Heroes are important to us. If we are to be whole, if we are to be honest, the memories of heroes past must be in the repertoire of our thoughts.
Not only military heroes, there are also heroes of faith. The Lord knows we need these people in our memories. When indelibly etched in our memories, these saints help us face the realities of the journey with strength and tenacity. As we think about them, they form in our minds like a corridor of people who made an eternal difference but also a personal impact on our lives.
You can read of such heroes like the first American missionaries. In 1812, two hundred years ago, Adoniram Judson set sail from Salem, Mass., with his wife Ann in route to India (later arriving in Burma). Judson was 24 years old and Ann was 23 when they left their native New England. He served in Burma for 38 years until his death at age 61. In that entire time, he would only return home once.
He spent years in the filth of a Burmese prison. He witnessed for seven years without a single convert. He lost two wives and four children on the field. From a human perspective, their departure for the hardships of missionary life was a fool’s errand.
However, from heaven’s perspective, the evaluation is much different. Jesus Christ teaches His kingdom is like a mustard seed which is sown in a field and though smaller than all other seeds, when full grown is larger and actually becomes a tree (Matt. 13). Jesus is teaching that what may look insignificant to the world may become something monumental, something that makes an eternal impact.
Missouri state missionary, R. Gary Taylor is a hero in my mind. This giant of a man with a smile as broad as the horizon had such an unquenchable passion for people. He engaged people in spiritual conversation like it would be the last time he would ever see this person. He lived like he genuinely loved every person created by God.
He would say, “Dr. Yeats, let’s pray.” Then he would bend that lanky frame into a kneel. I knew that because of the chemo it caused him pain, but that didn’t matter to Gary. I knew I was on holy ground.
He would begin by giving thanks for the redemption that was his in Christ. Then, without even a hint of superficiality, he would begin to weep for people to be saved. He would ask the Lord to send a particular person to witness to the lost person. Tears would flow and pool on his Bible. No one else knew the full number of people this man prayed for and witnessed to. But God does.
But that’s the stuff of missionary heroes. Today, there are some heroes in the making and laboring in inconspicuous places sharing the gospel in hostile environments. No one knows how many hours are invested in intercession or how many conversations are launched to spread the gospel. But God does.
In obedience to Christ, we have a role in holding the rope of support for these missionaries whether they be on the international field of service or the state field of service. We hold that rope with our intercession and by our church’s faithful giving mission dollars through the Cooperative Program.
Somebody needs to say this, so here goes: Direct mission projects are good and we need to be engaged in direct involvement. But let Southern Baptists stay true to holding the rope of support for our people on the ground of service. If we listen and watch, we can see God raising up some new missionary heroes who walk behind people like Adonirum Judson and Gary Taylor to take the gospel to people in hostile cultures.
In a downturned economy, perhaps it is time we turned a new page of history in Southern Baptist life. One that celebrates God’s call on our missionary heroes. One that takes the gospel to the people of the world through growth in CP mission giving from our churches and one that engages lost people here and there.