The Global Gospel
Earlier this year, I had the opportunity to visit Southeast Asia. Just thinking about the trip brings back many happy memories of visiting developing ministries, teaching eager students, and having rich fellowship with some of the missionaries. One such memory is a brief layover in Seoul, South Korea, where I, along with my colleagues, decided to visit Yanghwajin Foreign Missionary Cemetery. As the name indicates, this is where 145 foreign missionaries to Korea and their family members are now buried and remembered. Among them were the families of Horace Underwood (1859-1916), the first Presbyterian missionary to Korea (northern Presbyterian), and W. D. Reynolds, a southern Presbyterian (1867-1951). While engaged in many ministries, these two missionaries are best remembered for their work in producing the first Korean translation of the complete Bible in 1910, but this was not without great cost. Soon after their arrival in 1892, the Reynolds gave birth to their first son, William Davis. Their joy was soon followed by grief as little William Davis died the same year he was born, and is now buried alongside many other children of missionaries who have died in Korea. The graves of these missionaries are sober reminders of the sacrifices many missionaries (and their children) have made in their desire to proclaim the Gospel throughout the world.
Paul and Missions
What motivated and continues to motivate men and women to leave the relative comforts of their home to carry the Gospel message of Christ abroad? Paul, the first missionary theologian, provides a glimpse of his own perspective in Romans 15 where he discusses his personal plans. He begins by offering a big picture of God who was at work. In Romans 15:8-13, he quotes no less than four Old Testament passages: Deuteronomy 32:43, Isaiah 11:10, Psalm 18:49, and 117:1. It is interesting to note that these verses are taken from each of the divisions of the Old Testament: the law, the prophets, and the writings. Moreover, each of these verses look forward to the day when the whole world (including the Gentiles) will one day find hope in Christ. Paul is reminding this church, composed mainly of Gentiles in a foreign land, that their inclusion into Christ’s body was always in the grand plan of God. The same God who graciously saved and called Paul is also graciously calling the Gentiles to himself through the preaching of the Gospel.
Paul then is a foot soldier for God, and it is God who compels him. Perhaps to the disappointment of some believers in Rome, Paul informs them that he will not be staying with them very long. In fact, his visit with the church in Rome is a mere layover before he begins his journey westward to Spain (Rom. 15:24). What was his reason for continuing his journey beyond Rome? He was deeply convinced that he had been called to proclaim the Gospel of Christ in places where the message of Christ had never before been heard (Rom. 15:20). Seeking to preach the Gospel in Spain is not his personal choice or preference, but the will of the God who graciously called him.
Paul calls upon the church in Rome to participate in this worldwide proclamation of the Gospel. He says, “I hope to see you in passing as I go to Spain, and to be helped on my journey there by you, once I have enjoyed your company for a while” (Rom. 15:24, emphasis mine). The word translated “to be helped on my journey” can mean assistance in general, including financial provisions, but the basic meaning of the word is “to accompany” or “to escort.” It seems likely that Paul is asking for coworkers and partners in ministry who might join him on his journey to Spain. Paul is calling the church in Rome—and in turn, all of us—to see the big picture of God’s redemptive activity and to participate in the proclamation of the Gospel to those who have not heard.
WSC and Missions
For this reason, Westminster Seminary California (WSC) is committed to training men and women to understand fully the redemptive plan of God and to proclaim faithfully the Gospel of Jesus Christ. As a seminary in Southern California, with Mexico as its neighbor and with close ties to Asia, WSC has always been engaged actively in missions, both near and far.
The small city of Escondido, where WSC is located, has become a launching pad for many graduates to take the Gospel of Christ literally to the ends of the earth. We have alumni serving in over 30 countries worldwide, including Cambodia, Japan, Uganda, South Africa, Mexico, Peru, Spain, Germany, and many more. They serve as church planters, pastors, elders, educators, professors, Bible translators, and administrators. Though their roles and ministries are different, they are united together in their desire to proclaim Christ and make him known. Some of our very best graduates are laboring faithfully in unfamiliar cultures with adopted languages. Updates of their lives and ministries, as well as their visits, remind us of the power of the Gospel and the amazing work of the Lord throughout the world.
For example, Mission to the World (MTW), the missions organization of my denomination, the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA), recently highlighted the ministry of one of our graduates (and my WSC classmate), Jim Jung, who serves in Sydney, Australia. In this vibrant international city, Jim and his wife, Claudia, helped found Harbor City Church (HCC) and a campus ministry called Student Outreach to the World (SOW). Both HCC and SOW have been active in sending missionaries throughout Asia to plant churches, minister to university students, and share the Gospel with unreached people groups. Through the ministry of Jim and others like him, we are witnessing what some missionaries have referred to as “everyone to everywhere,” where missions is no longer missions from “us” to “them” but from “we” to “us.”
The faithful labors of our alumni remind us of the importance of theological education. Along with local churches, seminaries like WSC incubate and help prepare future missionaries. This certainly takes place in courses on missions, which lay a foundation for missions throughout the world. This also happens in every class by preparing and equipping students to handle the Word of God carefully and faithfully, that they may both appreciate fully the depth and riches of theology and ably defend and proclaim the message of Christ. From this perspective, theology and missions are not two separate studies, but the latter necessarily flows out of the former.
We see this by example in the faculty. They teach and model the mixture of theology and ministry by their love and care for Christ’s church, both locally and globally. WSC’s faculty consists of missionaries, board members of missions, members of missions committees of local churches, and committed churchmen who regularly travel abroad to help churches in various countries receive encouragement and training from the global church.
Moreover, globalization means that a clear line between local and global churches is no longer an easy line to draw. Like many of our churches, WSC welcomes students from all over the world. We currently have students from 18 foreign countries, and that number will greatly increase if we account for our graduates. Among them are students from Ukraine, Turkey, Romania, and a handful from China, each one with narratives of God’s surprising grace and providential care in their lives. The presence of these international students not only encourages and challenges us by their experiences and sacrifices, but it also allows for WSC to participate in the global reach of the Gospel as they return to their countries to teach and shepherd the universal church.
I will not soon forget visiting Yanghwajin Foreign Missionary Cemetery in Seoul. The sacrifices of missionaries like Horace Underwood, W. D. Reynolds, and others more familiar to us like Bruce Hunt have paved the way for the rapid growth of Christianity in Korea, especially among Presbyterians. As an immigrant from South Korea who was born into the family of a Presbyterian minister, it is humbling to remember that I am one of the fruit of their faithful missionary labors. I praise God for the many men and women who are heeding the call of God to labor in foreign and domestic missions. I pray for my friends and co-laborers who are in the field, whose names are not known by many of us but who are never forgotten by our Lord. We share in the same name, faith, and baptism and have no geographical bounds through our union with the risen Christ. I pray that the Lord will use WSC to raise up many more laborers for the church.
This article was previously published in the Spring 2016 issue of UPDATE Magazine
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