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What is “missions”?

The Gospel remains the centerpiece of each of these outreaches.
A few years ago I sat in a small meeting with some of the more brilliant missionaries and educators that I have ever met. Two in particular, Dr. John York and Dr. Doug Lowenberg, engaged in a discussion about the difference between “missions” and “evangelism.” Their back-and-forth was inspiring as they sought to answer the questions posed. In the end, they seemed to agree that evangelism is sharing the good news of Jesus Christ in oneʼs home culture, country, ethnic group and setting. Missions is sharing the good news of Jesus Christ in a setting, country, culture or ethnic group that is “foreign” to the missionary (the one sharing the good news). Perhaps it is splitting hairs, but the distinction serves well when we talk about going on missions trips, becoming a missionary or “doing” missions.

The methods employed in missions are varied. Traditional approaches include church planting crusades, evangelistic tract distribution, and preaching in market places. These have been effective formats for presenting the Gospel to those who have not heard, or have not heard adequately. We still utilize these tools today.

Other approaches have developed throughout the years. For example, we went to Malawi to help local churches develop ministry outreaches to persons living with HIV/AIDS and their families. Our approach puts evangelism at the center of the ministry to those with HIV/AIDS and has proved to be effective not only in bringing the infected to saving faith in Jesus Christ, but also their family members and neighbors as they see the church responding to this pandemic with the compassion of Christ.

What began as an attempt to help local churches develop ministry to those with HIV/AIDS has expanded to other needs in the communities – orphan care, widow empowerment, street children. The Gospel remains the centerpiece of each of these outreaches. The same is true when we have a borehole (water well) drilled, or start a piggery to help widows. The methods are different, but the message is the same.

Simply put, missions is taking the good news of life through Jesus Christ to ethnic groups, cultures and countries beyond our homeland. We use whatever means are available to reach as many people as possible with this life-transforming message (1 Corinthians 9:22).

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