(Please note that I do not share the name of the missionary due to the danger he and his family could experience because of this post.)
What a pleasure it was to have Pastor ****** and his family with us in the Divine Service and leading the Bible study hour yesterday. To hear all of what is being accomplished by God’s grace through such servants across the massive region that he now oversees is incredibly heartening to say the least. I’m sure that like you, after hearing and seeing his presentation, you know that the Lord has raised up the right man for the right job at the right time.
There were two things in particular that he said yesterday that continue to resonate with me this morning as I write this note.
The first of these is when he mentioned a small gathering of men studying the Book of Concord in Vietnam, and at one point during his time with them, Pastor ****** offered his own sadness that they were so terribly persecuted for their Christian faith. But one of the men surprisingly replied that he hoped the persecution would never end. He explained that he was far more fearful that if the challenges ever subsided, the Christians might be tempted to begin taking what they have for granted.
This is an astoundingly potent truth, one that brings to mind the ever-present challenge of convincing American Christians not only why it is so important to be present in holy worship, but also to take the faith seriously—to know and understand that membership in the Church isn’t just one freedom among many that we enjoy, but rather it is the design and desire of Jesus Christ for administering what you need to save your soul for eternal life. I would even go so far as to say that it is the single most important wellspring for the truest freedom that matters most in this world.
We seem to be losing this understanding in the American churches, and it brings to mind what I’ve heard from one of my former professors who spent some time in Madagascar. He said, essentially, that the Christians there consider the United States to be a slothful and ungodly nation, one that shows no concern for what faith in Christ really means, thereby making the U.S. a prime mission field.
Yes, Africa is sending missionaries to the United States. Who’d have ever imagined such a thing?
The other thing that came to mind during the presentation was the picture of his daughter holding her teacher’s hand to her forehead. He explained that in Thailand when the students come into the classroom each morning, they are to exhibit a form of respect for the teacher by taking his or her hand and touching it their foreheads. I researched this. It is a well-entrenched practice of culture. In one particular article it noted that this was really more a sign of reverence for the office of teacher, one in which the child acknowledged that he or she was not only well below the teacher in wisdom, but was willing to learn and be grateful for the lessons that would be placed into the mind by their hand.
Again, I wonder if in the swelling tide of radical individualism in America, we are losing this fundamentality. To illustrate, consider the following.
Truth be told, it is becoming more and more common that I end up in conversations with students in our school who have shown a surprising level of disrespect to a teacher, whether it’s blatant obstinacy or simply bad-manners and discourteous speech. Roles are becoming blurry. But no matter the behavior, even as the opportunity for repentance and forgiveness is fostered, in these moments I’ve found it necessary to make one thing very clear as I’m speaking to the child: No student in the school is my equal, and no student in the school should consider his or herself to be equal to any of the adults on the premises. Certainly a student may be counted as an equal at home or by a coach on a team or whatever, but here in the order of academia, the child is the child and the adult is the adult, the student is the student and the teacher is the teacher. Proper adherence to this order as faithful to the Fourth Commandment is expected, and when it is time for it to be enforced, if there is an unwillingness to comply, there should be the expectation of unpleasant proceedings.
I dare say that there was a time when all of this, for the most part, was innately understood in classrooms. But not so much anymore. We have to teach this now. What I mean is that as a young student, it would never even have crossed my mind to show up for class having deliberately disregarded my homework assignment just because I didn’t want to do it. Likewise, it never would have crossed my mind to be told by my teacher to do something and to so plainly tell them, “No, I’m not going to do that.”
I could never have imagined it then. As the pastor of a school who is familiar enough even with the education philosophies in the public schools, I can see that the problem is fairly inescapable in our nation.
Now, before I leave you with the impression that I came away from the presentation completely deflated, you should know that I didn’t. Instead, I was reinvigorated by the joy of knowing that in so many places across the world, in fact wherever the Gospel is being preached, it is being sponged by the people. God is at work and people are being brought to faith. As a result, there is a genuine craving for pastors, teachers, Bibles, hymnals, the liturgy, and so many substantive things that make for and sustain faith in Jesus Christ. This is exciting to see, and I know that a congregation like ours understands the crucial nature of such mission work and we want to see it continue. It’s one reason why we continue the fight to maintain confessional Lutheranism in this place and we never bow to surrender the importance of preserving a Christian day school in our community. It is well worth the struggle.
Praise God for this power of the Holy Spirit by the Gospel among us! Let it be the lens for interpreting the challenges that are ever before us, while at the same time stirring us to know that no matter how tough things may be, our labor in the Lord is never in vain!