|Pixabay, Public Domain|
There are all kinds of stories told about people who have left home, family, comfort and prosperity to serve the Lord in other places. One of the most famous of these is the one about Sadhu Sundar Singh.
Sundar Singh (1889-1929) was raised as a Sikh but after the death of his mother, he came to a breaking point in his life. "His mother was a loving saintly woman and they were very close. In his anger, Sundar burned a copy of one of the Gospels in public. Within three days Sundar Singh could bear his misery no longer. Late one night in December 1903, he rose from bed and prayed that God reveal himself to him if he really existed. Otherwise -- 'I planned to throw myself in front of the train which passed by our house.' For seven hours Sundar Singh prayed. 'O God, if there is a God, reveal thyself to me tonight.' The next train was due at five o'clock in the morning. The hours passed. Suddenly the room filled with a glow. A man appeared before him. Sundar Singh heard a voice say, 'How long will you deny me? I died for you; I have given my life for you.' He saw the man's hands, pierced by nails."
Sundar surrendered his life to Jesus. His father rejected him and he became an outcast. Sundar realized that the Gospel, considered "foreign" to his people, would be much more acceptable if it was clothed in more traditional garb. So he became a sadhu. He dressed in the yellow robe, lived on charity, gave up every possession, and remained celibate. This freed him to dedicate himself completely to the mission that he felt God was calling him to. The only thing he carried with him was a New Testament.
Sundar traveled extensively, eventually to many corners of the world. In 1929, on a visit to Tibet, he disappeared and was never seen again.
What this humble Indian believer did is basically what Mark tells us that Jesus commanded His disciples to do in March 6:6-13.
6 Then Jesus went around teaching from village to village. 7 Calling the Twelve to him, he began to send them out two by two and gave them authority over evil spirits.
8 These were his instructions: “Take nothing for the journey except a staff—no bread, no bag, no money in your belts. 9 Wear sandals but not an extra tunic. 10 Whenever you enter a house, stay there until you leave that town. 11 And if any place will not welcome you or listen to you, leave that place and shake the dust off your feet as a testimony against them.”
12 They went out and preached that people should repent. 13 They drove out many demons and anointed many sick people with oil and healed them.
At this point there were more disciples than just the inner circle of 12. Luke 10 tells us that there were seventy-two who went out as missionaries at His command. Matthew describes Jesus’ instructions to them very specifically in Matthew 10.
He empowered them to do what He had been doing: preach, heal, raise the dead, drive out the demons. They were not to take anything with them but count on the hospitality and generosity of those in the towns they visited who were open to the message.
He told them that they would have to leave everything and everyone behind to serve Him. He warned them that they would be persecuted. Jesus warned them that they would be beaten and arrested for preaching the Gospel but that when they were brought to face their accusers not to worry about what they would say because He would give them the words that needed to be spoken. He told them that people would hate them—even the members of their own families. He described them as “sheep among wolves” and from His instructions we get the famous phrase that encouraged them to be “wise as serpents and as harmless as doves” in their dealings with the people they met.
But He also encouraged them not to be afraid, even in the face of death. And he promised to reward them for their service.
I can’t imagine too many people today signing up to follow the terms and conditions that Jesus set out for His followers. They don’t make too many Sundar Singhs any more.
In Luke’s account of the sending out of the disciples, he described what happened when Jesus followers came back from their mission. How exciting it was for them, despite whatever they had to give up, whatever they had to suffer, to be able to preach and to heal just like like Jesus. Luke says that they came back to report everything that had happened—especially that the demons had submitted to them in the Lord’s name. And Jesus said to them: “…do not rejoice that spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven” (Luke 10:20). They were not to think of themselves as being any different from the people to whom they had been sent—sinners saved by the grace of God.
In Matthew’s version of the episode that we have here in Mark, the description of the mission the disciples went on is preceded with this: “Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and sickness. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, ‘The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field’” (Matthew 9:35-38).
For many of us, we will not be doing much “going” at least as far as overseas ministry is concerned. But there is one thing we can do—we can follow the mandate that the Lord set out here for His disciples. He told them to pray. There was a harvest to to gathered, but few to gather it. He, having compassion on those who were lost, instructed them to pray that His Father would call out those who could go to gather this harvest, to be His messengers. That is something we all can do. Because, as Paul reminds us, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved. How then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the whom of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? And how can they preach unless they are send? As it is written, ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news…faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ” (Romans 10:13-17).
Let me give you a specific example to pray for. I have two friends from Quebec, Susie and Gisele. These two single gals went to Bulgaria ten years ago. They are perhaps a little younger than I am so they went to serve overseas as older missionaries. They have now returned home to retire. During their ten years in Bulgaria, one of the poorest countries of the European Union, they built bridges to scores of people. Their prayer letters have been crammed with photos and names of people with whom they have shared the Gospel and whom they helped physically and materially during those years. They did this work basically alone. Pray for the Lord to send others who will take up the work that they have so faithfully done and now can no longer do.
For decades our mission has supported a hospital for women and children in Pakistan. In a culture where neither are valued, Shikarpur Christian Hospital has been a place of hope and safety for segments of the population that are basically ignored. But these women and children must be helped by female doctors and nurses, a commodity increasingly difficult to find. On occasions, the shortages have caused the hospital to close its doors to surgeries specifically because of the lack of doctors. Through the hospital countless people have heard the Gospel of Jesus Christ and many have come to faith.
But the questions remain in Bulgaria, in Pakistan, and in so many parts of the world including our own. Who will go? Who will pray?