Finding Productive Gospel Opportunities: Reflections on my recent trip to the Philippines
A flight around the world
On my recent trip to the Philippines, I flew east rather than west. In doing so, I inadvertently completed the experience of me traveling completely around the world. Having missed my connecting flight due to an hour and a half delay from sub-freezing temperatures and snowfall at Dulles Airport, the airline put me up in a hotel in Dubai, the largest city in the United Arab Emirates (UAE). While the unscheduled layover was relaxing, and I was well provided for, I was immersed in a sea of people from many countries and I felt like a stranger in a strange land! I wondered much about the incredible number of people who populate this world, and how many know Jesus?
Actually, it was somewhat vexing. Remember that scripture that says, “If I say to the wicked, 'You shall surely die,' and you give him no warning, nor speak to warn the wicked from his wicked way, in order to save his life, that wicked person shall die for his iniquity, but his blood I will require at your hand. But if you warn the wicked, and he does not turn from his wickedness, or from his wicked way, he shall die for his iniquity, but you will have delivered your soul.” (Ezekiel 3:18-19 ESV)? Are not we the Lord’s watchmen? How can we warn the whole world? It’s a daunting task.
In our weekly Nathaniel Bowditch Clinic mentoring classes, we recently covered the scriptures that described how Jesus preached to the souls in prison who were disobedient in the days of Noah, whereby only 8 souls were saved (See 1Pet. 3:13–4:6). How unimaginable is that vast number of lost souls who rejected the faithful testimony of Noah and his family. I wondered about the sea of people I saw around me. Are they disobedient to the Gospel? How can Christians reach them? I thought much about this during my trip. Sally and I had prayed fervently for Divine contacts and I hoped for meaningful engagements. Mostly, I was disappointed.
Looking for Gospel-moments
During my layover, I attempted to greet as many people as possible, often using the American logos on personal clothing to start conversations. Judging by appearance, everyone seemed very westernized, and perhaps more precisely to my filtered eye, Americanized. Nearly every head was bowing ritualistically over small hand-held devices which they seemed to stroke in a continuous fashion, periodically giving a gentle tap as if an expression of admiration, accompanied by smiles on their faces. But that was only the appearance of things to me. Everyone appeared to be focused on their own destinations, and I succeeded only in very superficial conversations.
The call to prayer, prayer rooms, cultural garb, these all directed my thoughts on the general influence of the Gospel, or rather, the seeming lack thereof among so many people otherwise fully embracing western civilization. I felt like I was observing the residue of a post-Christian era. Nevertheless, upon arriving in Manila, my driver, Enrico, immediately identified himself as a Christian. He had the radio tuned to a Christian program and I asked what station he was listening to. He said, “It’s FEBC”. There it was, the Far East Broadcasting Company, a faithful missionary organization, still working behind the scenes and producing thoughtful gospel broadcasts around the world for these many, many years! As I reflected on these contrasting experiences, I wondered, “How can we believers be the most productive in faithfully sharing the Gospel using the spiritual gifts and opportunities that God has given to each of us?”
Productive is the idea I was contemplating, not evaluating visible results. Noah wasn’t very fruitful with results, but he was productive in the visionary, energetic, and faithful labor in that part of the harvest field where God had sovereignly placed him. Faithfully planting seeds and watering them is the only real measure of productivity for any Christian. While walking in personal obedience, one plants, another waters, but God gives the increase (1Cor. 3:6-8). How might I, or any of God’s workers for that matter, be strategic and intentional in national or international Gospel outreach?
Productive outreach must have a logistical plan in a local setting based upon the specific opportunities (needs) given for that individual to serve. Simply put, a workman needs to know where they are, what they’re doing, who else is serving near them and what their resources are for faithful ministry in the place where God has put them. Just like Paul and Apollos, considering fellow workers is essential in perceiving the big picture and understanding the important contribution that each individual brings to any productive work of God. To do this, we must think biblically, perceive globally and act locally; faithfully doing our task creatively and humbly. The humble part is the most stabilizing element of Gospel outreach. We must not measure our own sense of significance by how grand our place in the harvest field appears to be. By humility, we are empowered to make the most of every opportunity, no matter how small it looks. Perhaps feelings of insignificance can become a doorway to greater alertness to opportunity. We must learn to take every negative thought captive as we walk in obedience to Christ (2Cor 10:5). Spiritually, nothing provokes feelings of insignificance more than disrespect! Be alert to productive opportunities when you are treated like trash!
A Reminder from Oswald Chambers
My late arrival to Manila on Sunday continued my quiet contemplation on missionary outreach. The My Utmost devotional by Oswald Chambers, found in my inbox, challenged me again. Here it is in brief...
“We have been made as the filth of the world (1 Cor. 4:13)
...Are we too cautious and concerned about our [acceptance among men] to allow ourselves to become the refuse or “filth of the world?” The phrase, “Fill up in my flesh what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ” (Col. 1:24), is not the result of the holiness of sanctification, but the evidence of consecration —being “separated to the gospel of God…” (Rom, 1:1). Beloved, do not think it strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you…” (1 Pet.4:12) ...[by the Spirit of God], You can say, “I don’t care if I am treated like ‘the filth of the world’ as long as the gospel is proclaimed.” A true servant of Jesus Christ is one who is willing to experience martyrdom for the reality of the gospel of God. When a moral [unbeliever] is confronted with contempt, immorality, disloyalty, or dishonesty [against himself], he is so repulsed by the offense that he turns away and in despair closes his heart to the offender. But the miracle of the redemptive reality of God is that the worst and the vilest offender can never exhaust the depths of His love. Paul did not say that God separated him [to the Gospel] to show Paul what a wonderful man God could make of him, but “to reveal His Son in me…” (Galatians 1:16).” From My Utmost for His Highest.
The revelation of God’s love in me transforms the personal offense against me into an occasion of outreach in love and forgiveness because Christ enables me to speak His own very words, “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do!”
Is suffering the best God-given resource for productive labor in God’s harvest field?
If faithfulness is the greatest measure of a Christian’s productive labor, it is imperative that the Lord’s servant anticipates and prepares his or herself to suffer as a part of, or perhaps a significant part of one’s productive labor. Suffering raises the visible profile of the believer’s testimony. Suffering is a great magnifier that authenticates the message of the believer. “For to this you were called, because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that you should follow His steps” (1 Peter 2:21). “But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts, and always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear” (1 Peter 3:15). “Therefore, since Christ suffered for us in the flesh, arm yourselves also with the same mind, for he who has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin” (1Peter 4:1).
Productive in and through suffering? Certainly, that is counter-intuitive. The natural eye imagines just the opposite: productivity is impeded by anything that interferes with the planned process! Suffering certainly interferes with our process of Gospel outreach, but not God’s plan. Suffering cultivates creativity in Gospel productivity. One must either create workarounds because of the interference or adapt to the new situation entirely. We see this clearly in the Apostle Paul’s life in the book of Acts, and in Joseph’s life in the book of Genesis.
Reflecting on these two giants of productivity and faithfulness, it is apparent that the productivity of God’s workers is unbroken and triumphant, whether slowed by obstacles or running its free course. "But thanks be to God who always leads us in triumphal procession in Christ and who makes known through us the fragrance that consists of the knowledge of him in every place. For we are a sweet aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing - to the latter an odor from death to death, but to the former a fragrance from life to life. And who is adequate for these things? For we are not like so many others, hucksters who peddle the word of God for profit, but we are speaking in Christ before God as persons of sincerity, as persons sent from God" (2Co 2:14-17 NET). Joseph was spiritually prepared by his dreams and Paul by his conversion. No matter what the circumstances or the location, God’s workers can be faithful and productive, whether they are rejected outright or received with open arms.
Although beloved and received by his father, Joseph adapted to the opposition of jealous brothers which resulted in slavery and then later, jail. Joseph got to see some of the harvest of his productive suffering attained and so he was able to later declare to his brothers, “I am Joseph your brother, whom you sold into Egypt. But now, do not therefore be grieved or angry with yourselves because you sold me here; for God sent me before you to preserve life. ...And God sent me before you to preserve a posterity for you in the earth, and to save your lives by a great deliverance. So now it was not you who sent me here, but God; and He has made me a father to Pharaoh, and lord of all his house, and a ruler throughout all the land of Egypt” (Genesis 45:4-5, 7-8).
Productivity does not necessarily imply that we are in charge as if we can control where we are going. We ultimately can’t, but we can be quick to adapt and change venues as our steps are ordered by the Lord. Never invest too much capital into your own plans. Keep your resources flexibly adaptable to God’s plans for the day, week and year of His choosing.
Part of the reason for a worker’s hope in faithful Christian service is the reality that through suffering, God is demonstrating authentic Christianity to the persecutor. “They will give an account to Him who is ready to judge the living and the dead. For this reason the gospel was preached also to those who are dead, that they might be judged according to men in the flesh, but live according to God in the spirit” (I Peter 4:5-6).
Therefore, it is imperative that productive Christian workers factor suffering into their expectations. Don’t be too unobservant in assessing what constitutes suffering! A faithful plan embraces every hardship as a gift from God, and one’s response has great potential for much increase in harvest as well. This harvest may not be readily visible today but it will fill heaven with glory tomorrow.
Apply this to your family circumstances and the disappointments that so easily turn happy plans into grumbling and complaining. Your circumstances, no matter how difficult and disappointing, are crafted by the Master Designer. He gives you eternal opportunities to display His glory in every difficult situation you experience. God says, “This people have I formed for myself; they shall shew forth my praise” (Isa. 43:21). The stage is set by God, are you ready for His kind of worship? In everything give God thanks and glory, and let His righteousness shine out from you like the noonday sun! Here is a promise: The child who enters adulthood fully embracing hardship as a good soldier of Jesus Christ will achieve more productivity in their lifetime than if they arrive at adulthood with most of their tender ego intact. The question to us parents is: What kind of heritage do you want for your children?
An unexpected ministry in missions
On a side note, as I completed my trip to the Philippines, I did have the opportunity to reflect more personally on my own role in Gospel outreach. In 1972, when God was pleased to reveal His Son in me, I immediately surrendered my whole life to His service. When I was preparing for that service at Washington Bible College in the years of 1973-77, I had learned a sharp and painful lesson on obeying God when I heard His clear instructions. At school, as I listened to the many missionaries share their work, I would often beg the Lord, “Please send me to Africa!” However, every time I begged, I would hear Him clearly say, “No!” I obeyed, but I was hurt, childishly asking what was wrong with me that I couldn’t go. But I obeyed, and in my final round of begging God to go, He said no, but promised to bless me in the work He called me to: Christian Education. That was 1982.
By 1983, God had led me to start the WCFS home school program. How amazing that today, by obedience I am being blessed to serve God around the world! God’s message to me had clearly been, “And do you seek great things for yourself? Seek them not, ... But I will [bless] your life ...in all places to which you may go." (Jeremiah 45:5 adapted). However, I have not been a soloist in service! Beginning with my wife, Sally, God has continually placed other valuable and gifted workers around me to enlarge and bless my ministry. So here I am, blessed and satisfied, God’s missionary these many years later! God has fulfilled my dreams of youth with the guidance of His sovereign will and rich blessings! To Him be all the glory!
 My trip was designed as an on-site training workshop for staff at our affiliate school in the Philippines, Homeschool Global (HG). HG operates in 27 regional “hubs.” Several of these Hubs
operate in restricted countries and provide educational opportunities for expatriates working in these areas. (An expatriate is a foreign national working in outside of his native country.)