Mandatory Missions?

In America, everything seems to have a half-life of a McDonald’s
hamburger.  Marriages are swallowed alive by the pace and pressure of
modern life.  Today’s beloved Christmas toy is tomorrow’s landfill. 
TV’s herky-jerky treatment of even the most serious subjects renders us
numb (“God and existential neurosis, what can be known?  More in a
moment…Having trouble with irregularity?  Occasional discomfort is

Thus it is when we bump up against someone or something which doesn’t
reek of superficiality, we’re jolted into a state of wakefulness which
produces questions such as:  “Just how much of this cultural
Christianity has rubbed off on me?”

I experienced such a jolt the other day.  I found myself in a south
Texas backwater called San Juan.  As I sat in the living room of Clara
Jarvis, the widow of Fred Jarvis, I found myself entering the world of
another generation of missionaries.  Fred Jarvis started a mission
called New Life

As I listened to Clara explain how he started it, I began to see Mr.
Jarvis as representative of a generation of people possessed by an
unrelenting passion for the lost.  Here was a man who had forsaken all
so that he might identify himself with the millions around the world
headed for a Christless hell.

His passion lives on in the tracts that his mission continues to print. 
He asks us, “Do you know Jesus Christ as the Lord of the harvest?  Once
you have a meeting with Him you will never be the same.  Each morning
you will awaken and ask, ‘What can I do today to help meet the needs of a
dying world?’ Have you seen a perishing world with His eyes of
compassion?  And have you wept over lost souls with His heart of love? 
What are you doing to reap a spiritual harvest of precious souls in all
the world?”

Fred Jarvis’ approach to missions recruitment had all the subtlety of a
head-on collision.  Clara told me how it didn’t matter to him what age
you were.  He’d button-hole the 74-year-old retiree and the high school
student alike with the question, “Have you ever considered answering
God’s call to the mission field?”

This bluntness challenges my modern sensibilities.  There is this voice
in my head which says, “Yeah, but had he really earned the right to
confront people like that?”  Perhaps behind that voice is an unspoken
question, “Is missions really mandatory for everyone?  I mean, how does
this fit with the balanced Christian life?”

On the other hand, thanks to Fred Jarvis, I’m troubled by the thought
that maybe this balanced Christian life stuff is all a bunch of bunk. 
Look at the many instances in which we see Jesus throwing people off

He seemed to want only those
followers who were able to stay permanently uncomfortable.  His was not a
call to comfort, it was a call to gonzo off-kilter radicalism.  When
comfortable people came to Jesus with the plaintive question, “Can I be
comfortable and know God?”  Jesus answered, “No way, baby.”

I see a lot of young Christians today who don’t even bother with the
question of compatibility between God and a comfortable lifestyle. 
Growing up in a culture that places a premium on comfort, they just
assume that the answer is “yes.”  Having never asked God the question,
they graduate to adulthood embracing the premise that it’s OK to embark
on a career which is founded on the incentive to become more

Fred Jarvis would say they’re leaning ladders up against the wrong
building.  In an article entitled Crime of the Century, he jabs a
rhetorical finger against the sternum of a generation of Nintendo

“It’s the crime of the century.  Plainly spoken, it is the
murder by neglect of the world’s millions; but it is not the murder of
lives – much worse – it’s the murder of men’s souls.  They are sinking
into a lost eternity, not because they couldn’t be saved, wouldn’t be
saved, or shouldn’t be saved, but because we don’t care – or if we do,
we don’t care much. 

Resist the charge if you will.  Get mad if you must.  It is better to
have some emotion than none.  You will be conscience-stricken in heaven,
if you aren’t soul-stricken now.”

Jarvis had an agenda that he was committed to advance no matter the

True confession time:  I’m neck deep in missions, and I find that his
words make me sweat.  Perhaps I respond to guilt-based pleas more than
most, and perhaps this is one.  But is guilt all bad?  I’m haunted by
the hungry faces of children growing up without Christ. 

Several years ago, I led a project in Mexico.  The biggest guy on our
team was a fellow named Mike.  Mike had a heart to match his pumped-up
body.  On the last evening of our project, just as the sun was setting, a
couple of Mexican kids came walking into our camp.  Mike and others had
touched them with the love of Christ during their vacation Bible
school.  So they walked five miles just to see Mike one last time.

I had the privilege of translating for Mike as he asked them if they
knew Jesus as Savior.  Jose admitted that he didn’t.  Mike asked Jose if
he would like to accept Jesus into his heart.  Jose seemed very eager
to do so, despite all the distractions around.  So, Mike led little Jose
in a prayer of salvation. 

Later, as he began to describe for the group how Jose had walked five
miles just to say goodbye, and that in doing so, Jose find Christ, Mike
was overcome with emotion. 

He couldn’t get the words out.  Mike has probably never heard of Fred
Jarvis, but he has felt the same passion that so stirred Jarvis’ soul. 
Jarvis understood the precariousness of man’s position; he understood
that we hang by a thread over eternity’s abyss.  The notion that in our
country comparatively large numbers would have such clear access to the
truth made Jarvis a blunt man:

“When America, which has one minister for every 514 people and churches
with billions of dollars already invested in brick and mortar, plush
pews, expensive organs, lavish stained glass windows, is still foolish
enough to spend more than a million dollars a day to construct still
more and fancier churches, do you wonder why we think it is not fair?

When you can turn on your radio on Sunday and find nine or ten religious
programs all competing with one another, and yet realize that the
unlimited opportunities on the mission field go unexploited, and that
some of the programs that already exist are forced to retrench for want
of funds, do you wonder why we boil?”

Back at home, I’m sucked back into the easy lifestyle which Jarvis
railed against.  I haven’t seen my wife for almost two weeks.  We go out
for a rare treat:  a movie and a nice restaurant.  I’m splurging, it’s
true, but the total bill after tax, tip, and baby-sitter is $80. 

I know a family of thirteen in Mexico whose mother makes $3 a day. 
Their newborn son is sickly.  The garbage around their home attracts
flies that buzz around the baby.  What is my obligation to this family? 
Is “balance” realistic?

At least it’s a struggle.  If my world is constantly shifting underneath
me it is because I’ve got one foot firmly planted in suburbia and the
other in the Third World. 

But what about a generation of young people weaned on Diet Pepsi and
Star Wars?  Many are expected to pick up the shards of their own
shattered families.  To many of them, Jarvis’ appeal may sound like the
hiccup of an old broken record.  How do we really expect them to respond
to Jarvis when he says:

“The logic is inexorable.  The guilt is clear and is piling up
indictments against us.  This selfish withholding of Christ from the
nations is nothing less than the grossest form of cruelty and wrong. 

You still have time to join us in reading and weeping, praying and
repenting if you want to – but to ask for revival and blessing without
repenting of this monstrous sin is an insult.  There is a time when the
Bible says that even our prayers are an abomination.”

Yet the Joses of the world continue to walk five miles and more. 

Jesus said, “The fields are white unto harvest.  Pray therefore to the
the Lord of the Harvest that He would send out laborers into the
Harvest.”  Fred Jarvis saw the Harvest so clearly.  The terrible urgency
of the matter cut him to the bone.  You can almost see his tears when
he writes:

“God give us men – brave men, heroic men, self-sacrificing men with a
new sense of their solemn and neglected task, who will shove everything
aside and run to the rescue.

If we can’t go in person, we can prevail in prayer or provide financial
support.  Let us lay down our treasures on earth that we may lay up
treasures in heaven.  Don’t ask, ‘What can I do?’  Rather, determine,
‘This will I do!’  Then do it now!”

Some of us who are more rooted in a social gospel or who are perhaps
simply encumbered by a bunch of barely committed kids in our group will
find Jarvis’ urgent call to be quaint or anachronistic. 

Others like myself will be stirred to ask the question, “OK, how do we
sell today’s youth on this urgency?”  The only adequate answer I’ve
found is that we can’t. 

If we truly believe that missions is mandatory, then the most we can do
is to give them a missions experience and give the Holy Spirit the
opportunity to bring a little Jose into their life.  When your students’
hearts are broken as was Mike’s, then perhaps they’ll begin to catch a
glimmer of Fred Jarvis’ passion.