What do you write on a map when you come to the end of the world as you know it? Three words were used by the medieval cartographer of the famed Lenox Globe (c. 1503-1507) to describe the outer boundaries of the world where knowledge ended and speculation began: Hic Sunt Dragones. “Here be dragons.”
After drawing on all of his knowledge, the mapmaker could only write those three provocative words to convey that these areas were at best unexplored, and at worst, perilous.
One of the first funerals I conducted in St. Louis was at the Gerber Funeral Home in Webster Groves. They had a facsimile of an Old World Map on their wall containing those ominous words. I don’t remember visiting Gerbers without studying that map. In fact, the map became a symbol to me of ministry in St. Louis. When I was called to the Rock Hill Baptist Church in St. Louis County, from La Monte Baptist Church in western Pettis County, I was told by some St. Louis pastors that St. Louis was a “graveyard for evangelism.” They told me not to expect to be able to reach people in St. Louis, they are “too hardened to the Gospel.” I often thought of those statements as I viewed the Old World Map. All the map maker could tell was “Here Be Dragons.” It seemed that’s all some church leaders could see in St. Louis.
I quaked in my “boots” as I began leading Rock Hill. Could we reach people in the city like we reached people in rural Missouri? I resolved to use the spiritual tools I had seen God use in my first seven years as a pastor: Prayer. Bible preaching and teaching. Personal soul winning. Guess what: God began to show up. Within a few months of going out on my own to knock on every door in Brentwood and share the Gospel, church members began to ask me to train them to share the Gospel. I did, and God began to bring many more to Jesus!
The memories of those days at Rock Hill came back to me this month with a letter from one of the converts. Let me share a part of it with you: “Dear Brother Gary, if you open this on Sept. 8, you will be sharing with me a very momentous day and occasion in my life. I remember it so well. Cal and I had been to visit Rock Hill Baptist two days before. It was Tuesday, Sept. 8… . A search for God began in me several years before … and when you reached the end of the Four Spiritual Laws booklet and asked me if I would like to receive Christ, I was so totally ready! When you asked me that, a voice inside me said, ‘this is what you have been searching for.’ Really! It must have been the Holy Spirit. I remember, too, that I wasn’t able to pray out loud, as I had never done that before in my life except for meal and bedtime prayers. I also remember going into the bedroom after you left and just being very quiet, knowing that something significant had just taken place. Little did I know just how significant it was! So it has now been 40 years since you and God teamed up to change my life completely … . Thank you for leading me to Christ on Sept. 8, 1970!”
Yes, St. Louis had (has) its share of “Dragons.” Yet in the midst of so much unknown, the “Deliverer” continued to show up! Oh, I almost forget to tell you: Though medieval cartographers sketched hic sunt dragones on the edges of their maps, maps of that era often held another image at the top – Christ and His angels.
As I pray for Missouri Baptists to place the Gospel on every door in our state by year’s end 2011, it causes me to quake in my “boots.” As I contemplate the task before us, my vision is clouded by “Dragons,” around the edges; God nudges me to look upon our Deliverer at the top. Truly, we can “Trust an unknown future to a known God!” (Gary Taylor is the Missouri Baptist Convention’s director of evangelism.)