God Helps Those Who Cannot Help Themselves

I was looking up the proverb “God Helps Those Who Help Themselves.” I was pretty sure that Benjamin Franklin originally said it. However, that eventually led me (as so many roads do) to the Wikipedia article and Wiktionary article, “God Helps Those Who Help Themselves.”

There I found that Benjamin Franklin was not the first to say it. Algernon Sidney said it in its present form (Algernon Sidney (1698), chapter 2, in Discourses Concerning Government, volume 1, section 23, p. 298). However he was drawing from Greek Philosophers and a slew of others.

I found the Wikipedia article interesting because it talks about the widespread belief (at least in the United States) that the above proverb is from the Bible. It is clearly not in the Bible… but the question does remain as to whether it is a proverb based on good theology.

I really don’t think it is. As an American, I can relate to the cultural temptation to feel that the proverb is correct. I also feel as if one could put some brackets on it where it does hold true. It is arguable harmonious to the statement of James, “You have not because you ask not.” However, a truer statement is “God Helps Those Who Cannot Help Themselves.” This reminds me of the song by Paul Overstreet, “Love Helps Those (Who Cannot Help Themselves)”

I am presently working on an article based on the Pool of Bethesda story in John 5. Hope to have it done in a couple of weeks and then it will either be published to a journal here in the Philippines or I will simply put it up online. Time will tell. My argument is that the situation at the Pool of Bethesda is a great example of “God Helps Those Who Help Themselves” but that Jesus went there and did exactly the opposite, helping one who absolutely could not help himself. I make the suggestion that the act of Jesus should make us pause and wonder whether what was happening at Bethesda was indeed from God. Does God really grant mercy and favor on the strongest, richest, most capable? With a few possible exceptions, the answer seems to be NO! Hezekiah was granted 15 years extension to his life, but the broader story undermines the act— Hezekiah in effect used his extension of life to put his country in greater danger.

Ten Common Missionary Roles

Gailyn Van Rheenen lists fen common roles or activites of long-term missionaries in one of his books on missions <Gailyn Van Rheenen, Missions: Biblical Foundations and Contemporary Strategies, 2nd ed. (Zondervan, 2014), Chapter 6>:

(1) Traditional church planting in unreached areas (Pioneering)

(2) Training local church leaders in order for a church planting movement to be successful (a bit too specific, let’s just say leadership development)

(3) Providing theological education to national leaders by training them where they are (onsite theological development)

(4) Teaching advanced theological studies in Bible schools and seminaries (offsite theological development)

(5) Serving as Bible translators (Self-explanatory)

6) Helping the poor and the suffering by focusing on social transformational development (Community development)

(7) Responding to natural disasters, providing medical services, and taking care of orphans (Relief and Helps ministries)

(8) Serving as business missionaries who live out in terms of economic realities (BAM)

(9) Serving as ministers of international justice to advocate for the oppressed (Social Justice)

(10) Serving as missionary support personnel who serve other missionaries (Several things, really)

We could group these into three general groups:

“Spiritualistic” Ministries: Numbers 1-5

“Social” Ministries: Numbers 6-9

Support Ministries: Number 10

Now if you think about it, the one that fits what people often think missionaries do is #1. In truth, it is the one that Ralph Winter wanted to be the only one called missionary. I understand the simplicity of the definition, but missions is a team sport and because of that I believe the broader understanding is useful. Arguably, #5, Bible translation is also part of what is often thought of as

Next, Numbers 2-4 are all about training— Theological and ministerial training.

Numbers 6-9 perhaps are better viewed as Transformational ministries

Number 10 is too broad. It includes missionary member care

This gives us:

Traditional Missions: Pioneer Missions and Bible Translation

Training Ministries: Ministerial Training, Theological Training

Transformational Ministries: Relief, Social Justice, Developmental Ministries

Support Ministries: Missionary Member Care, Logistical Support, Administrative Support and Mobilization

They all are needed and all should be honored.

Thoughts on Reverse Missions

I have been doing a bit of thought on ‘Reverse Missions”— this is missionaries who depart from New Sending Countries (countries that traditionally received missionaries), and serve in Old Sending countries 9countries that traditionally sent missionaries). These reflections are pretty off-the-cuff. I will hopefully be able to fill out these ideas later.

#1. Reverse Missions is perfectly valid. Early on after I arrived in the Philippines, Christians I knew thought it humorous the idea of Filipinos departing from the Philippines to go to places like the United States or South Korea to do missions. Some would accept the idea, but see it only in terms of Diaspora Missions— doing ministry work with Filipinos living in those countries. But unless you are one who sees missions as only applying to pioneering work among people who have not had the gospel presented in a manner that they can realistically respond to, reverse missions is just as valid as any other type of missions.

#2. Reverse Missions is rapidly becoming an anachronistic term. Perhpas it is already anachronistic. More Protestant missionaries (I am not sure about Catholic or Orthodox missions) come from New Sending Countries than Old Sending Countries. For decades, missions has been from all places to all places. Why should a Ghanian missionary serving in England be seen as “reverse” missions. Does it need an adjective of any sort? Arguably, it is missions.

#3. Reverse Missions still requires theological contextualization. The argument could be made that since Christianity is well-established in the recipient country, it is already well-contextualized in that country. It is possible, but culture is transient. It is not only possible that the faith has fallen out of relevance and resonance with the culture, it may be likely. We talk about some countries and cultures as being post-Christian. What that commonly means that the broader culture has changed, while the Christian culture either hasn’t changed, or has changed adjusted to be well-contextualized with a certain sub-culture that is diverging from the broader culture. In some cases, it may take an outsider from both the broad culture and the insular sub-culture to help the church.

#4. Reverse Missions perhaps is even more at risk of “sheep stealing” over “real missions” than regular missions. Sheep stealing is pulling people from existing churches and trying to get them to join one’s own church. This can happen in many places (this happens A LOT here in the Philippines), but perhaps even more common when a large part of the population are part of a post-Christian culture, while still holding, at least nominally, to a Christian denomination. It is tempting to assume the problem is the church they are part of. Is that true? Perhaps, but it can also be rather self-serving for a missionary to assume what is good for him/herself (growing the missionary’s ministry) is also what is best for the people being served.

#5. Reverse Missions makes it even harder to define what missions is (and is not). I feel that missions is best defined in relation to one’s own church. But I understand that culture or types of ministry seems to make more sense to others. Rather than trying to answer this question, I will just note that this challenge exists.

Types of “Great Missionaries”

What does it take to be a great missionary? I think there are different types of missionaries and there are different ways they can be seen as good.

  1. Innovator. Barnabas. Some missionaries do something that is highly innovative and as such establish patterns that guide missionaries long after them. Barnabas appears to be a great example of this with the strategy that he used for mentoring and then entering strategic locations for missions. Other could include Zeigenbald, and John Nevius.
  2. Theologian Paul. Some missionaries develop and (often) write theological works. Such works can be theology of mission, or missional theology. Paul, while certainly a very good missionary as shown in his 3 mission trips. However, what made him great was his writings— 13 letters to various churches. These letters were practical, pastoral, and personal. However, they were very much theological. Other missionaries also embraced theological writing might include Roland Allen and Leslie Newbigin.
  3. Promoter. David Livingstone. This is a bit more dubious. Many ask the question of whether David Livingstone was a great missionary. And in his work in Africa they may have a point. At the same time, Livingstone was great in inspiring people to support missions or give more to missions. An even more extreme case may be Henry Stanley, who perhaps could be described as a bad missionary (but a great promoter of missions). Other missionaries may be clearly be good missionaries but are still more recognized in their role of promoting missions. Some examples might include Lottie Moon, Albert Schweitzer, Luther Rice, and Amy Carmichael.
  4. Contextualizers. Ulfilas. Some successfully brought the Christian faith successfully into a new culture. Often this is most clearly visible in terms of translation of Bible and liturgy. There are some that are uncertain of Ulfilas because of his theology. No one, however, could fail to recognize his accomplishment in translating the Bible into Gothic language. Others might include Methodius, Cyril, and Ola Hanson.
  5. Trailblazers. Adoniram and Ann Judson. Some missionaries may not be innovators in the strictest sense, but trailblaze a new place of ministry— opening the door wide for follow-on missionaries to follow. The Judsons were the first to work in Burma, and their challenging work opened the door for others after. Sometimes they gain the title of “Apostle of _______.” Samuel Zwerner and Nicholas Kassachin are a couple of examples.
  6. Organizer. Ludwig Von Zinzendorf. Some may have not done much personally in terms of missions, but they created structures that were highly effective in missions. Von Zinzendorf wasn’t really a missionary, although he did some visits to missionaries in the field. However, he brought structure to the United Brethren (Moravians) creating the first major mission movement in Protestantism. Another would be Hudson Taylor.
  7. Faithful. Justinian Von Welz. In most vocations there are superstars. Nothing wrong with that. However, it would be ill-advised to assume that the greatest missionaries were necessarily the ones identified as great in our eyes. Von Welz was an innovator, but too ahead of his time to be recognized as such by most. By almost every measure he was a failure. However, he was faithful even to death. By pretty much every measure William Borden was a failure— rejecting family fortune only to die before reaching his final mission destination. But he was faithful to the call and faithful to the end. These were the Faithful Servant of the parable of Jesus.

There are other categories of greatness. However, I hope you see from the #7 that list in general is a bit dubious. I think it is good as a reminder that there is more than one way to be seen as great or effective. However, our ideas of greatness may NOT coincide with what is God’s view of greatness.

Theming Reading, Writing, and Teaching in 2023

It feels like it is the time to throw myself into reading and writing and teaching in 2023. 2020 through 2022 were the years of pandemic and family issues. It looks like the pandemic is over (being replaced by endemic) while most of our family challenges are becoming ironed out. In fact, two major challenges just got worked out today. Praise God for that.

So there are a few things that I hope to take more seriously this year…

  1. I want to finish my book on Theology of Mission (“Walking With” as Metaphor for Theology of Mission). It was actually completed last year, and had put electronic copies online. However, I am starting to clean it up now, presently in Chapter 3, to make it ready for formal printing. I have been mulling cleaning up my book on Cultural (or Missional) Anthropology. I pulled that book off publishing because I feel that there are problems with it. Not sure yet.
  2. Work on Video training. I am presently working on video presentations for an online class on Missions History with Faith Bible College. I enjoy Missions History and so I not only like to work on these presentations, but have appreciated thee motivation to do more research. There is a book out recently by Doreen Morrison called “George Lisle: A Faith that Couldn’t be Denied.” This is a book on a person I have long wanted to learn more about. George Lisle was the first American to serve as a full-time mission in a foreign field.
  3. I have been asked to take on the role of “editor-in-chief” in a journal— Philippine Journal of Religious Studies. This is a journal that was active at our seminary years ago but had taken a LONG break. I don’t know what an “editor-in-chief” does and as one who has rebelled against the peer-review system, I am being pulled into a very new place for me. It is good to learn and keep learning.

Beyond this… I don’t know. I am not keen on New Years resolutions. I don’t think I have ever set one, and I don’t want to start now. I watched a Youtube Video “Your Theme” by CGP Grey. He suggests that for year-long goals, SMART is not the right idea. Vague and abstract is the way to go. It can be linked by CLICKING HERE.

As faf as the blog, I think I will keep doing what I am doing. Just passed 150,000 views on this website. That is small for some, but for me… that is quite something. I am pretty sure that I will just keep writing about what ‘strikes my fancy.’

Nicholas Kassatkin

I am putting together notes and presentations and video for a Missions History class I was asked to teach.

One of the values of doing this is that one gets the opportunity to relearn how little one knows. I keep learning how little I know.

Going through “Encountering the History of Missions” (by John Mark Terry and Robert L. Gallagher), there were a couple of missionaries who were brought up as being truly excellent missionaries who really were not on my radar screen as individuals I might go to for inspiration.

One of those was Bartholomaus Ziegenbalg. He was a Moravian missionary to India. I was familiar with him, but as I read more on him, there is much to be admired. Still, I generally knew about him.

The other was one who I had heard of briefly before, but I had learned so little that I did not remember his name when I came upon it.

This was Nicholas Kassatkin. Some put his name as Nicholas Kassathin. (I don’t know Cyrillic enough to know which spelling is closer to the original.)

Nicholas Kassatkin died in 1912 after serving in Japan for approximately 50 years. He was a Russian Orthodox monk her served in Japan. He was part of the Russian Orthodox mission movement that was especially active from the 1700s until the early 1900s. Kassatkin was different from most other Russian Orthodox missionaries during this period, and different from most other Christian missionaries during the “Great Century” in that he served in a place that was neither conquered lands nor colonized lands. He was a Russian Christian serving in Japan… neither conquered land nor colonized land of Russia or any other “Christian nation.”

I will quote from Richard Durmmond who was quoted by Terry and Gallagher:

The life and life fruits of Nicholas compel us to recognize him as one of the greatest missionaries of the modern era. In accordance with Orthodox tradition, he respected highly the language and cultural traditions of the people among whom he served. He respected the epeople and loved them as persons. He went beyond the common traditions of Orthodoxy in freeing his work to an extraordinary extent from the political aims and interests of his homeland. His apostleship was remarkably non-polemical for the day; he was in singular fashion an aposlte of peace among men. His method of evangelization was concentrated upon the family, and he stressed above all the raising up of national workers and the indigenization of the Church, even as he urged it to remember its distinctive association with the kingdom of God.

-Richard H. Drummond. “A History of Christianity in Japan (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1971), 354. Quoted by Terry and Gallagher on page 80.

He came to Japan shortly after the opening of the doors to outsiders, even though there still was considerable hostility to foreigners. He also came from a country that has had conflict with Japan. In fact, during his time in Japan, a war occurred between his country and Japan (in 1905). During that time, he struggled with his role as a foreigner. Japanese converts to Christ and Russian Orthodoxy were told by Kassatkin that they should be good Christians AND good Japanese citizens even if he himself could not go against his own country— Russia.

In his lifetime, he baptized approximately 20,000 converts. That is amazing in a country that has, generally, been very standoff-ish to Christianity. Actually, today, there are a little less than 10,000 Japanese who identify as Russian Orthodox. The church has not grown in the last century but considering wars and social upheavals in Japan and even more so the Russian Orthodox church, the endurance of the church in Japan shows the strength of the work of Kassatkin.

As Protestants, we may be tempted not to give proper due to Catholic missionaries, and even less to the Eastern Churches. But that is a mistake. There is much we can learn. I am glad I have had this chance.