Missionary Zeal—A Mark of True Christians
“THEY had no leisure time even to eat a meal.” These words epitomize the pace and zeal of Jesus Christ as he carried out the missionary assignment from his heavenly Father. (Mark 6:31) He was whole-souled, to the point that he could say: “My food is for me to do the will of him that sent me and to finish his work.” (John 4:34) Up and down the land Jesus went preaching the “good news.” (Luke 8:1) What a display of missionary zeal!
To speed up this work, Jesus prayerfully selected 12 disciples and sent them forth in the year 31 C.E. He instructed them: “Do not go off into the road of the nations, . . . but, instead, go continually to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. As you go, preach, saying, ‘The kingdom of the heavens has drawn near.’” (Matt. 10:5-7) At that time not only were complete instructions given about how to do the work but also these words specifically limited their preaching territory. In these territories they and their Master toiled zealously down to the year 33 C.E.
Having these territory restrictions in mind, some of Jesus’ disciples may have been puzzled about what he said just prior to his death. Jesus gave them a “sign” marking the end of “the system of things” and foretold that the “good news” would then be preached in all the inhabited earth for a “witness to all the nations” before the end came. Later, the resurrected Jesus stressed to his disciples that they were to “make disciples of people of all the nations.” Finally, just prior to his ascension, he told his disciples: “You will receive power when the holy spirit arrives upon you, and you will be witnesses of me both in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria and to the most distant part of the earth.”—Matt. 24:3, 14; 28:19; Acts 1:8.
With Pentecost 33 C.E. came the promised outpouring of the holy spirit, and Peter was empowered to use the first ‘key of the kingdom.’ As a result, about 3,000 Jews and proselytes became Christians. (Matt. 16:18, 19; Acts 2:1-4, 14-41) In the succeeding three and a half years, Peter used two more “keys,” so that the missionary work was truly reaching people of all nations. (Acts 8:14-17; 10:23-48) How true it was that holy spirit had imparted “power” so that the same missionary spirit Jesus had displayed was again very evident! The account of the missionary work of these early Christians, as found in the Bible book of Acts, provides clear evidence of tremendous zeal. It must have pleased the apostle Paul to be able to say, about 61 C.E., that the “good news” had been “preached in all creation that is under heaven”!—Col. 1:23.
MISSIONARY ZEAL REVIVED IN MODERN TIMES
However, with the foretold apostasy and its attendant loss of God’s spirit, that missionary zeal all but disappeared for over 1,700 years. In place of it, Christendom resorted to the sword of war, colonialism and other unscriptural methods to make her “converts.” Was the missionary zeal of Christ and his true disciples gone forever? Never could that be, for Jesus himself had foretold that the Kingdom good news would be preached in all the inhabited earth for a witness to all nations during his presence, which began in 1914.
In the 1870’s it became evident that God’s holy spirit was with Charles T. Russell and sincere Bible students associated with him. Accordingly, true missionary zeal once again became evident. Soon ecclesias (congregations) of Bible Students sprang up throughout the North American continent. The first branch office of the Watch Tower Society outside the United States was established at London, England, in 1900. Russell made preaching journeys to Europe, and on the second of these, in 1903, a branch office of the Society was set up in Germany. The following year another branch was established, this time in Australia, where the missionary work had begun during the previous year. In 1911 and 1912, Russell and others made a world tour, preaching in such places as Singapore, the Philippines, China and Japan. Truly, the missionary zeal exemplified by Jesus was again very apparent. However, as in the case of Jesus, their zeal for witnessing stirred up the overt opposition of Satan. So the missionary work was not without its problems and trials.
In 1915 Brother Russell expressed the opinion that there was yet much missionary work to be done. But in 1916 he completed his earthly course. Would this small group of persecuted Christians continue to display missionary zeal? That they did. J. F. Rutherford, the Society’s second president, vigorously encouraged all these Christians (today known as Jehovah’s Witnesses) to share zealously in the missionary activity. Those who were able to move to foreign lands were invited to do so, and thus small groups went into Africa, India, Burma, Thailand, China and many islands of the seas. By the time World War II broke out, at least a limited amount of missionary work was being done in more than 60 lands. Some who then went to these faraway places still serve there, after 40 or 50 years!
NEW PROVISION PROMOTES FOREIGN MISSIONARY WORK
World War II greatly restricted the missionary work being done in many of these lands. Would that war lead right into Armageddon? (Rev. 16:14, 16, Authorized Version) Was the missionary work begun by Jesus coming to its completion? These questions were resolved by the clearer understanding of Revelation 17:8, presented in the public talk “Peace—Can It Last?” at the 1942 convention of Jehovah’s Witnesses. From this talk the Witnesses learned that there would be a postwar period of peace. With this in mind, N. H. Knorr, the third president of the Watch Tower Society, along with the rest of the board of directors of the Watch Tower Society, laid plans to take advantage of the period of peace they now expected.
A school especially designed to train Christians for foreign missionary service was planned, in addition to greater congregational training for local missionary work. On February 1, 1943, the first class of the Watchtower Bible School of Gilead began its course of study. What faith this represented! There were practically no countries to which these missionaries could yet be sent. Nevertheless, with confidence that there was to be a period of peace that could be utilized, they were being trained.
Eventually, most of the missionaries from the first classes of Gilead School were able to enter Central and South American countries and islands of the Caribbean, there to use their training to help others. In those days, there were many problems to overcome. Finding a place to live, the language, customs, food, clergy opposition and superstitious beliefs all added to the difficulties with which these new missionaries had to cope. In most of these lands, only one or two persons were interested or active in the Christian witnessing work when the missionaries arrived. In spite of all obstacles, however, many of those first missionaries still serve in these lands. How joyful they are that now there are over 380,000 Witnesses serving along with them in Central and South America and the Caribbean!
How did Gilead School prepare these missionaries? One missionary, who has served for 24 years in the Orient, comments: “Since our main instrument in the missionary field would be the Bible, the book-by-book and often verse-by-verse study of the Bible, along with related courses in history, geography and the way life was in Bible times, was to my mind the most important part of my training. Additionally, we had practice sessions to sharpen our ability to converse with and teach people. We were helped to see what adjustments might be needed to enjoy living in a new environment. Another thing that helped me greatly was five months of living at Gilead with a large ‘family’ from all sorts of backgrounds. This helped me to adjust to living with a missionary ‘family’ that includes members from different environments.” As the years have gone by, the Gilead curriculum has been updated to make it even more practical and effective in helping new missionaries to prepare for their foreign assignments.
Who, then, may qualify to receive such specialized training? Generally speaking, the requirements are that those making application be between 21 and 40 years of age, without dependents or other obligations that would prevent them from serving anywhere in the world. They can be single, or married at least two years, and must be in good health. They must have been baptized at least three years ago, currently having served at least two years without interruption as full-time Kingdom proclaimers. Applicants must also have the true missionary spirit—not being motivated by a spirit of adventure but, rather, by the desire to do the work assigned. This requires that they be motivated by deep love for Jehovah God and their fellow humans in their prospective assignment. With this type of love motivating them, they can be truly content in their assignment, even if things may not be as convenient and comfortable as they have been accustomed to formerly.—Luke 10:27.
DO YOU HAVE GENUINE MISSIONARY ZEAL?
Obviously, only a comparatively small number of Jehovah’s Witnesses can serve as foreign missionaries. However, all dedicated servants of Jehovah God should have that same missionary zeal. It must be admitted, though, that it does take diligence to maintain that zeal, for there are many distractions.
Sometimes young Witnesses in high school express the desire to make their goal full-time missionary work, either at home or abroad. But by the time they could qualify for such special service, that original zeal has disappeared. What has happened? Have they allowed the spirit of the world to sidetrack them? The world’s spirit is one of self-indulgence, a pursuit of pleasure and a disdain for hard work and responsibility. This spirit has affected some to the point that they do not find satisfaction merely in a job well done. For many in the world, a career must be “fun,” “exciting,” or “glamorous.” Otherwise, it holds no appeal for them. Therefore, young Christian men and women especially need to ask themselves: Has a measure of this love for the soft life rubbed off on me? Has the spirit of the world—or anything else—diluted my zeal for the missionary work?
Whatever your age, and even though you may not be one who can share full time in the missionary work either at home or abroad, it would be beneficial to examine yourself to determine whether you have true missionary zeal or not. If you feel that somehow your missionary zeal is deficient, what can you do about it?
Perhaps an examination of Acts chapter four will help you to pinpoint areas in need of additional attention so that you may more fully imitate the missionary zeal of first-century Christians. Note that, according to Ac 4 verse 13, the opposers recognized that the apostles “used to be with Jesus.” Perhaps the various pursuits of this life have restricted your ‘being with Jesus’ through Bible study to the extent that you have lost some of your original zeal.
Ac 4 Verse 23 shows that, even after facing a trial, as soon as possible the apostles again met with their fellow believers for spiritual encouragement and to build up one another’s zeal. By contrast, when a person allows relaxation and other activities that are not wrong in themselves to prevent him from meeting regularly with fellow Christians, he will gradually lose true missionary zeal. The fine prayer recorded in Ac 4 verses 24 to 30 gives additional guidance to those who seek increased zeal. Note how Jesus’ disciples prayed for boldness in speaking. Do you seek the power of God’s spirit to help you to increase your zeal as earnestly as did those believers in that prayer? If so, then you may expect results similar to those recorded in Ac 4 verse 31. Jehovah answered their prayer, they were filled with the holy spirit and they “were speaking the word of God with boldness.”
Jesus said the “good news” would be preached in all the inhabited earth for a witness. In doing that privileged work, some Christians manifest missionary zeal in their home territory, others in foreign fields. Enthusiastically, they ‘speak God’s word with boldness.’
By Jehovah’s undeserved kindness, the Kingdom message is now being heard in more than 200 lands, to compare with 54 when Gilead School was established. What is the life of a missionary like? How are their material needs met? Where do they live? How do they handle language problems? If you are considering foreign missionary service, the following account will be especially reassuring.