This article was written by a missionary practitioner on the field engaging in cross-cultural missions work in one of the most unreached places in the world. In order to protect them and the work being done there, we will not be sharing names or specific locations for their protection.
In 1876, when Lilias Trotter was just 23 years old, her unmatched gift of painting beautiful works of art was praised by a world-renowned art critic who said, “if she would devote herself to her art, she would be the greatest living painter.” Lilias concluded, though, that she simply could not give herself to painting and seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness. Even without the technology and access to the world we have today, Lilias understood and felt the burden for God’s mission, and on her 34th birthday, she applied as a candidate to the North African Mission. Her application was rejected due to a failed health examination. So, in 1888, as a financially independent woman, she boarded a ship to Algeria and remained there for the last forty years of her life, entirely devoted to sharing the gospel among the unreached Arabs of the North African deserts.
What would compel an incredibly talented young artist, with a world of opportunity before her, to walk away from her talents and giftings, choosing instead a life marked by suffering? Like many before and after her, Lilias Trotter was compelled by profoundly simple, yet wildly momentous instructions issued nearly two thousand years prior. After his death and resurrection, Jesus commissioned his followers to a very specific task: to make disciples of all peoples. His words, known today as “The Great Commission,” the same words that compelled Lilias Trotter, continue to propel His Church into every corner of the world, spreading across cultures, family lines, languages, and nation-states.
How is it possible that instructions given two thousand years ago continue to hold such relevance today? It is because these instructions laid the very foundation for the establishment of the Church. The Great Commission is for today. It is for now. It is the mission of the Church, and it inaugurated a time of missions in the history of God’s mission in the world. God’s mission began long before the establishment of the Church and will continue to its full completion. His mission is to be glorified throughout the earth. Throughout the scriptures, we find God promising again and again that this mission will be complete. My favorite articulation is in Habakkuk 2:14: For the knowledge of the glory of the Lord will cover the earth like the waters cover the sea. God’s desire is for His glory to be known among all peoples through the expansion of His kingdom by the dispersion of His gospel— and it will cover the earth.
Even though The Great Commission is for today, the Old Testament shows God drawing the peoples of the world to Himself through the nation of Israel. They are called to be a light to which all the Gentile nations are drawn, but when Jesus bursts into the world, He calls His people to go out. We are to take the light to the dark places in the world, the places that have no knowledge of God’s glory—His goodness, His power, His mercy, His saving grace. God’s glory is good news for those living in darkness. It offers hope to the hopeless, it offers forgiveness to the shamed, it offers healing to the afflicted. As his followers, just like those that followed Him two thousand years ago, we are all commissioned to take the knowledge of His glory into the world. The Great Commission is for today, and it is for every day until His promise is fulfilled that the whole earth will be filled with the knowledge of His glory.
In a broken attempt to live a more comfortable life, we often try to take difficult passages of scripture and dilute them to appease our practical leanings. We say things like, “Go into all our neighborhoods” or “Our mission field is our hometown.” Yes, we absolutely need to live our lives missionally, speaking God’s message to anyone and everyone we possibly can, but we must ask ourselves, “are we saying these things to more easily excuse ourselves from engaging in missions outside of our home culture?” Certainly, we can argue all day about the meanings of missional and missions, about why our home country desperately needs the message of Jesus, or any number of other very important things, but none of these conversations address one glaring issue, 40% of the world’s people groups remain unreached today. 40% of the world’s people groups have little to no access to God’s message. So, while we continue to pat ourselves on the back for all of our missional efforts on the home front, millions of sinful people are dying every day with no knowledge of a savior. The Great Commission is for today because it is necessary for millions of Syrians, millions of Indonesians, millions of Turks.
I am a mother of four small children, and our family has resided in the Middle East for nearly fifteen years. The area we live in now is approximately the population size of three large U.S. cities. There are only a handful of local believers and four missionary families working amongst them. Our home is surrounded by millions of men, women, and children who have never heard the Good News. The Great Commission is for today in our host country because God is worthy of the worship of every one of these people living around us. His glory will cover every desert of the Arab World.
When Lilias Trotter stepped aboard the ship to Algeria over a hundred years ago, she left a potential life of fame and fortune behind her. She set aside her gifts and passions and aligned her life’s purpose with God’s mission to make his glory known among all peoples. Some might even say she was not equipped for the task. The North African Mission board that rejected her application certainly did not deem her fit for the work, yet still, she persisted. Why? Because Lilias Trotter had a clear understanding of her personal responsibility, as a follower of Jesus, in God’s mission. God is actively making Himself known throughout the world, and He has sent us, His Church, as agents of this everlasting work. This is our time, friends. In God’s grand history of engagement with our fallen world, this is the time of missions. It is when we take the gospel to every nation, tribe, and tongue. It is when we lay down our passions, our giftings, and our selfish ambitions to step aboard the ship to the remaining forty percent of the world’s peoples with no access to the greatest news ever told. God’s great commission is for us, Church. It is for you. It is for me. The Great Commission is for today, and until we see that great and glorious day when God’s promise to fill the world with the knowledge of His glory has been fulfilled, we must all band together with the Holy Spirit and take His story to the nations.