Here we have Atheists, Deists, Universalists, and men of every sect, but all agree in this, that they are fighting against God and His cause; and they are preparing for a heavy contest, being armed with much information on all subjects. We need men of understanding, of deep research, of giant intellect, clothed with the spirit of the gospel as a garment, that they may confound all our opposers, disseminate light, establish the church, and be the means of pulling down the strongholds of Satan and building up the Kingdom of God. Dear brothers, that this great need and desirable object may be accomplished, we ask your aid and assistance.
This quote is from a letter dated 1837, early in the brief life of the Texas republic, and signed by Z.N. Morrell, A. Buffington, and J.R. Jenkins on behalf of Baptists in Texas. Copies were sent to the Baptist Board of Foreign Missions (Texas being a foreign country) and the American Baptist Home Mission Society (… barely a foreign country); and one was published by the Georgia Christian Index. In response, the Home Mission Society sent two men, James Huckins and William Tryon, to serve as itinerant missionaries. These men founded significant churches like Houston’s First Baptist, helped found Baylor University and generally strengthened the struggling efforts of Baptists in Texas in the years before even the founding of the Southern Baptist Convention. They, these emissaries from our East Coast brothers, made a difference in Texas that indirectly touched churches around the U.S. and even across the world. Texas Southern Baptists were recipients of generosity long before we became a powerhouse or any other kind dwelling beyond a tent.
Our brethren in other corners of the nation could write nearly the same letter today. In fact, we could argue that the needs in some corners of the United States are more urgent than in 1837 Texas. In many modern cities, a smaller percentage of the population has heard the gospel than was likely the case in 19th century America. The resistance of Atheists, Deists and the like cited in the letter has been amplified by our wholeheartedly materialist culture that honors only those who sit in the seat of scoffers. If we agree with the “great need and desirable object” of establishing churches and pulling down the strongholds of Satan, we are going to need to respond mercifully to the call of our brothers in the west, north and northeast of the U.S, as well as those in the borderlands and inner cities of Texas.
In a relative sense, our choice is similar to that of East Coast Baptists in 1837. We, like they were, are in a settled place rich in religious resources. Living here in Dallas-Fort Worth, I can scarcely remember the days of being excited to travel to a city that had a Baptist Book Store (now known as LifeWay Christian Stores), but that was true when I served in Indiana. In that region, I often preached in churches that had no trained music leader or pianist. The very fact that I preached more in many months in the Midwest than I do in Texas during the course of a year indicates the relative paucity of preachers available in other parts of our nation. The blessings available to our Texas churches are not to be the cause of guilt, but rather of gratitude. We must never forget that work in our state was once a missions cause and that we had those who sponsored our work having never seen our land. We must love, better than we do, people and places beyond our sight.
So what does gratitude look like? In our day, as in all days, it should look like generosity. Add to generosity a more selfless vision, advocacy for that vision and to advocacy, action. Eastern Baptists’ outreach to Texas involved all those things. They sent some of their best men, provided some money for their support and advocated to the detriment of local ministry for the missionary effort. Sometimes that last bit—advocacy—is undervalued. Notice the efforts, from VBS to recruiting preschool workers, that are most likely to be successful. Often those successes are undergirded by the passionate support of church leaders, particularly the pastor. That’s the power of advocacy, and it takes attention away from other good causes. Without it, our support of costly missionary efforts is more apparent than actual.
Do you support church planting? Lead your church to help start a church. Do you support missions in U.S. locations you’ve never heard of? Promote the Annie Armstrong offering for North American missions this year, perhaps for the first time ever. Consider a mission trip to the Texas borderlands or Utah-Idaho with a few of your church members this year.
I pray God will give you the joy of seeing your generosity bear fruit as abundantly as did those gifts from our East Coast 180 years ago.
Go to sbtexas.com/mobilization for SBTC partnership and borderlands opportunities.
Go to anniearmstrong.com for information on the 2015 offering for North American missions.