October 2010—Global Missions
A Heritage in Hearing God’s Call
Jaclyn Beck '07
“Our task is not to bring all the world to Christ, our task is unquestionably to bring Christ to all the world.”
—A. J. Gordon
The call of God to missions is not something placed on only a few selected hearts. In God’s kingdom there is always work to be done, people to touch, and corners of the world to reach, and God does not ask a special few of us to do the job – He invites each and every one of us. Obeying God’s call involves taking an interest in people who are without Christ, and seeking every means possible to bring Him to them. And whether we hear the call of God or not depends on how well we attune our ears.
This is the theology that Gordon College was founded on, and 2011 is the year we celebrate the 175th birthday of the school’s founding father, A. J. Gordon—a man extremely active in advancing the cause of foreign missions. He turned New England churches into mission stations, poured his heart into traveling, preaching, writing, and serving with a passion for spreading the Gospel of Jesus Christ worldwide, and his influence as an advocate for moving Christ outward from a place within ourselves so that He may be a savior for all, and not just those privileged enough to adopt faith as a birthright, is the backbone of Gordon College’s ministry.
A. J. Gordon writes his book, The Holy Spirit in Missions, about the true focus of global missions. “The theology of missions, like the theology of redemption, is Christo-centric; that is to say, we take our stand at the cross and move out to the uttermost parts of the earth, instead of grasping the uttermost parts of the earth that we may move them to Christ. Is not the difference between these two conceptions obvious?”
It is part of our purpose as followers of Christ to “go therefore and make disciples of all nations…”, and to heed the command, “Feed my sheep, if you love me.” But, we cannot create disciples if we are not first disciples ourselves, and to be a follower of Jesus, we need to understand this—the primary and only lasting purpose of being a missionary is making Christ and all of His divine teachings available to the world so that every person can do what He has taught us to do.
Gordon asserted that we are to show Christ to the world through ourselves by allowing Him to work through us to address the needs of humanity in His way. But, there is a looming fear that the call of God will be overpowered by human need. We are supposed to address their need but this cannot be the driving force, as human need turns out to be endless. “If we set before ourselves the task of bringing the world to Christ’, Gordon continues, “We have all the unbelief and all the inertia and all the hostility of the world to resist us. If we do as we are bidden, carry Christ to all the world, we have all the impulse, and might of His own life and love to carry us forward in our work. And we contend that the missionary will be stronger and more courageous to work by the divine schedule; to build with constant and patient reference to the architecture of the ages, which is so clearly outlined in Scripture.”
Gordon’s desire for an institution that is “undenominational, broadly evangelical, practical, spiritual, humble and unworldly, and consecrated to the benefit of the ‘Regions Beyond’,” has been upheld by a student body whose identity sits squarely in God’s interest in the people of this world. Last year, Gordon students gave 26,637 hours of their time to community service and missions, and the college sent 148 students abroad as part of semester-long or year-long programs, as well as several short-term mission trips to Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Uganda, Sri Lanka, and other countries. If A. J. Gordon was alive today, he’d hear well over a century’s worth of student testimonies declaring that the service and dedication of their lives proves the Christ-centered focus is there, the work is real, and the vision is lasting.
Leonard Sweet, who said his whole being was eager to “run errands of mercy and divine justice for the darkened world of God’s love,” enrolled at Gordon College in 1935 under a conviction to be in ministry, and on the decision that if Christ was to be worth anything in his life, He would be worth all of his life.
Sweet grew in his call to ministry throughout his years at Gordon and graduated in 1939, as an alumnus and an established pastor of the First Baptist Church of North Reading in Massachusetts. It was at this point in his life that he felt a call to join the chaplaincy of the U.S. Army Air Corps and minister overseas to the men and women on the front lines of Dutch New Guinea during World War II.
In a matter of months, God used Leonard to minister to hundreds of G.I.’s, bring them to Christ, and lead them to erect churches, Bible schools, and seminaries in Japan when they entered the country in 1945. On the heels of a time when Christian ministry in Japan was forbidden, the outreach was massive. They encouraged missionaries displaced during the war back into their ministries. They built orphanages and medical clinics, taught Bible classes in churches, high schools, and colleges, and started Sunday schools for Japanese children. When the time came for them to go back to the United States, including Sweet, they took action to sustain their work through an organization called the Far Eastern Gospel Crusade.
Sweet returned to Japan in 1948, after receiving a call from the new board of the organization; this time as a missionary, and the organization’s first Japan field chairman. For 11 years he continued to provide vision and leadership to the organization, acquired land for buildings, sent people into villages to plant and maintain churches, raised money, recruited missionaries, and witnessed hundreds of Japanese come to Christ.
Sweet received living proof that his work had been honored and effective in a letter dated December 15th, 1946. After his first return to the United States, a teacher he baptized at the Soshin Girls School wrote to him:
Dear Chaplain Sweet,
From my heart I am celebrating Christmas. I always think fondly of your Bible class during last year’s Christmas season and can still hear your voice ringing in my ears. Since your departure from Yokohama, already half a year has gone by. Truly you left, implanting within each one of us an unforgettable sacred seed. You enveloped us, who has lost our goal in life after the end of the terrible war, with a quiet, great, and intense love, and then led us.
Leonard Sweet’s son, David, a 1963 Gordon graduate has also given a large portion of his life to missions. Dave has what he describes as a ‘missions heritage,’ providing vital leadership and support to missionaries who work directly in fields that absolutely have a hand in bringing Christ to the world.
“I should say that I do not consider myself a missionary,” he says. “I grew up on the field surrounded by real missionaries. But, [my wife] Marilyn and I have led the missions committee at North Shore Community Baptist Church for over 15 years, so we have a heart for missions and missionaries.
“This is the place where I personally have met the issue of missions, since I am more technical and task driven than being a gifted 'people person'. I have not sensed a specific call to be a missionary, or a pastor for that matter. At the same time, I have an international outlook and concern, and I feel a need to be of real support to those who do have that call. And today, the opportunity for people who are meant to do their service at 'home' to still have a significant connection with the missionary enterprise in supporting roles is perhaps greater than ever. So that's where we are - and it has been a real blessing to both Marilyn and me.”
Despite the differences in God’s call for David Sweet and that of His call for David’s father, both were made for the same heart for Christ, and both are shining examples of the types of lives that A. J. Gordon had in mind when he established Gordon College. The men and women of this school were made to have ears so well attuned to God’s call. They are blessed with opportunities to show Christ to the world, and assuredly rise to each and say “here am I, send me.”
“My dad had a very concise definition of a missionary,” concludes David Sweet. “It was ‘unqualified willingness.’ We’re very good at focusing on ourselves and declaring ourselves to be unqualified for the work of missions. But, just like leaving a godly heritage is ultimately not about us, missions is not ultimately about us either. God is the one who does missions, and he is doing it! What it is about for us is whether we will reject his invitation to be a part of it, which would be a huge loss. We have an opportunity and we need to be about it.”
Being a part of missions is a rewarded duty, and serving in this way means that we play a role in bringing to life a promise to the world. God gave his word that all shall know Him, and it is through us that He makes this possible. To not take hold of the chance to have a hand in His work would be to forfeit a role in bringing the greatest blessing to the world. A. J. Gordon contends that missionaries, aligned in Christ, should grab hold of this vision, and never losing sight of its purpose. “Morning by morning, let the weary missionary obey this summons and refresh his soul with a vision of that time when ‘they shall not teach every man his neighbor, and every man his brother, saying, Know ye the Lord; for all shall know Him, from the least until the greatest.”
Jaclyn Beck is currently an editor at HCPro, Inc. in Marblehead, MA. She graduated from Gordon College in 2007 with a bachelor's degree in Business Administration. She can be reached at jbeck711gmail.com.