|Photo courtesy of: Serge Bertasius Photography, Free Digital Photos|
Pioneer Missions: Meet the Challenges, Share the Blessings by Forrest McPhail, missionary in Cambodia, is a discussion about how to do pioneer missions. He uses the analogy of farming. First, you prepare the soil, then you plant, and later you reap.
I really appreciated his emphasis on getting to know the people you minister to, especially their background belief system—whatever it might be—so that you understand how they think about God. I loved this encouragement: the author is talking about how spiritual labor is different from agricultural labor in that a farmer can work hard, and one terrible weather event can wipe out his harvest. “This never happens to workers in God’s harvest fields. No word of God returns void. It always accomplishes the purposes for which it was given. . . . Our labors are never in vain. Praise be to God!”
He talks about knowing how to present the gospel in the context of the people’s religious background and experience, so that you communicate it clearly. He refers to the difference in how the apostles preached to the Jews and gentiles: “The key difference was with the starting point. One group was not a pioneer mission field, and the other was. The Jews already believed, or claimed to believe, the entire Old Testament revelation. The main issue for the Jews was whether or not Jesus was the promised Messiah. . . . Paul’s method with (gentiles) was to emphasize the person of God, beginning with creation. . . . A person cannot really understand God, sin, who Jesus is, the cross, eternal life or judgment apart from understanding creation and man’s fall.”
The author emphasizes the importance of learning the foreign language well. I really appreciated this: “I . . . encourage Christian young people to aggressively study a foreign language with the hope of being able to use that language later in their service for the Lord.” (I couldn’t agree more. You can access a post I wrote about encouraging your children to be multilingual, here.)
I personally agree wholeheartedly with this statement about pioneer ministries: “Multiple Bible studies will be required to present the Gospel to people, some taking months or years before they really grasp the Gospel message. Remember pioneer missionaries are introducing people to God.”
Mr. McPhail speaks of cautions for the missionary and goes to great detail about the dangers of syncretism. He speaks of challenges and blessings in pioneer ministries. I appreciated his section about first-generation believers and their baggage. We’ve seen that here in Spain. Then, those first believers have children, and they are brought up in pure lifestyles and grounded in their beliefs. They become effective leaders in the church.
The author speaks on the topics of compromise, church discipline, discipleship, and how to help new believers who are persecuted for their faith.
I really enjoyed this book, especially since our own ministry can be pioneering in some senses. Mr. McPhail has written a thoughtful manual that’s informative and practical. I enjoyed the glimpses into his experience in the East and reading wisdom from a missionary who had served in a very challenging place.
Another valuable aspect of this book is his list of reading references on missions at the end.
I would recommend Pioneer Missions for anyone who wants to understand foreign missions, especially for missionaries in pioneer or semi-pioneer fields.