(The Views of Rufus Anderson)

The fundamental principle of Anderson’s (1796- 1880) views on missions is this: the aim of mission work must be the gathering of indigenous churches which are self-supporting, self-governing, and self-propagating. In this connection Anderson stressed that the task of the missionary is solely evangelism, i.e., the preaching and the teaching of the gospel. The missionary is not to engage in the work of civilization. He must not attempt to transform the heathen society in which he works so that it conforms as much as possible to European-American society. To this principle we shall return in later articles. For the present we wish to consider some of Anderson’s views concerning some of the more practical aspects and problems involved in missions. 

These matters apply especially to the work of foreign missions, although to a lesser degree some may also apply to domestic work. Certainly one of the greatest problems is that of the missionary moving away from his homeland to a foreign and often primitive land. Is it possible for a man to do this? Would a missionary be able to take his wife and children with him? How would his children be properly educated? These questions and more have prompted some to conclude that a man with children cannot serve on a foreign field. This is what Anderson said in 1845: “His (the missionary’s) embassy and message are as really from the other world, as if he were an angel from heaven. He who devotes himself to the work of foreign missions, comes thereby under peculiar engagements and obligations. His situation is in some important respects peculiar, compared with that of all others. His sphere of action lies beyond the bounds of his native land, beyond the bounds of Christendom, where society and the family and human nature all lie in ruins… They are required therefore preeminently to renounce the world. From the nature of the case they make a greater sacrifice of worldly blessings, than their brethren at home can do, however much disposed. They forsake their native land and the loved scenes of their youthful days. Oceans separate them from their relatives and friends. They encounter torrid heats and strange diseases. They traverse pathless wilds, and are exposed to burning suns and chilling night damps, to rain or snow. Yet these things, when in their most repulsive forms, are reckoned by missionaries as the least of the trials appertaining to their vocation. The foreign missionary’s greatest sacrifices and trials are social and religious. It is here that he has a severity of trial, which even the domestic missionary ordinarily cannot have. Whatever the devoted servant of Christ upon the frontiers may endure for the present, he sees waves of a Christian civilization not far distant rolling onward, and knows that there will soon be all around him gospel institutions and a Christian community. But it is not so with the foreign missionary. It requires great strength of faith in Christ for him to look at his rising family, and then with unruffled feelings toward the future. True, he sees the gospel taking hold of minds and hearts in consequence of his ministry; he sees around him the germs of a future Christian civilization. But then owing to the imperfect and disordered state of society in heathen communities, he dares not anticipate so much social advancement for two or three generations to come as would make it pleasant to think of leaving his children among the people for whose spiritual well-being he delights to spend his own strength and years. And then his heart yearns oft-times to be braced and cheered by social Christian fellowship of a higher order than he finds among his converts from heathenism. It is not the flesh-pots of Egypt he looks back upon, nor any of the pleasant things that used to gratify his senses in his native land; but he does sometimes think of the kindred spirits he would find in that land, and of the high intellectual and spiritual fellowship he would enjoy in their society, and how it would refresh and strengthen his own mind and heart. Often there is a feeling of weakness and faintness arising from the want of such fellowship, which is the most painful part of his sufferings. The foreign missionary is obliged, indeed, to act preeminently upon the doctrine of a future life, and of God’s supreme and universal government, and to make a deliberate sacrifice of time for eternity, and of earth for heaven. And this he does as an act of duty to his Redeemer, for the sake of extending the influence of his redemption, and bringing its reconciling and saving power to bear upon the myriads of immortal souls dwelling beyond the utmost verge of the Christian church” (To Advance the Gospel, Rufus Anderson; R. Pierce Beaver, ed., pp. 77, 78). 

Dr. J. Herbert Kane, a missionary to China for fifteen years and currently professor of missions emeritus at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, Deerfield, Illinois, has some interesting and instructive comments on this subject. One of the qualifications a missionary must have according to Kane is this: “Assurance of divine guidance. Missionary work is not getting any easier. Some of the physical hardships have been eliminated, but in their place is a whole host of other difficulties, psychological, ideological, and interpersonal. The short-termer may be able to get along fairly well without any great ‘sense of call,’ but the career missionary will find it mighty handy when the going gets rough. It will help him immensely if he can say, ‘I am a missionary by the will of God.’ . . . If a missionary has a deep, abiding conviction that he is in Brazil, or Borneo, or Burundi by the will of God he will not turn and run at the first sight or ‘sound of danger, nor will he give up when the difficulties multiply and the frustrations almost drive him crazy. He will go the second mile and stay on the job long after the sun has gone down only if he is surethat he is in the will of the Lord” (Understanding Christian Missions, 3rd. ed., pp. 82, 83). Another qualification cited by Kane is: “Ability to endure hardness. The Chinese call it ‘eating bitterness.’ There is no doubt that the affluent society in which we live has produced in all of us a love of ease and comfort that is the hallmark of the American way of life. We have central heating in the winter and air-conditioning in the summer and twenty-eight varieties of ice cream the year round. Physical well-being, financial security, material prosperity, peace and contentment, law and order-these are the main ingredients that go to make up the affluent society that is America. The individual is pampered and protected from the cradle to the grave. Dentistry, surgery, and now childbirth, are all rendered painless. Even Band-Aids must be ‘ouchless.’ The energy crisis that now threatens to change drastically the American lifestyle is perhaps the best things that has happened to us since Thomas Edison invented the incandescent lamp. The American missionary, more than any other, finds it difficult to knuckle down to the simple life-style in most parts of the Third World. Like the children of Israel who hankered after the ‘leeks and onions of Egypt,’ he wants to retain as much as possible the American standard of living. That is why some of them take tons of household stuff, including canned goods, when they leave for the field…. Missionaries must be prepared to endure hardness, like good soldiers of Jesus Christ, in order to identify with the people they are seeking to win. The gap between the ‘have’ nations and the ‘have not’ nations is altogether too great. The Christian missionary by himself cannot close that gap no matter what he does, but he can help to bridge it at the local level if he is willing to ‘eat bitterness”‘ (Kane, pp. 78, 79).

Some children of missionaries are tutored on the field, while others are educated at Boarding Schools. This latter involves separating the children from their parents for some months at a time. And, let it be understood, this is no small matter! Dr. Kane, whose children were educated in a mission boarding school, has this to say about it: “To begin with, we must go back to the Scriptures and discover what Christ had to say about the matter. Few of His statements are stronger or clearer than His statement on family ties. ‘He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me’ (Matt. 10:37). However difficult it is to work it out in practice, we are forced to confess that all horizontal relationships must be subservient to the vertical relationship between Christ and His disciple. Nobody, not even the dearest person on earth, must be allowed to come between the disciple and his Lord…. This does not mean that we abandon our children or repudiate our parents (I Tim. 5:8); but it does means that in principle we recognize the supremacy of Jesus Christ in all relationships of life . . . . Once the child makes the initial adjustment, which usually takes only a few days, he settles down to a life of comfort and contentment. He has other children of his own age, language, and culture with whom he can study and play. Classes are small enough to permit individual tutoring where necessary. Teachers are dedicated as well as competent. Homework is done together under supervision, which means no one falls behind. And best of all—there is no television. . . . It is no exaggeration to say that the MKs (missionaries’ kids, R.D.D.) in a mission school are given more attention and security than the children in American suburbia. . . . Schools for missionaries’ children are not penal institutions nor are they reformatories. They are a combination of home, school, and church where the prevailing atmosphere is surcharged with Christian love. There is no need to shed any tears for the MKs on the mission field. They should be reserved for the ‘underprivileged’ kids at home” (Kane, pp. 59, 60). 

We certainly have no wish to minimize the hardships, the inconveniences, or the problems and many frustrations missionaries and their families must endure for the Lord’s sake. These are many and they are great. Not every Christian can be a missionary or a missionary’s wife. It takes one called and qualified and strengthened by the grace of God. What we do wish to stress, however, is that it is by no means impossible for a missionary with a family to labor in a foreign land. Thousands upon thousands have done it in the past. It can be done today, by the grace of God. 

To be continued. . .