• W. Austin Gardner

Myths Regarding Missions 7 The myth of the hungry heart.


Few Christians have an adequate understanding of the enormous difficulties inherent in the conversion of the non-Christian peoples of the world. It is assumed that the “heathen” in their moral and spiritual degradation are expectantly awaiting die coming of the missionary; his arrival will be the signal for them to abandon their evil ways and embrace the gospel.


Missionary speakers, literature, and hymns have all contributed to this view. The “heathen” have been depicted as sitting in darkness, living in fear, and dying without hope. They have been variously described as forsaken, benighted, depraved, debauched, and deluded. Much has been made of the phenomenon of fear—fear of sickness, ancestors, evil spirits, angry gods, natural disasters, and finally, death.


Surely these people in their more sober moments must be aware of their plight. Given an opportunity they will readily accept the Christian message with its offer of life, health, joy, peace, and power.


What are the facts? That the non-Christian peoples of the world are lost in the darkness of sin, living in fear, and dying without hope is true. That they are ready and eager to accept Christ is not true. From time to time missionaries have come across certain individuals who believed the gospel the first time they heard it. They are the exception, not the rule.


The overwhelming majority of non-Christian peoples must be included in Paul’s statement: “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands, no one seeks for God. All have turned aside, together they have gone wrong; no one does good, not even one” (Ro 3:10-12).


There is no evidence to support the view expressed in a well- known missionary hymn to the effect that “the heathen in his blindness” is calling on us to “deliver him from errors chain.” He is not aware of his blindness, nor does he feel the weight of any chain.


The Hindu, the Buddhist, the Muslim, and the Confucianist all consider their religion superior to ours; hence they are in no hurry to give it up. As for the peasant in his paddy field, he is so engrossed in the problem of feeding his large family that he has neither time nor thought for the needs of his soul.


His chief concern is not where he will spend eternity, but how he and his children will survive until harvest. The same goes for the shopkeeper in the bazaar, the worker in the factory, and the housewife in the home. And if the time comes when they do need the comforts of religion, they will turn to their own priests and gods, not to the foreign missionary.


If anyone is inclined to doubt these remarks, he need only recall the fact that after a hundred years of missionary work in Japan, there are only one million professing Christians out of a population of 107 million. The figures for other countries in Asia are not much better; in some instances they are worse. We take to these people the bread of life only to find they’re not hungry. We offer them the water of life only to discover they’re not thirsty.


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