Missions 101: He Who Wins Souls is Wise
“Whoever Wins Souls is Wise”
In the fall of 1994, Rachel and I had just been dating for about two months when we were visiting in the home of a professor of missions at FHU. His name is Glen Henton who had been a missionary in Argentina for 16 years. Rachel was his student worker. The visit was to listen to Glen Henton talk about being a missionary as a part of a team. Only rarely did the apostle Paul work by himself. He was almost always part of a team, sometimes the team was big and sometimes it was small.
At that meeting, a friend of mine, named Eric, who now preaches in Indiana, walked up to me and asked if we would like to be on a mission team. Without asking Rachel’s permission, and even though we had only been dating for two months, I said, “Yes, we would be glad to.” Rachel had spent that summer working with a church in Milan, TN doing door-knocking all summer long and helping with their VBS so I knew she had a heart for full-time service to God.
Eric had a roommate, named Daren, who now preaches in Texas and I’ve mentioned him before. Daren was willing to be a part of a mission team. Eric was dating a girl named Stephanie. Daren was dating a girl named Julie. So the six of us started meeting together to talk about doing mission work, somewhere, anywhere.
We had decided that we were going to go somewhere where we could work together as a team, where we could stay long-term (so, a country that was stable), and we wanted to work somewhere where the church was either weak or it did not exist. In Romans 15:20, Paul writes that he chose to go to places and preach the gospel, not where Christ had already been named, so that he would not build on another man’s foundation.
The six of us started meeting together every two weeks and we would do some research on different countries. We talked about going to the island of Cypress. We talked about going to the island of Madagascar. We met together for a year. Daren and Julie would marry in July of 1995. Rachel and I would marry in August of 1995. Eric and Stephanie would marry in 1996. But in November of 1995, a preacher by the name of Larry Williams from the Pleasant Valley church of Christ in Little Rock, AR came to FHU to talk about the work they were doing in Romania with World Bible School.
World Bible School is almost largely an internet-based Bible teaching program; Rachel still teaches students from all over the world on the internet through World English Institute. Well, Larry Williams told us that they had run ads in newspapers in different cities in Romania and hundreds, maybe thousands of Romanians had responded. So, our team started looking into going to Romania. We started doing research on different cities and settled on the second largest city in Romania, Iasi (pronounced “yosh”). There had been 500 people from Iasi sign up for Bible correspondence courses in the late 90s.
Daren graduated in 1996 and Rachel and I graduated in 1996. Julie had actually graduated from Oklahoma Christian University and was actually a graduate student at FHU, simply to see if she wanted to marry Daren, and of course, they did. Eric and Stephanie graduated in 1996. We all moved to work with churches in TN but we kept meeting together as a team every six weeks, laying plans, praying together, and getting to know each other’s personalities and strengths and weaknesses.
We decided to make a trip to Iasi, Romania to see if we really wanted to move there and to see if we could live there. We took that trip in May of 1997. We spent two weeks in Romania. One week was spent traveling in the middle part of the country, visiting three different cities and interviewing five different missionaries. We spent the second week entirely in Iasi. A professor from FHU who had spent 17 years doing mission work in Italy, Earl Edwards, met us in Romania and walked us through the process of deciding if we could live and work in Iasi. By Thursday of that week, we had all decided that we would move to Iasi, Romania.
We came back to the states with five goals in mind: 1.) To lay out further plans on how we were going to share the gospel in a huge city, in a language we did not know. 2.) We were going to learn as much of the Romanian language as we could in the US. That was in the infant days of the internet so there was not a lot of resources for studying a language that is only spoken by about 25 million people. 3.) We needed to find churches and elderships who would sponsor us as individual families. 4.) We needed to raise the money we needed to live and work in Romania. 5.) We wanted to have our first child before we moved to a foreign country. We had visited an obstetrics hospital on our survey trip and our wives did not want to go through the birthing process in that hospital!
We met all our goals and we landed in Romania July 3rd of 2000, in the country and city that was to be our home for the next ten years. We spent the first month just getting use to living in a foreign country, learning how to buy groceries and pay our electric bill and water bill, learning our way around the city. After a month, we started studying Romanian very intensely with a young college graduate who had become a Christian through the World Bible School effort. We began worshipping in Romanian in May of 2001 and we had our first baptism later that summer. Our team would eventually baptize a total of 19 people in this city of 350,000.
After a couple of years, we started a magazine which we named Living Water (Ape Vie) and we mailed it, eventually, to 24 different counties in the whole country of Romania, with a list of subscribers close to 1,000 (it was mailed for free). We did that for about 5-6 years. We also mailed advertisements for Bible correspondence courses, into practically every home in Iasi - roughly 100,000 homes. We had several Bible studies from that effort and baptized half a dozen people or so.
Out of those 19 people we baptized, we only have four who are still left in Iasi. They have either moved out of the country, in order to have a better life or they have quit worshipping because the pressure from family to stay in the old traditional religion is intense. But the faith of those four has been inspiring. We have not put those men on any kind of monthly financial support from America. They have no incentive from us, from America, to stay faithful except their commitment to do what is right, to stay faithful to Jesus Christ. That’s one major reason why I think it is important for us to do what we can to help them share the gospel of Christ.
THE IMPORTANCE OF WINNING SOULS:
The greatest challenge in the church today is the challenge to share the gospel with those who are lost.
Solomon wrote in Proverbs 11:30: “The fruit of the righteous is a tree of life, And he who is wise wins souls.”
When you plant a seed for an apple tree, an apple tree will grow and that tree will produce a lot more fruit than that one seed. In the same way, a righteous life can produce much more fruit and its influence can be far reaching. Our example and our teaching can promote spiritual health and lead to eternal life for ourselves and for others whom we influence.
The Jewish Bible translates this verse: “A wise man captivates people.” In other words, men and women who follow God’s teachings attracts other people to them in friendship and influence so they’ll listen and follow the godly person’s example.
What we have here is simply the description of a winsome attitude. We’re talking about a good person and all that he or she says or does becomes a source of blessing and a “tree of life” to many. His or her life has an attractive power and gathers souls (friends) to his side for the service of God and the cause of God’s truth.
Proverbs is, of a course, a book of God’s wisdom. Wisdom can “win” for us many things:
5. Acquaintance with other people and with the nature of other people
6. High position and influence
7. Gratification that comes with achievement
But the crown which wisdom wears is its positive influence in the work of human souls.
Let’s talk about winning souls to the Jesus Christ…
WINNING SOULS FOR CHRIST:
Christ was a soul winner (Luke 19:10). Our Savior came to change the course of the world and His chosen method was personal. I perused the first Gospel account in our Bibles (Matt) and counted 15 times when Jesus had personal contact with one or two people.
The NT church was a soul-winning church - Acts 5:42-6:1.
Saving a soul is the greatest work we could ever possibly do for the individual (Matt. 16:26). Saving someone from great personal harm or even physical death does not even compare to the saving a soul from eternal hell.
Let’s look at Paul’s words from Romans 1:14-17. When you expect to win someone to Christ, you learn to be more liberal in your love, more faithful in your prayers, more consecrated in your lifestyle, more prayerful and studious in your Bible study. Evangelism pays great dividends in our individual lives.
To do this, “wisdom” must:
1. Stop the flow of evil influences. Influences that can lead someone away from Christ.
2. Initiate a flow of holy and helpful influences, influence that will lead someone toward Christ.
3. Turn the course of a human life away from a downward spiral to the opposite course which leads upward, heavenward. “Give Me Forty Acres and I’ll Turn this Rig Around” is a song written in 1964, and sung by the Willis Brothers. It’s about a truck driver who has a hard time turning around an 18 wheeler. Three or four times he finds himself facing the wrong direction so that the end of the song, he sings in frustration, “Give me forty sticks of dynamite” and he’ll blow his truck to pieces. Some people need forty acres to turn their faith around, to turn their religion around. Everybody’s conversion does not happen, perhaps, as quickly as yours. Everybody’s conversion does not happen as quickly as Saul of Tarsus. That’s why we have to be patient.
4. To give joy of the purest kind to hearts of the greatest worth and satisfaction to the Savior Himself. Let’s read James 5:19-20.
WE NEED TO UNDERSTAND PEOPLE:
Jesus “did not need to testify concerning man, for He Himself knew what was in man” (John 2:25). If we will study the Bible and examine closely what the Scriptures teach about man, we too will gain a great deal of insight into the nature of man. Listen to the words of the apostle Paul in 2 Timothy 2:24-26.
We need to understand and have patience with the individual. We need to persevere in our desire to teach him or her the truth. We need to pray that God will soften their hearts and strengthen ours, to lead us to wisdom to know what to say and how to say it.
We must believe in the power of the gospel - Romans 1:16. We must believe in the praise of God from 1 Corinthians 15:58. We must be humble and teachable ourselves. “Nothing is more repulsive than an arrogant egoist trying to present the meek and lowly Jesus to a dying sinner.”
IT IS A CHALLENGE:
We must stand against any number of spiritual enemies - Ephesians 6:12. We must battle with human stubbornness and a spirit of procrastination. We must fight with spiritual blindness and insensibility, which are the sad consequences of long-term disloyalty.
We need to ignore deceitful voices which whisper to the soul that there is no need to render an immediate and whole-hearted decision, to fully surrender to Christ and to His service. It is a challenge to persuade others to a life of sincere and habitual devotion and usefulness to Christ.
So, what can we do?
We can invite friends to worship with us. Let them know what we are studying and what has encouraged you about the study.
We can call attention to the works of the church we are doing - the food pantry, potluck meals, the mail out we have done to encourage people to look at Christianity.
We can give friends a tract or a copy of the Christian Family magazine.
We can especially invite our friend to have an open Bible study with us. We can always ask an elder or deacon or one of the ministers to lead the study for us.
What will our mission teams do? As I have mentioned, we have three trips planned this year. I will lead the first, in March. Our co-worker, Daren, will lead the second in June. Trent and, perhaps, Kyle will go over in September with Daren.
Our March team will consist of Mark Rutledge, Dylan Atkins and perhaps his girlfriend, Jacob July and Jewell, and another student from FHU, Joshua Dykes. Josh spent this past summer in Romania and he is open to talking to us about moving to Romania and perhaps even Iasi on a full-time basis after graduation.
What will we do?
1. Between now and then, my plan is for the men in Iasi to mail out flyers, again, in the zone of Iasi where we will be staying, where they live. Those flyers will advertise correspondence courses and we’ll advertise that we will be there to present Bible studies.
2. We can also, potentially, put ads in the newspapers to advertise. We will be meeting and worshiping in a conference room of the hotel where we stay.
3. The men will be presenting three lessons each. I will present lessons if I do not have to translate their lessons. The women will be available to lead discussions with women we may have for students. We are trying to get a Romanian preacher to come translate for us and if he can come and bring his wife, then Jewell and Dylan’s girlfriend, Kaylie, can encourage her.
4. Our team will teach any non-Christians we can influence to join us for study.
5. Our team will encourage the Christians in their faith and in their study of the Scriptures. I will introduce to them the men in Iasi:
a. Costel - a soft-spoken leader, who lives on medical disability because all the fingers on his left hand were pulled off in a freak accident several years ago.
b. Florin - who is about three inches shorter than Bruce Treadway, who likes to talk soccer, which all Europeans call football.
c. Benone - the leader of the group, who was the hardest to convert, who works temporarily in Amsterdam but will be with us while we are there.
d. Mihail - the jack-of-all-trades man who travels a lot looking for different types of work to do. Out of them all, Mihail is the most cynical relative to whether we can convert any Romanians. He does not have high expectations about Romanians changing religions.
6. Our team, especially having another elder on this trip, can evaluate the work and what we might want to do in the future regarding sharing the gospel of Christ in that city of 350,000 people.
The trip in June, with Penny Rutledge and Rachel, will go with Daren, his two children who are at FHU and some friends of theirs. They will do much the same thing we will be doing, but they will be teaching English using the Bible as the text for reading. This is a program called World English Institute that was started in conjunction with World Bible School. You don’t have to be an expert in the English language to use the material. For two reasons, #1 - Rachel has a Master’s Degree in Teaching English as a Second Language and #2 - The students generally already know the English language, many of them better than we do. What they want to do is to speak English with a native English speaker. And many times, they will talk about the Bible, about faith, about Jesus, if they can learn English in the process. This method of evangelism often takes more time; it takes time to build relationships with people but the end goal is to lead people to Christ. And if that is how we spend our lives and our money, I think that is a good use of the Lord’s funds.
The trip in September will be Trent and, perhaps, Kyle. Trent will go to Cluj, Romania, with Daren to teach in a leadership training program. I went a few years ago, in 2016. Trent will teach a 3-hour class on a book of the Bible. There will be about 25 students, men and women, from around the country, in the program. It will last Monday-Friday. Cody is interested in going on that trip maybe next year and the preacher in Oscoda is interested in going on that trip in the future also.
We have to spend money on the building here so we can have a place to assemble, to worship, to engage in activities together as a church. But the building is not what is most important to us as Christians - sharing the gospel is. As a preacher and an elder in the church, I want to stand before Christ on the day of judgment and be able to say, “Jesus, I spent as much as possible of the church’s money on evangelism and mission work."
We cannot expend too much time, energy, effort, or finances in the great work of winning souls to Christ.
We need to put forth our great strength to gain a great victory.
When we have done all we can do, we must remember that nothing is accomplished without the influence that comes from above.
May none of us go empty-handed to meet the Lord!
Take home message: It is wise to behave so that we can win souls to Christ. Nothing is more important.