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"...The church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth."
I Timothy 3:15
Editor: Even though this story is over 45 years old, its message is still true
The street meeting had just ended. The missionary felt a warm glow of satisfaction as he watched the attentive crowd begin to disperse. Once again the "Message" had been preached.
John Mendow, missionary to China, silently offered thanks to God for the privilege of preaching the Gospel to these Oriental people. He noted that his fellow workers were efficiently stowing the P. A. system and the musical instruments into the mission station wagon. His satisfaction was complete. He thanked God also for his faithful co-workers.
As the missionary surveyed the scene he noticed a Chinese army officer striding forward through the dispersing throng.
"—Probably wants to know a little bit more about the message," He thought as the man approached.
The officer stopped a bare step away. Hostility plainly showed in his eyes. His voice equally betrayed his attitude.
"You American missionaries are fools?"
"Is that so?" John Mendow used his politest manner. "What makes you think that?"
"Because of your methods. That's why I think that."
"What's wrong with our methods?"
"Well, take this open air meeting you just concluded. You had a wonderful chance to gain a victory for your religion. But you lost it. Now it's gone forever."
"I don't follow you, sir. What are you driving at?"
An Opportunity Lost
The critical army officer coldly, firmly, fully expressed his opinions. He called the missionary's attention to the fact that he would never again have the chance to speak to the now dispersed crowd. The message preached, although probably crystal clear to the missionary, was completely new and different front anything these listeners had ever heard. It had told of a strange God, and of a way of life utterly foreign to the thinking of the listeners. How could the missionary expect his audience to grasp a philosophy so strange, a religion so new, and do so the first time they heard it?
"Why didn't you give them some literature?" the officer demanded. "Some pamphlet, easy to understand! Then, with their curiosity aroused, they could have studied further what they had heard. Then your message would have had effect for perhaps months, or even years, instead of just for the moment!"
The missionary couldn't answer. A wave of resentment swept through his mind. However, it was not directed against his critic. John bitterly recalled the futile attempts he had made to obtain the sort of literature just mentioned. He started to answer the officer but the biting criticism continued.
"You missionaries have been in China for over 100 years but you have not won China for your Christ. You lament the fact that there are still uncounted millions that have never heard the name of your God. Nor do they know anything about your Christianity."
The Chinese paused to let his argument sink in. His eyes glowed with satisfaction as he noted the effect he was making on the missionary. His tone was full of mockery as he continued.
"We Communists have been in China less than ten years, but there is no such thing as a Chinese who has not heard the name of Stalin or who knows nothing of Communism. What you missionaries have failed to do in 100 years, we Communists have done in ten. We have filled China with OUR doctrine."
John struggled for an answer. Words failed him. He knew the truth of the charges. Again he started to answer but was interrupted.
Preaching Not Enough
"Now let me tell you why have failed and why we have succeeded. You have tried to reach China by preaching, by talking. You have tried to win the attention of the masses by building churches, mission stations, schools and what not. But we Communists have printed our message and spread our literature over all China. Some day we will drive you missionaries out of our country. We will do it by means of the printed page."
Frustrated and hurt by the truth contained in the Communist's statements, the missionary was silently praying for an answer. A tangled mass of thoughts raced through his mind. He knew that everywhere one turned the Communist literature was in evidence. Billboards, newspapers, magazines, pamphlets, and tracts united to call China's attention to the "big lie." Much of the literature attacked the American way of life. It branded Christianity as a "white man's religion." It often accused the missionary of being a Capitalist spy. It sometimes ridiculed Jesus Christ, calling Him the invention of the Capitalist. China was being brainwashed by "red ink."
John Mendow again recalled the unanswered pleas he had sent to the homeland requesting literature. If he could have gotten enough scripture portions, if he could have gotten booklets, tracts and pamphlets that explained the Gospel message, then it might have been different.
John just looked at his tormentor, who bowed stiffly, turned abruptly, and walked away.
The missionary groaned with regret. His feelings of satisfaction had fled. He weakly murmured a prayer. "Oh God, it's true, we are losing China. We are failing. Why, oh why, couldn't we have had the literature? Who failed us, Lord? Who?"
The heavy-hearted missionary represents hundreds of others around the missionary world. With a few details changed, this story could have happened on many other fields.
And So It Turned Out
Today John Meadow is out of China. So are all the others who went there as missionaries. Only a few in Hong Kong remain. The national Christian leaders have been imprisoned, murdered, or otherwise silenced. The mighty voice of the Gospel has been reduced to a whisper. But the voice of the enemy echoes throughout the land. What missions failed to do in 100 years, the Communists did in ten.
One great Christian leader said that if the Church had spent on literature as much as it spent on hospitals, orphanages, schools, and rest homes (needful though those were), the Bamboo Curtain could not exist today.
Tragically we sent the missionary to his field but we failed to give him adequate tools to do his job. We failed to understand the difficulties he faced. We thought if he preached the message it would be enough. We failed to realize that he was competing with a flood of anti-Christian literature. The inevitable happened.
What occurred in China is happening in other sections of the world. India, Indonesia, Africa, and other places are being flooded with literature that is antagonistic to the Gospel. The rising fires of nationalism are being fed with literally tons of printed propaganda. The red man, the yellow man, the black man, the brown man are being taught to hate the white man and all that he represents. The missionary's task is becoming more difficult by the hour.
The missionary desperately needs literature. He needs scripture portions. He needs booklets, tracts, and periodicals geared to the nationals who will read them. The missionary needs a flood of dollars with which to publish. That is the one thing that will most help him do his job today.
The need can be ignored, but the tragic results of such neglect cannot be avoided. It is publish or perish.