Hyperbolic Missionary Tales and the Exalted American Christian


Normally, I don’t sweat the titles of posts much. However, I thought about this one a lot. Why? Because it says something about where many Christians in this country are today.

But what do I mean by that snarky title? Let me explain by telling five missionary stories.

Story 1:

    A team of young American men are ministering in SW Asia. Evangelizing door to door down a street, they are cautioned by residents to avoid what looks like an empty brownstone. Fearless, they enter the building and note that no one seems to live inside. As they climb the steps, they note Bible verses scribbled on the wall, but certain words in them are wrong. Only when they reach the top apartment do they find the building’s sole occupant: a bent old lady. The woman invites them in, and they begin to share the Gospel. Immediately, one of the missionaries has trouble breathing. Another feels hands around his throat, but there is no one behind him. Another feels something hit him forcefully. The room’s temperature drops. Unable to breath, the one young man falls to the floor and suffers respiratory collapse. The men gather up their fallen friend and beat it out of that apartment. Some have to be hospitalized. Later, they regroup after realizing they’d had an encounter with the demonic, bringing in some older men who have encountered this type of dark power before.

Story 2:

    Another team of missionaries in Asia have been working in a village for some time, but have had no success in converting the villagers. One day, a man comes down from one of the nearby mountains, walks into the village, starts preaching and healing the sick, and the entire village is converted. The man goes back to the mountain, leaving the missionaries to tend the new flock.

Story 3:

    A teen is part of a 10-day mission trip to Russia, but is bedridden after picking up the flu. She spends her entire trip unable to leave the hotel. On her last day there, while everyone else is getting ready to pack, she ventures out for what will be the only time she’s been outside the whole trip. Brokenhearted, she sits on the curb and asks God why this happened. A woman comes by and the Lord tells the teen to go talk with her. She walks over to the women, and despite not knowing any Russian at all, opens her mouth to speak , only to find she is speaking to the woman in a language she doesn’t know. The woman begins to cry, says something to the teen, and gives her a handshake.Back in the United States, it’s a couple months before the youth minister at the church receives a letter (and a translation written by another person) from a woman in Russia who says she had met a teen from the church. That teen had approached her on the street and—in fluent Russian—told her the story of Jesus and what He had done for the woman. The woman had gone home, prayed to accept Christ, and had started to tell everyone she knew about Jesus—all thanks to the fluent Russian-speaking girl from the church.

Story 4:

    A missionary team is preaching to a large crowd in Africa when a wailing family brings in a woman who has obviously been dead for a few days. The family says that if what the missionaries are preaching is true, like Lazarus, this woman could be raised to life. The team is taken aback, but all eyes are on them, so they begin to pray. Soon, the presence of God is heavy on them and they see the dead woman’s eyes flutter, then open. Minutes later, the woman is on her feet praising God.

Story 5:

    A missionary plants a church in a burned-out Eastern European town. One day, a man with AIDS comes in and requests prayer. The church leaders pray and the man is healed. This starts a revival in that town, especially among AIDS sufferers, who are healed of the disease by the laying on of hands.

We’ve all heard missionary stories, right? But do we believe them?

Now I ask you, can you spot the true story among the false ones?

Over my nearly thirty years as a believer, I’ve heard my fair share of firsthand missionary stories. I never fail to be enthralled by these tales, and have long wanted to do missions work myself. Just this last Saturday, Missionary to HawaiiI had folks from my church praying that one day I’d have the opportunity to serve as a missionary in some capacity.

Besides the accounts I’ve heard in person are the amazing adventures of missionaries that I’ve read in books. It’s hard not to be caught up in the glory of God’s working in amazing ways in countries whose culture is not far removed from the kind we see in the Book of Acts.

So have you separated the real stories from the false ones yet? Tell you what, I’ll save you some time by telling you that they’re all true. Not only did I hear them firsthand, but I personally knew most of the missionaries involved. Amazingly, one of the stories (#2) I’ve heard from more than one source, happening 0n two different occasions in two different places. And story #4 had video corroboration!

The problem with these stories is that too few Christians are ready to believe they’re true.

I don’t know when American Christians (and Western Christianity, for that matter) got so smug, but we’ve somehow convinced ourselves that we’re the final measure of ALL THINGS CHRISTIAN. We live our comfortable lives in the U.S. free from the burden of believing that anything supernatural occurs anymore, so when we hear these kinds of tales from missionaries—tales that are quite commonplace, actually—we chalk it up to some kind of hysteria. We find ways to explain those stories away. The woman in story #4 wasn’t really dead, even if the missionaries claim rot had set in. The teen in story #3 actually said something to the Russian woman in English and just forgot about it later on. People just don’t come out of nowhere and heal people. A revival featuring converted AIDS sufferers who are freed of the disease? No way.

All I can figure is that those kinds of stories scare the average American Christian. We don’t want to think the demonic is real or that healings and evangelism go together. We don’t see that kind of stuff at home, so why should we believe it goes on in backwater nations? We want to live our Christian life out of our head knowledge about the Faith. We don’t want to confront the truth of these wild stories spun by people laboring in Third World countries because if we do, that truth asks something of us, challenging our careful, comfortable existences. Too many Christians in the West want to make liars out of missionaries rather than accept their tales as true and be forced to deal with the ramifications.

This is not a post about charismata or the continuationist/cessationist battle, but a wake-up call to Westernized Christians that we are not the be all and end all of Christianity. In fact, I would argue that we Christians in America are woefully behind the leading edge of what God is doing around the globe. In fact, the Lord may even have passed us by and gone on to those places in the world that aren’t so cocksure of being the top of the spiritual foodchain.

When missionaries tell us the kinds of stories I shared above, do we really believe them, or do we make them out to be liars by brushing off their encounters with the miraculous power of Jesus Christ?

When did we Christians in America become the sole measure of true faith?