church who had never had a change of heart. When war broke out and the missionary left, the jobs were finished, and the school closed down. There was no one to pay the evangelists, and they gradually drifted away to other places or into secular jobs. The deacons and elders had been accustomed to taking orders from Mr. Beaver and had had no real experience in looking after things themselves. Even some of those leaders were of the group that had joined the church, not because they had really repented and turned to Christ, but for the material benefits they could get.
As soon as Mr. Beaver left, they quarreled among themselves as to which one would take his place and be the "big chief." There was no one capable of taking services, because such things had always been in the hands of Mr. Beaver and his paid workers, who now were gone. None of the elders or deacons had ever preached a sermon in his life. Some tried, but their efforts did not draw the crowds, and attendance soon dwindled to almost nothing. Then quarrels about the property began. True, it belonged not to them, but to the mission board; but surely it was up to the church to look after it while the missionary was gone! Several so-called Christian families moved into the empty buildings, with or without the agreement of the deacons and elders; but then, thought they, the buildings should be occupied, and of course these people will pay us rent! (They never did.) Church services gradually ceased. A few faithful Christians remained true to the Lord, and met in a home for occasional services; but since none had been trained to lead meetings, all they could do was sing, read the Bible, and pray.
But what had happened at the other station? There the case was far different. They had gone through the sorrows of war, but they had done so with the Lord at their side. Continuing the work of the church was no problem -- they had been doing it themselves all along. Money was hard to get, and many young men had to go to war; but the hearts of the people were open as never before, and they had baptisms once and again. They missed Mr. Trainer very much; but they were driven more than ever to the Lord, and found Him sufficient for their every need.
* * * * *
It is easy to say that one man was right and the other was wrong. But how many of us would not have followed in the footsteps of Mr. Beaver if we had not been warned? And how many of us missionaries today, even though warned, are not still in danger of making ourselves the little center around which the mission station revolves?
"It's all very well to say that the Christians should take the responsibility from the very beginning," we think; "but here it is impossible. These people are too poor! And they are too ignorant! No, they certainly would do everything wrong if I let them take the lead!" And so we go on telling everyone what he ought to do, and seeing that he does it; and in the eyes of the young believers the Christian life becomes simply a matter of doing what the missionary says.
That is not the way that Paul built churches. Great and dynamic character that he was, he so taught and led his groups of young Christians that when after a few months or a year or two he left them they were able to carry on by themselves, and even to grow. He did not put up church buildings for them, nor schools, nor give them "grants." He brought them to the place where they could function as living churches, in direct union with the Head, and not centered upon himself. His efforts were directed to building up churches that would be able to stand alone, because they stood in the strength of the One who upheld Paul.
Why is it so easy for us missionaries to think that we know how to do the work of the Lord better than any mission field convert, especially if that one has been led to the Lord by us? Doing the Lord's work is not fundamentally a matter of knowledge, training, or even experience. It may be true that I have had years of Bible training, and the little old woman with whom I am going out visiting has never been to any sort of school a day in her life; that I have traveled around the world, and she has never been thirty miles from the place where she was born; that I have heard the Gospel and studied the Bible all my life, and she has known it for only a few short years. I was born again twenty-five or thirty years ago; she has been the Lord's own for three or four years. Suppose we go to call on someone who is ill or in trouble. I get out a poster, and carefully explain the Gospel. The woman we are visiting listens to me with her mouth open; and after twenty minutes of as clear and simple preaching as I am capable of, when I am just getting to my climax, she lays her hand on my sleeve and asks earnestly, "Did you make this dress yourself?"
My heart sinks to my boots. Is that what she has been thinking about all this time? Is that why she fixed her eyes on me so intently? What's the use anyway?
Then the old lady who is with me starts in. She can't even tell clearly the bare outlines of the life of our Saviour; but she turns to the woman, one whose life and thoughts she knows (wasn't she just like her before she was saved?), and says, "Look at me! I used to have this trouble and that trouble and the other trouble, and then I came to Jesus, and asked Him to forgive my sins. He did it and took all my troubles away, and gave me peace and joy in my heart as I never dreamed of. Come to Him and you can have it too!"
When the one on whom we are calling says suddenly, "I'm going to believe too," it is far more likely to be the result of my companion's testimony than of my fine Gospel message!
Are you a missionary volunteer? When you get to the mission field, remember that a simple, earnest testimony from one who is "just like we are" will usually bring far more in the way of results than your own best efforts. Don't think that the missionary is the only one who can bring souls to the Lord. The one who has just been saved may easily become a more effective witness than you yourself.
No matter how uneducated and degraded the group, there are always in it one or more who are leaders. No matter how poor and ignorant he is, the one who has been truly saved, and knows that he is saved, is always capable of witnessing to others of his own group. No matter how poor a little group of Christians is, if they continue in prayer and patient effort they will surely be able to provide for themselves a meeting house that is as good as their own homes, or a little better. The Church of God is not dependent upon Gothic arches and stained glass windows, upon ministers in Geneva gowns and upon robed choirs. It is not dependent upon material resources, or this world's learning. None of these things are essentials. The only things that are essentials to the Church of Christ are found in Christ and in the penitent and forgiven soul, no matter what his race or culture or economic status. The Church of Christ can function on any level at which men for whom Christ died are living.
It is very easy for the missionary to become a little "pope." God forbid that we should do this! God forbid that we should consider ourselves the exclusive channels for bringing God's grace to needy souls, or the only ones capable of hearing God's voice! God forbid that we should forget that every believer, as soon as he is born again, is indwelt by the Holy Spirit! And may God open our eyes to ways and means of doing what is perhaps the greatest task of the missionary, the task of bringing the young church to the place where it can get along without us, the task of working ourselves out of a job!