A paper written for my Intro to World Missions class:
Who qualifies as the object of missions? Is it the remote, primitive African tribe—that, stereotypically, all seem look like stick figures living in mud huts—that we always think of?
Perhaps it’s (what seems like) the trillions of Asians who, living under the extremes of communism, ride cheap bicycles and are carrying a freshly wrung chicken for dinner back to their twelve-person apartment? Could it be those hungry homeless folks that, God-forbid, ride the Dart train system right here in Dallas, Texas, supposedly looking for drugs and begging for whatever food or money you may have?
These people, needless to say, are often the groups who (usually without warrant) pop into our minds when conversation of missions surfaces. We Americans, especially those raised in the bosom of the Bible-Belt, are quick to assume that missions must automatically imply either those poor, isolated third-world societies or people who dwell under bridges in our bigger, urban cities. Men and women of faith, I tell you this: Even the wealthy atheists in Sweden need evangelizing!
“Missions exist,” says John Piper, “because worship doesn’t.” I personally believe Piper is on to something here, mostly because it’s true; but also because missions isn’t just about the under-developed, third-world groups. It’s about everybody, underdeveloped or over-developed, rich or poor, slave or free, communist or democratic, who have no knowledge of the Triune God of Scripture. We can’t allow ourselves to be confined to only one box of people.
Is Sweden losing their religion? It appears so. This beautiful country, proportionally speaking, is ranked first in the world with 46 % --of the roughly 8 million people—belonging to the atheism/agnostic category. Sweden wasn’t even in the top 10 in 1991, thus making it one of the fastest growing atheist countries east of the mighty Mississippi (or west, depending on where you hail). The present condition of the church, as you may have guessed, isn’t great either. My research leads me to believe that the Church of Sweden, of Lutheran heritage, has declined over the years. The Church used to rule the state, and vice-versa. Now the Church, to even have any validity in the country, has tried to adapt by becoming more liberal and accepting (obviously a whole other issue in itself).
Obviously, this shows the decline of Christianity and the rise of secularization in the country of Sweden.
Some people have a special place in their hearts for Africans—others for Chinese, and yet others for those homeless in the Dallas/Fort Worth area. I am thankful for those missionaries who commit their lives to proclaim the gospel in at home and abroad. In fact, I have many friends and family who are actively serving as missionaries. God, in His sovereignty, has called, gifted, and prepared those Christians to preach Christ crucified—and the power of His resurrection—to different groups of people locally and globally.
My only concern is that we have fallen into this “poor country only” rut of doing missions when, actually, it’s everybody and anybody who does not know Christ as King that needs evangelizing—even the atheists (and Swedish ones in particular). Therefore, because God has placed this people group specifically on my heart, I will commit to praying for Swedish atheists in three ways:
1) First, for the Holy Spirit –All people, even atheists, can not come to a saving knowledge of Christ without the third person of the Trinity. I pray that God will open their hearts, that the Spirit will convict, and lives will forever be changed.
2) Second, for sound apologetics – My claim is not that missionaries to the more primitive, remote people of Africa do not need apologetics. They do, very much so. A lot of the lost have rational objections to God. But apologetics generally resonates more with people who are skeptical of Christianity—i.e. atheists who have rejected belief in God altogether. Therefore, I pray that a humble defense of God’s existence, especially Jesus as God, be put forth to these people.
3) Third, for love of the atheists – So many of my friends and family hear the word atheist and jolt, as if they are some unclean, law-breaking citizens with no moral values or rights. We need to rid ourselves of this stigma. Atheists are lost, too. They, as shocking as it may seem to some, also fall into the same group of people Paul discusses in 1 Corinthians chapters 1 and 2, that is, that any man–Asian or African, atheist or agnostic—who doesn’t have the Spirit can not understand the things of God. Consequently, my hope is that we will love them with the love of Christ.