‘Young Missionary’ J. Russell Morse Discusses Foreign Mission Methods
‘Young Missionary’ J. Russell Morse Discusses Foreign Mission Methods

If you haven’t taken the opportunity to read Russell Johnson’s article from our November 2018 issue titled “Prayer, Power, Purpose: J. Russell & Gertrude Morse and Four Generations of Ministry to Southeast Asia and Beyond,” please be sure to treat yourself.

The article details hardship, heartache, discouragement, and imprisonment, but also the prayers, purpose, and perseverance through which God’s Word has been faithfully preached over the past century. Thousands of people in isolated areas have heard the message and accepted Christ through God’s grace and the Morse family’s efforts.

I scanned Christian Standard’s archives and reviewed the headlines of numerous articles by and about the Morse family; finally, I zeroed in on one from October 20, 1928—almost exactly 90 years ago today. The article on p. 6, penned by J. Russell Morse, then age 30, carried this headline, “What Foreign Mission Work Means to Me,” and the subhead, “Young Missionary from Tibet Speaks before the Kansas City Convention on Evangelism in Foreign Lands.”

The first part of the article was about “The Mission of the Restoration Movement in Foreign Lands” and fleshed out these two points: “1. How do we stand in relation to Protestant denominationalism in foreign lands?” and “2. Our aim in foreign missions is the establishment of churches of Christ after the New Testament pattern.”

Toward the end of this first one-third of the article, Morse decried that long-established “stations”—run by a certain “mission board” and manned by missionaries and “their paid coworkers and servants”—were closing and, with them, most of their affiliated churches. Morse wrote: “I quite agree with a prominent missionary who recently said: ‘I believe that our great mistake was that we were building stations, and not churches.’”

The second third of the article fell under this heading: “The Methods We Advocate for Accomplishing Our Foreign Mission?” (Not sure why a question mark was needed.) Today we will be focusing on that part of Morse’s presentation/essay.

Here’s what Morse had to say:

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– October 20, 1928 –

ONE OF THE MOST widespread and insidious effects of “modernism” in missions is overemphasis upon social service and its institutions, to the neglect of evangelism and the propagation of the Restoration plea. Truly, non-Christian lands have an appallingly terrible need of modern hospitals, schools, orphanages, industrial training institutes, etc. These have frequently been a most effective opening wedge for the evangelistic message. But they have also become the opening wedge of modernistic social-service institutionalism. Specialists in institutional work are too often sent as missionaries who are not pre-eminently soul-winners for Christ, and whose foremost interest is, therefore, the upbuilding of a standardized school, hospital or other such branch of the work. For the teacher, the doctor or the agriculturist there is the temptation to become professional in his attitude, and to make his particular institution an end in itself. The Interchurch Survey Reports reveal that in some countries only about 10 per cent of the whole missionary force is actually engaged in evangelistic work. We may safely say that, looking at the whole field of missions, not over 25 per cent of the missionary funds and forces have been used in direct evangelistic work. Naturally, the evangelistic missionary is considerably outweighed in the councils of such missions. Now, we maintain that only in proportion as these institutions are really soul-winners for Christ, have they any right to support as part of the missionary program. To help the needy and suffering is Christian, but God forbid that we should either consciously or unconsciously displace the gospel with it. Yet in a measure that is being done. Woe to missions if they preach not the gospel!

One of the most insidious effects of the present institutional system on foreign fields is its reaction in the minds of the natives. On one hand, they see large and impressive schools and colleges and hospitals. On the other hand, they see small and insignificant church buildings. What is the psychological effect? It is that the natives are not very much impressed by the missionaries’ efforts to evangelize them, because these efforts seem so feeble and insignificant in comparison with what they are doing along institutional lines. In some countries this has led to the belief that the missionaries are trying to convert the people to western civilization and its viewpoints. In China it is the basis of much of the opposition to the standardized education put out by the mission schools. We hope it will have the good result of forcing some mission groups out of institutional ruts and into the evangelistic highway.

The missionary must be willing to empty himself of his civilization and his nationalism, and to see the kingdom of God for all. He will have to become a man without a country, and declare that he is a pilgrim and a stranger on earth, and that his face is turned toward that better heavenly land. In this pilgrim way he must preach to the poor and vile, as well as to the clean and educated. He can not be exclusive, as many institutional missionaries have become, but must build himself into the lives of the native people. They must become the very people of his own heart, because Christ Himself loved them and died for them.

Again, we need revision of our attitudes to give proper recognition to those missionaries who in the past have had to leave “our organized work” because of “incompatibility.” Much of this has been because of unusual zealousness and initiative on the part of such missionaries. Disillusionment, too, has had much to do with it. The crowding of many missionaries together into one station is an unspiritual and unscriptural proceeding. No wonder that friction arises. It was so in the Jerusalem church. But God allowed the hand of persecution to fall upon the church there, with the result that “they that were scattered abroad went everywhere preaching the word.” If the tribulation of the past several years in China proves to have this effect upon the missionaries there, it has been a blessing in disguise. The world is large, and its needs are great; there should be plenty of room in our missionary program for the individual of unusual initiative. If necessary, let him have an outpost himself!

The evangelization of the world might be accomplished in half the time if the missionaries could keep the high consecration and passion for souls with which most of them came to the field. We believe the changes indicated would help them to keep that spirit instead of dampening it as has sometimes been done under the present order of things.

To summarize, three things, at least, must characterize the successful Christian missionary of the future: (1) Radiant Christ-centeredness. (2) Simplicity in both life and message. (3) Aggressiveness. Foreign Missions must be more dynamic than the conventional work we have become used to. It will take persistent enduring of hardships as good soldiers of Jesus Christ to convince and convert the non-Christian world. This is not the time to give up the fight. Instead of settling down to 100 per cent station work and losing the missionary passion, “take the gospel to them” must be the watchword of the missionary.

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The final third of Morse’s article—and it’s the shortest “third”—falls under the heading: “The Spiritual Power We Need for Our Foreign Mission.”

That portion, and the article itself, ends with the following paragraph:

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WHEN CROSSING THE JUNGLES of farthest Burma last year, we could seldom get the native people to go more than three or four days with us, then they would turn back toward their homes. They were afraid to go beyond the region where their own gods had power. Friends, we are glad to be in the service of One whose present and power are not only for a few days’ journey, but “always, even unto the end of the world.” We are happy to obey His kingly commission, leaving the results in His hands. As we—His witnesses—go out to Tibet, India, Japan, Africa, and all those other lands where the frontiers of His kingdom are being extended, will you go with us too?

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—Jim Nieman, managing editor, Christian Standard

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