Not long ago a friend and I visited Washington’s Crossing, Pennsylvania. That day the Delaware River was a perfect mirror reflecting a crisp blue and white sky—the silver glass waters rippled only by lolling, lazy geese shaking off a nap as we slipped down to the river’s edge. There, giant sycamores shade the bank where stands an old stone marker which reads:
Near this spot Washington
Crossed the Delaware
On Christmas night 1776
The eve of the Battle of Trenton
There could hardly have been a more striking contrast between that peaceful afternoon and the desperate, dangerous night when Washington risked everything.
Crossing the Delaware was a bold turn at the end of a long retreat. The fall of ’76 had been a season of setbacks. Outnumbered and outgunned, many of his soldiers had little to show for their service but their gaunt frames and a knack for digging graves. At the end of the year, just days away, their enlistments would expire, and in all of the war there was hardly a more close and critical time, as the destiny of a nation wavered on the edge of a knife. For Washington, the greatest risk was not taking one; so on Christmas Day, in the teeth of a storm, he crossed the river here and captured an enemy that was celebrating too soon—and thus turned the tide in the fight for freedom. There would be yet five more years of war, but this was the day that defined Washington and our Nation.
One of Washington’s generals, Nathanael Greene, would remark on their uneven path to victory, “We fight, get beat, rise, and fight again.” I have often thought of Greene’s words in the spiritual warfare in which we are engaged as a mission—the effort to take the Gospel to the least-reached areas. It should not surprise us that the difficult places are, well, difficult—and that for Christians in many parts of the world, suffering is as much a part of their faith as comfort is a part of ours. Despite attacks and setbacks, by God’s grace, He gives them the strength to “rise, and fight again.”
That is what Paul did. Acts 14 tells us that he was stoned and left for dead outside the city of Lystra, but amazingly Paul got up—and then just as surprising, he went back into the city and finished his sermon! That spirit lives on in many of our friends on the frontlines.
A young pastor in Pakistan named Sam Masih. When I first met him, he had been brutally attacked by a Muslim mob who tried to beat him to death and left him with a crushed skull, a severed ear, blind in one eye, and a paralyzed right arm. Even on that day when we prayed and wept together while he laid bruised and broken, he wanted to stand up.
Not long ago, a friend of mine was back in Pakistan and met our dear pastor. Despite the loss of an eye and the use of an arm, he is not only standing but serving and shining for Christ. I wept for joy to see his face again.
I am including here an excerpt from Samuel Zwemer’s book The Unoccupied Mission Fields, published in 1911. Zwemer was the “apostle to Arabia,” a pioneer missionary who poured his life—and buried two of his children—in the hostile lands of Islam. These are words worth reading—and reading again:
The challenge of the unoccupied fields of the world is one to great faith and, therefore, to great sacrifice. Our willingness to sacrifice for an enterprise is always in proportion to our faith in that enterprise. Faith has the genius of transforming the barely possible into actuality. Once men are dominated by the conviction that a thing must be done, they will stop at nothing until it is accomplished. We have our “marching orders,” and because our Commander-in-Chief is not absent but with us, the impossible becomes not only practical but imperative. Charles Spurgeon, preaching from the text, “All power is given unto Me. . . . Lo I am with you always,” used these words: “You have a factor here that is absolutely infinite, and what does it matter as to what other factors may be. ‘I will do as much as I can,’ says one. Any fool can do that. He that believes in Christ does what he can not do, attempts the impossible and performs it.”
Frequent set-backs and apparent failure never dishearten the real pioneer. Occasional martyrdoms are only a fresh incentive. Opposition is a stimulus to greater activity. Great victory has never been possible without great sacrifice. Does it really matter how many die or how much money we spend in opening closed doors, and in occupying the different fields, if we really believe that missions are warfare and that the King’s glory is at stake? War always means blood and treasure. Our only concern should be to keep the fight aggressive and to win victory regardless of cost or sacrifice. The unoccupied fields of the world must have their Calvary before they can have their Pentecost.
For Christians with folded hands and routine religion, his words may seem as out-of-date as the book itself, yet may they once again call out to men and women of our generation who would take risks for Christ’s sake, who would take up their cross and follow Him because they love Him more than themselves.
It is a call that we, along with our co-workers in China, India, central Asia, the Middle East, and the former Soviet Union, desire to pursue with all our strength in the coming year. And we thank our Captain that many of you are in the ranks with us, supporting the Cause through the setbacks and celebrations of this long, costly Campaign that began at Calvary and that will end in complete Victory!