By Nate Scholz
In the Fall of 1878, my ancestor, Gardus Egmont Lothar Bertram, arrived in southern Australia and became the Pastor of a tiny German-speaking community. Six months earlier he had tearfully left his home country of Germany, knowing he would never see his parents again. His fiance’, Agnes, would join him almost a year later after saying her own goodbyes to her family forever.
Years later, they would move their small family to serve in New Zealand, and eventually, the family would board another steamer and make their way to America. In Woodstock, Illinois, my mother’s mother was born – the daughter of Gardus’ oldest son, John. The only reason I know any of this is because John recorded the story of “Our Family,” in a missionary biography of his father’s ministry.
I love the words “missions” and “missionary.” They speak to me of a legacy of partnering with God in his 2000-year quest to nurture the growing family of those who follow Jesus. His list of chores for his children was clear to understand: Go to every people group… Make disciples who make disciples… Baptize… Teach them to obey.
Many in the world, however, do not imagine acts of care when they hear the word “missionary,” because instead they’ve experienced atrocities in the name of Jesus. Muslim nations, for example, have historically found Christians to be their enemies. God’s intent was that the symbol of the cross was to communicate, “I love you so much that Jesus gave up his own life.”
In the Crusades, Satan managed to masterfully redefine the symbol to mean the exact opposite. As Christian knights rode into battle with the cross on their armor Muslims heard: “I hate you so much that I will take your land and your life in the name of Christ.”
This motivational misunderstanding creates a lot of complexity for missionaries today.
Did you know that governments do Google searches of visitors to their countries? They look up their names and other key words, like “missionary.” Association with that word online not only restricts the progress of the gospel, but people’s lives are also endangered!
There’s a trend in the missions community to avoid using these words. “Missions” is being replaced with “Global outreach.” “Missionaries” are referred to as “Cross-cultural workers.” It’s a necessary shift in ascribed identity due to the perceived meaning of the words by those we’re trying to reach. We gravitate towards preserving “missions” and “missionary” for sentimental reasons, even though they don’t appear in the Bible.
Your own Bethany Covenant Missions Team has been considering a name change recently. The reason? We’d love to tell you about our workers who are inviting the least reached people to follow Jesus – some from Muslim backgrounds, but we can’t post their names or biographies on our “missionary page” to protect their security. We think there is precedent to changing the name since even our own denomination has adopted the name “Serve Globally” to refer to the part of the Evangelical Covenant pertaining to gospel outreach.
I’m personally conflicted on the issue. Part of me continues to celebrate my family’s missionary legacy. On the other hand, I’m happy to use a different word or two if it eases the transmission of the gospel to the nations in a practical way.
What do you think? Would you object to the Missions Team calling ourselves “The Global Outreach Team” instead?
How do you feel about Bethany’s legacy of global outreach? Did you know that we meet every second Tuesday on odd numbered months at 7:00 PM in the church, and that anyone in the congregation is welcome to join us? You could think of it as another boring meeting to avoid. Sometimes they are! Or you could come and be inspired by news of how our little Mount Vernon community is impacting God’s kingdom in the world.
I can’t personally think of anything more meaningful. Hope to see you soon!