Isaiah 66:19 “I will set a sign among them, and I will send some of those who survive to the nations–to Tarshish, to the Libyans and Lydians (famous as archers), to Tubal and Greece, and to the distant islands that have not heard of my fame or seen my glory. They will proclaim my glory among the nations.”
This has always been an exciting verse to me, particularly with the reference to “distant islands,” because there could hardly be a clearer prophecy of foreign missionaries, and the islands of Japan are about as far from Israel as you can get. The target groups and nations listed here are certainly not limited to islands, and they are obviously merely representative. The salient distinctive is that these are people who have not heard of God or seen His glory, and those sent to them are to proclaim that glory. The history of world missions obviously goes back to the early Church. Paul is famous for his missionary journeys, and Thomas is reasonably said to have gone as far as India. What is called the “Modern Missionary Movement” goes back to Count Nicolaus von Zinzendorf of Moravia, followed by William Carey in Britain, in the 17th and 18th Centuries, which seems like ancient history to us now. However, it is certainly “modern” compared to Isaiah! The point is, God has always been interested in all mankind knowing about Him, so that they might “turn from their wicked ways and seek His face.” (2 Chronicles 7:14) As Paul said, “How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them?” (Romans 10:14) Certainly not every believer is called to pack up and go to a distant land, but all are called to be witnesses, (Acts 1:8) and some are indeed sent to distant lands. There have always been those who have considered foreign missions a waste of time and resources, but such an attitude certainly ignores the heart of God, expressed as far back as Isaiah.
William Owen Carver (1868-1954) founded the Department of Missions in the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Louisville, Kentucky, which is currently the oldest Protestant department of missions in any school in the world. Of his six children, three indeed went as missionaries, Ruth and George to China and Dorothy to Japan. Ruth’s missionary career was cut short by her health and George’s by WWII and the Communists. Dorothy married W. Maxfield Garrott, who had been a student of W. O. Carver, in Japan, and continued to serve after her husband’s death until her retirement. I am the youngest of their children. Obviously, missions is in my blood! I have little patience with those who denigrate missions, but at the same time I don’t think everyone is sent to foreign lands. However, I do think everyone is to be faithful as a witness! Whether I am a “foreign missionary” is open to debate, because I am serving in the land where I was born and raised and I have no “sending agency,” no support, financial or otherwise, apart from my Lord. However, He’s enough, and He has proved Himself faithful countless times. It is my desire to inspire Japanese believers to be active as witnesses, and I am deeply grateful that several people who have been under my ministry are currently in full-time service, or are preparing to be so. I’ve not been so successful at bringing many to repentance and faith, but at least I’ve inspired others to keep trying at the task!
Father, thank You for Your incredible grace. I didn’t choose my ancestors, but You had planned for me from eternity past. I pray that all of Your plans for me may be fulfilled, not for my sake but so that as many as possible may hear of Your glory in the cross of Christ, and repent and believe for their salvation and Your glory. Thank You. Praise God!
Jack, you and Cathy continue to be an inspiration to me. Thanks for sharing your story.
Liam, I shared your comment with Cathy, and she was moved to tears. We are blessed to count you as a friend.