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Why We Should Be Involved In Our Canaan Project

Yesterday’s entry gave persuasive reasons why our congregation has no business being as deeply involved in the missions work we call our Canaan Project as we are. We’ve sent some very dear friends into an astonishingly dangerous and violent place. We’ve spent huge sums of money that could have done SOOOO much good right here around us. And most missions efforts would be abandoned if they showed such paltry obvious results as we see, especially given the combination of the danger involved and the money spent.

So why do we do it?

1) It’s dark

That’s why it’s dangerous. Our friends are working in one of the spiritually darkest places on earth. The nation and the culture are openly hostile toward Christianity. Nationals who convert to the Christian faith are socially ostracized, treated as though they were dead by their families and friends and employers, and often physically harmed or killed for leaving the religion of their upbringing.

Is there any hope for the danger to be lessened over time? I only see one way – – to bring the country and culture to Christ. How do you do that? You bring the Light to the darkness.

God made promises about people who dwell in spiritual darkness. For instance:

Nevertheless, the gloom of the distressed land will not be like that of the former times when He humbled the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali. But in the future He will bring honor to the Way of the Sea, to the land east of the Jordan, and to Galilee of the nations. The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; a light has dawned on those living in the land of darkness.  You have enlarged the nation and increased its joy. The people have rejoiced before You as they rejoice at harvest time and as they rejoice when dividing spoils. For You have shattered their oppressive yoke and the rod on their shoulders, the staff of their oppressor, just as You did on the day of Midian. For the trampling boot of battle and the bloodied garments of war will be burned as fuel for the fire. For a child will be born for us, a son will be given to us, and the government will be on His shoulders. He will be named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace. The dominion will be vast, and its prosperity will never end. He will reign on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish and sustain it with justice and righteousness from now on and forever. The zeal of the LORD of Hosts will accomplish this. [Isaiah 9:1-7 (HCSB)]

God has the only thing that can and will transform such a dark and dangerous place — His truth, His justice, His healing, His grace. He has promised, repeatedly, that He will bring it wherever it’s needed.

How will He accomplish that? He has a plan:

This is what God, Yahweh, says — who created the heavens and stretched them out, who spread out the earth and what comes from it, who gives breath to the people on it and life to those who walk on it — “I, Yahweh, have called You for a righteous purpose, and I will hold You by Your hand. I will keep You and appoint You to be a covenant for the people and a light to the nations, in order to open blind eyes, to bring out prisoners from the dungeon, and those sitting in darkness from the prison house. (Isaiah 42:5-7 [HCSB])

God’s plan is God’s people. The call to take the news of God’s truth, justice, healing and grace — given in the death and resurrection of His Son Jesus — is the reason to face the danger, to plunge into the darkness. The darker it is, the more eager we should be to go.

2) Souls are priceless

Yes, it’s expensive. Any international endeavor is. But we believe it’s worth it.

Most of the “unreached people groups” in the world are located geographically in what missiologists call “The 10/40 Window” – from West Africa across Asia between 10 and 40 degrees latitude north of the equator. Also within this 10/40 window are:

•    two-thirds of the world’s population, although only one-third of the earth’s land area.

•    the heart of the Islamic, Hindu and Buddhist religions.

•    eight out of ten of the poorest of the world’s poor enduring the world’s lowest quality of living.

•    only 8% of the world’s missionary force and 0.01% of the income of the world’s Christians.

Worldwide Christian churches devote more than 85% of their resources on our own development. That is, only 15% of this arsenal of personnel, finance, prayer, and tools goes to bless unreached people groups.

In the U.S., the picture is even bleaker. According to the Bibles for All World Prayer Map, American Christians spend 95% of offerings on home-based ministry, 4.5% on cross-cultural efforts in already-reached people groups, and 0.5% to reach the unreached.

There are 430,000 Missionaries from all branches of Christendom. Only between 2 and 3% of these missionaries work among unreached peoples.

Global Church Member Finance (in US Dollars)

  • 12.3 Trillion – Total Annual Income
  • 213 Billion – Giving to Christian Causes (1.73% of total income)
  • 11.4 Billion – To Foreign Missions (5.4% of giving to Christian causes)
  • 87% of foreign mission money goes for work among those already Christian
  • 12% for work among evangelized non-Christians
  • 1% for work among the unevangelized.

[Most of this info borrowed from statistics gathered by “Café 1040”. Verification may be found in the sources listed there.]

We choose to focus our missions work in being part of that astonishingly small percentage of churches who pursue the most unreached souls on earth, rather than on those who are already being reached out to by so many others. So, yes, it’s expensive, relative to the easier ways we could be taking. We agree with God that the people we are trying to reach are worth every penny we spend — and even more so given the tiny number of Christians trying to reach them. Thus far, through His people, God has provided financially for us to do what needed to be done to work toward our goal. We will continue in it until He stops making it possible.

And even more, He has provided for us to do some of the local outreach and benevolence we want to do around here. Because the people of our congregation are mightily generous, we have been able to help a goodly number of people, within the church and without it, in times of pressing need. And we’ve been able to support some of our favorite stateside ministries. God is good, and has provided for us to do good work here at home as well.

3) God measures success differently than men do

For whenever someone says, “I’m with Paul,” and another, “I’m with Apollos,” are you not unspiritual people? What then is Apollos? And what is Paul? They are servants through whom you believed, and each has the role the Lord has given. I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So then neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth. Now the one planting and the one watering are one in purpose, and each will receive his own reward according to his own labor. For we are God’s coworkers. You are God’s field, God’s building. [1Cor. 3:4-9 (HCSB)] 

We are planting seed where it needs to be planted. We are watering seed that was planted by our co-workers. We have seen the beginnings — the very small beginnings — of the spiritual harvest of that work. But we may never see the bountiful harvest we might find in another field.

But that’s ok. It’s not our job to make sure we’re around when the harvest comes through. That’s God’s job. We’re focused on being faithful to the work that we believe God has called us to.

Your comments are welcome below.

In the 1990’s, the church with which I serve embarked on a journey, with the goal of reaching a previously unreached people group with the gospel of Jesus. The planning and preparing took a little more than 10 years, but we planted one of our families in a place where the gospel is not openly welcomed. Because of security and safety concerns, we call this work our “Canaan Project”.

Over the years, we’ve had some of our folks who are good friends, who love our Lord and who love the lost, but who have had strong objections to our involvement in this work. Their voices have been heard, and their thinking carefully considered. While we have come to different conclusions than they have, we love them, and are glad that they’ve been a valuable part of the congregation.

And, to be honest, some of their objections have been things with which we’ve had to struggle over the years. This kind of work is not to be entered into lightly. On a recent Sunday morning, I shared three reasons why we shouldn’t do what we’re doing, and three reasons why we should. I want to give you the “shouldn’t” reasons today; tune in tomorrow for the three reasons why we should.

Why We Shouldn’t Be Involved In This Work

1) It’s dangerous

We know that our friends are living in a dangerous place. It’s hard to think of people you love being exposed to the dangers there. It’s a country which is strongly anti-Christian, generally anti-American, and plagued by armed conflict and violent protest. We’ve made all the security arrangements we can make, both there and here, but our friends are well aware of the dangers. They have had friends of their own who have been murdered in this country, for just being who they are.  Why would we want our dear friends going to such a place as this?

2) It’s expensive

Our congregation isn’t large. We currently have about 85 actual “congregational members”, with an average Sunday morning attendance of around 110. We have been both a little smaller and a bit larger over the last ten years. But this small church has put some big money into this effort. Since 1997, we’ve spent somewhere between $350,000 and $400,000 on this project; from 2009-2011 alone, we’ve invested about $150,000. This year our total outlay will be around $60,000. That’s a lot of money for a church this size. Currently, 22% of our General Fund giving is going, directly or indirectly, to this work, as well as special designations and special project gifts from the little extra we have.

Sometimes I think about the other kinds of things we could have been doing with all that cash. How much could we have improved our building here? We’ve had to continually address flooding problems in our basement; Jesse and Dave have spent many, many hours mopping up rainwater that the sump pumps couldn’t carry away. We could have been making our building more inviting & comfortable. We’d love to have a better sound system, unstained carpeting, a more inviting children’s area. We could have given ourselves more paved parking, so that folks wouldn’t have to walk through the red clay mud on wet days. We could have given our children safe and secure outdoor play areas.

How much good could we do in the community this year? Our food pantry could be kept overflowing; we could offer helpful programs for our neighbors; we could be more involved in local outreach of all kinds. How much good could we do around here for the Kingdom with that $60K to work with?

3) It doesn’t appear to be successful

How many new Christians has this project brought? How many baptisms have we seen? How many disciples of Christ in that far-away land? Not many. A handful, or less.

Why not spend $60K this year on local missions, reaching out evangelistically in THIS community? We could be getting much better “bang for the buck”; it’s hard to see how we’re being good stewards of God’s money. Why do we persist in placing our friends in such danger, at such expense, to see so little apparent effectiveness for His Kingdom?


Wow. All that adds up to quite a persuasive argument. One could easily make the case that we have no business doing what we’re doing. So why do we persist in it?

Each of these very reasonable objections has a counterpoint which explains why we do what we do. Comment or argue below, if you care to, and tune in tomorrow.

What follows is my side of a conversation I’ve been having with a friend, concerning the recently passed North Carolina marriage amendment. You’ll see some of his questions and points, and my answers to them. I’m hoping that putting it here will save me a lot of typing in further discussions with others.  I’d love to hear your responses here, whether you agree with me or not.

J***, I wish we were having this conversation face-to-face. There’s always too much to respond to in a discussion like this, and the forum is so limiting.  I’ll take things one at a time.

1) “Are you going to stand in the way of change or go with the flow?”  What a sad, sad standard to use when choosing one’s principles. That question was repeatedly asked of the church during the rise and steadily increasing empowerment of the Nazi party in the 1930’s.  Sadly, much of the church in Germany went “with the flow”, and helped make the road for Hitler’s rise to be much easier. If the church had stood strongly for what they believed then, history would have been very different.  It seems a bit ironic that, again, the church is being told to “go with the flow”, and abandon their principles for principles that are “more popular” with the general public.

2) How many homosexuals do you personally know? First, what does that have to do with the position I take?

Second, way more than I guess you would guess, since you’re asking the question. My life has taken me to a lot of places, into a lot of situations, through a lot of relationships of different kinds and various levels. I don’t decide who my friends will be based on their sexual orientation any more than I do because of their political stands, their religion, their sense of style, their age, their baseball team of choice, or anything else like that. I’ll be friends with just about anyone who will be my friend. I don’t have litmus tests that say, “You have to be this or believe that to be my friend.” Space wouldn’t allow and memory wouldn’t retain all the strong differences I have with the overwhelming percentage of my friends through the years.

Third, as I wrote to B*** (and will expand upon if he accepts my invite to a conversation elsewhere), this isn’t just about gay marriage. I have had relatives in unmarried living-with-someone situations who have been affected by a similar amendment in their state. There are thousands of unmarried couples in North Carolina, of all kinds, who are theoretically effected by the amendment. It’s a far bigger issue than just gay marriage. It involves (as I said in earlier posts) marriage between adult brothers and sisters, between parents and adult children, between one man with multiple women and one woman with multiple men. It involves those same living arrangements when marriage ISN’T desired as much as convenience and access to similar benefits as marriage offers. It involves heterosexual couples who live together without being married, who want those benefits. To reduce it to a gay marriage issue is to obscure the wide-ranging effects of the ideas involved.

3) “…are you just basing your opinion off of religious beliefs?”   Certainly my religious beliefs have an impact on my position. But they aren’t the only reason I think what I do. But I’ll go into my reasons at more length in just a bit.

4) “How does this differ from prejudice against skin color?”   Skin color has nothing to do with behavior.  A person has no input into their skin color. A person has (at least nearly) exclusive control over their behavior. A natural tendency or inborn physical preference (orientation) for a thing doesn’t give a person an automatic pass on their behavior.  I reckon I was born with, or learned early on, a strong heterosexual tendency. Does that mean I get to act that out any way I want to?  I reckon I can use that defense the next time a guy comes at me with a gun for messing with his wife. “Hey, I was born this way. How can you deny me what comes natural to me?”

Some people seem to be born with a physical predisposition to addictive behaviors. It seems to often show itself in substance abuse. Some people, I am convinced, because of chemical issues connected to their DNA, are born to be addicts. They have to fight hard to not let that happen. But we don’t excuse substance abuse because of DNA. We expect the person to be sober and disciplined, to get the help they need to avoid or defeat the addictions. (Just between you and me, and everyone else who happens to read this, I believe I am one of those people. That’s why I don’t drink alcohol at all. I believe that if I ever started, I might not be able to stop.)

That’s why I can’t equate skin color and sexual orientation.  We don’t choose our skin color. We can’t change it or control it and we shouldn’t be ashamed of it. Our behaviors, however they are “oriented”, are not in the same category. We are expected to control just about every other orientation we have to meet certain standards (whatever those standards are in the culture). Civil rights aren’t assumed because of behavioral preferences. They’re assumed because of things we can’t control.

5) “Being controlled by fear, denying people their right to freedom because of what?…… that’s right, Fear.”  Fear? J***, how do you make such a sweeping statement impugning people’s motives?  How do you know what’s in their hearts?  What am I afraid of?  We must be terrifically careful when we start deciding what other’s motives are. When we settle on the wrong one, we can no longer even discuss the issues. Same thing with the “emotional pain” bit. Why would you assume I take my positions because of emotional pain?

Having said that, I will admit that seeing other folks’ life choices DOES cause me varying degrees of emotional pain – – the variable being how close that person is to me.  It hurts my heart when a close friend dies because of his drug addiction. That’s why I hate drug abuse. It hurts my heart when a relative or close friend ruins his or her life and the lives of their children because they want to go off and “be happy” with someone else. That’s why I hate the break-up of marriages. It hurts my heart when a friend struggles constantly with alcohol abuse, because it keeps him or her from being strongly established in life, career, health and relationships.  That’s why I hate alcohol abuse.  It hurts my heart when a close friend struggles with pornography to the point that it ruins his marriage, his wife’s self-esteem, and his career.  That’s why I hate pornography.

Emotional pain is a part of life. But you don’t see me trying to pass laws about beliefs or orientations – – only about actions, and only when those laws affect things that go far beyond individual hurt. And that brings me to why I supported the marriage amendment.

I have moral and religious reasons for seeing homosexuality as a problem, but they serve more as a background or worldview than as practical application in making law. I don’t carry the illusion that I have any business turning religious belief into legislation. Our country, thankfully, isn’t designed to work that way. The reasons I supported the amendment are socio-political and historical. Historical, in that I believe that just about every time the culturally acceptable limits of what makes a marriage have been stretched to the point where we’re currently trying to stretch it (the question of gay marriage is involved but, again, is far from the only kind of relationship involved), the culture doing the stretching has soon met its downfall. The opening wide of public standards of acceptable values led to the breaking apart of any significant order in those cultures, and led to either the fall of the culture and/or nation, or to a total dictatorship in an attempt to fix the problems (for the loss of a culture, think the ancient Greeks; for the dictatorship, go with the ancient Roman Empire.)  I don’t care to go either of those ways.

On the socio-political side, I trust the studies and reports that show that when the idea of nuclear family breaks down, the social and economic costs are tremendously damaging. Look to the records that show the economic status of people where the lack of a strong father/mother combo is the defining factor of the family. While there are certainly individual bright spots and exceptions, the overwhelming result is a serious lowering of economic viability for the family, the neighborhood, the community, the town, the city. The correlations between the two consistently show it to be true, and have done so for decades. It can’t successfully be denied that the break-up of the mother/father/children family has been a major catalyst for much of the socio-economic ills we have brought on ourselves. I don’t care to go that way, either.

Also, how we think about marriage and other relationships strongly affects how we think about cultural standards. And how we think about cultural standards affects quality of life for everyone in the culture – – even those who disagree with the standards established, whatever those standards may be.

Life has to be seen and approached in the whole, not in the isolated.  And the whole picture shows, conclusively for me, that the move away from traditional marriage structures has been a major factor in a large percentage of the national socio-economic troubles we’ve been experiencing over the last four decades or so.  THAT is why I supported and voted for the amendment. Not fear of anyone; not hate for anyone; not out of some religiously-based desire to be in control of other people’s lives, but because I deeply believe, based on what I seen and learned and studied, that it is the way of thinking about marriage that most reliably positively affects the culture, the state, and the nation where I live.


Agree?  Disagree? Think I’m a total idiot?  Let me know, below. Preferably in the comments here, rather than on Facebook. But either will do.