Christian Missionary Work—Is It Outdated?
MANY think so. They think people’s needs are more material than spiritual. That is why many who claim to be Christian missionaries concentrate on improving medical care and housing or bettering the agricultural and technical skills of the people they serve.
Yet there are those who are convinced that the greatest need is to help people spiritually. This will equip them to improve their quality of life now and give them a hope for the future.
This was made clear to the audience of 2,124 present at Jehovah’s Witnesses Assembly Hall in Long Island City, New York, on Sunday, March 8. The occasion was the graduation of the 70th missionary class of the Watchtower Bible School of Gilead.
Since 1943 this school has been training men and women to carry out more thoroughly the missionary command Jesus gave to his followers: “Go therefore and make disciples of people of all the nations, . . . teaching them to observe all the things I have commanded you.” (Matt. 28:19, 20) This requires a strong faith and a living hope, plus a desire to share such good things with others. Men and women of this type made up the class of 49 graduating students who had come from 9 countries and were being sent to 18 countries.
One 25-year-old student from Missouri, with a strong desire to see justice in the world, had the goal of studying law so as to help. But her goal changed when she learned from God’s Word of the marvelous hope for the future, and she began to experience the rich and meaningful life resulting from the guidance of the Scriptures.
A 30-year-old student from Oregon described her previous life as student, campus radical and society dropout. It had been her desire to help people, and to help improve the world. But on getting acquainted with Jehovah’s Witnesses and Bible teachings, she thought: “You mean there actually exists a people who live by Christ’s teachings? They really do not fight in war? This was my cause, the purpose to which I could subordinate everything else.”
One student after another gave the motivation for applying for missionary service as ‘the Bible’s hope for the future and its sound counsel on improving the quality of life now.’ They said: ‘This can really help solve the problems facing people.’ Many had already spent more than 10 years in the full-time ministry, visiting people and endeavoring to impart this hope to them.
For five months the students had enjoyed a thorough study of the Bible, and had received practical instruction in carrying out their missionary activity. Now they were to get some parting words of counsel from their instructors and others, who themselves were experienced in preaching the good news of God’s kingdom as mankind’s only hope.
W. K. Jackson urged the missionaries to stick to their assignments and not to think: “I’ll try it and if I don’t like it I can come home.” He gave fine counsel on human relations and reminded them of the words at Romans 15:2: “Let each one of us please his neighbor in what is good for his upbuilding.”
M. G. Henschel spoke of things we should treasure highly. We should seek for understanding as for hidden treasure. God’s kingdom is a treasure that we should seek first in our lives. And the apostle Paul wrote of the ministry as being a treasure. (2 Cor. 4:7) The missionaries were urged to keep holding on to these treasures.
A. D. Schroeder referred to Jesus’ words “Come be my follower.” (Matt. 19:21) This means to display Christlike qualities and to help others do the same. He said they had not “graduated” as followers of Jesus Christ. They were only starting a new chapter in their lives of following him.
J. Redford encouraged the missionaries to keep moving ahead in spiritual ways. He quoted George Bernard Shaw, who stated: “I dread success. To have succeeded is to have finished one’s business on earth . . . I like a state of continual becoming, with a goal in front and not behind.”
U. V. Glass commended the missionaries for having a strong desire to know what they were doing and why. Many had asked: “How can we stay in our assignments?” Glass answered: “Learn to know people and to love them.” He mentioned the need of forgiving freely, keeping the right mental outlook and maintaining humility. To underscore this, he read a letter from a missionary graduate who recently went to Kenya:
“I guess the training that I received in Brooklyn was just the beginning of my learning. These brothers here have much to teach me. I’ve tried to think of what quality a missionary needs most to be successful in his assignment. And I think that above all he may need ‘humility.’ Humility to walk instead of driving a car. Humility to sit on hard wooden boards or large rocks instead of cushioned seats. Humility to give comments like a baby during the meetings because of the new language. Above all, lowliness of mind, to make the needed effort, not giving up, relying on Jehovah and not self, until we become ‘useful’ again, and do what we came to do.”
G. M. Couch encouraged the graduates never to turn their backs on their missionary assignment. They should keep in mind the words at Ecclesiastes 7:8: “Better is the end afterward of a matter than its beginning.” They were urged to remember that the finish is what really counts.
Finally, F. W. Franz, president of the School, spoke of the “faithful steward” of God discussed in Luke 12:40-53. He recalled the time of King Hezekiah, in the eighth century B.C.E., when the kingdom of Judah was threatened. The account at Isaiah 22:15-25 shows there was an issue involving stewardship. The unfaithful steward Shebna was replaced by the faithful steward Eliakim. In modern fulfillment, this shows the need of identifying God’s faithful servants on earth today. Franz encouraged the students to be sure that the identity of God’s faithful steward class was completely settled in their minds.
Then the chairman for the meeting, C. W. Barber, gave out the diplomas. In the afternoon the students put on two instructive dramas. A Biblical drama entitled “Search for Jehovah and Keep Living” dealt with the ministry of the prophet Amos in Israel. The modern-day drama was entitled “How Will They Hear Without Someone to Preach?” In a heartwarming manner, this dealt with aspects of the house-to-house ministry as carried on by Jehovah’s Witnesses today.
The program of fine spiritual edification will long be remembered by the 49 graduating students and all others attending. Truly, spiritual matters are of vital importance. As the apostle Paul wrote at 1 Timothy 4:8: “Godly devotion is beneficial for all things, as it holds promise of the life now and that which is to come.”
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Watchtower Bible School of Gilead
In the list below, rows are numbered from front to back and names are listed from left to right in each row.
(1) Browne, P.; Hitz, J.; Floyd, B.; De Jesus, M.; Davis, E.; Hoover, M.; White, J.; Gunn, A.; Wyssen, P. (2) Goff, M.; Karwoski, J.; Paulk, L.; Pedersen, S.; Altmeyer, H.; Rendell, D.; Spatz, P.; Oger, P.; Mathon, T.; Johns, E. (3) Brederlow, S.; Kelppe, L.; Reilly, G.; James, S.; Dennison, L.; Kemppainen, C.; Klopson, C.; Reilly, C.; Bivins, A.; Winbush, E. (4) Hoover, D.; De Jesus, J.; Klopson, T.; Hitz, E.; Lovini, D.; Mathon, L.; Pedersen, F.; Knox, H.; Reyna, R.; Karwoski, M. (5) Browne, R.; Johns, K.; Floyd, M.; Paulk, J.; Bivins, M.; White, R.; Winbush, W.; James, D.; De Wolfe, R.; Wyssen, J.