How can a Church in a small economically insignificant Indian state provide for so many missionaries?
The Mizoram Presbyterian Church is a 600,000 member Reformed church in North East India, where I’ve been a member since childhood (Mizoram is an Indian state). It is one of the largest Reformed churches in the world. I hope this post serves as a helpful reminder and testimony that God uses small people to advance the Gospel of His kingdom.
“Today the Mizoram Presbyterian Synod Mission Board supports more than 1,700 fulltime workers. Given the state’s modest annual per capita income of approximately Rs. 18,904/- ($400 U.S.), how can such a small, poor church provide for so many missionaries? The short answer is that the entire culture is missional, seeing “the task of proclaiming the Gospel as their responsibility as a nation.” In 2007, Mizoram Presbyterians gave Rs.598,714,400/- ($12,721,948.27 U.S.) to the church. Of this, Rs. 229,069,400/- ($4.9 million U.S.) was devoted to world evangelization. As of this writing, Mizo missionaries are serving in India, Nepal, China, Taiwan, Myanmar, Kiribati, Samoa, American Samoa, Solomon Island, Madagascar, Wales, and North America.
Only the most extraordinarily focused sense of the primacy of evangelization can begin to account for this. Since1913, in a practice known as “buhfai tham,” mission-minded women set aside a handful of rice when they prepare morning and evening meals. This rice is regularly collected from each household and sold at an auction, with proceeds going to the Synod Mission Board. In 2007, the “handful of rice” offerings raised Rs.55,112,271/- ($1,171,148 U.S.) for missions. Similarly, as children forage for firewood, sticks set aside from each load are contributed to the “mission firewood pile” on Sunday mornings.
Churches in rural areas frequently dedicate entire gardens, farms, and teak plantations to missions, while their urban counterparts open small shops and tea stalls. The human time and effort necessary to run such enterprises is provided by volunteers, with all profits going to support missions. Some churches construct buildings, with rental revenues going entirely to the mission fund. A high percentage of women practice imaginary field visits, praying and collecting the amount of money that it would take to actually travel to the selected mission field, with accumulated monies going to Synod Mission Board mission funds. A significant number of churches have even sacrificed their lavish Christmas feasts, celebrating, rather, the joy of diverting the money towards missionary support. Some church members, especially women, miss one meal a week, donating the value of that meal to the mission fund. And, finally, church members practice tithing, giving a minimum of 10 percent of their monthly income to the church. Tithers designate their offerings for one of four options, two of which are mission-related.” (McLure Lectures—Pittsburgh Theological Seminary—September 27-28, 2010).
As I read this, I was reminded of what the Apostle Paul wrote to the Church in Corinth:
“1. We want you to know, brothers, about the grace of God that has been given among the churches of Macedonia, 2. for in a severe test of affliction, their abundance of joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part. 3. For they gave according to their means, as I can testify, and beyond their means, of their own accord, 4. begging us earnestly for the favor of taking part in the relief of the saints—5. and this, not as we expected, but they gave themselves first to the Lord and then by the will of God to us” (2 Corinthians 8).
See the sequence below:
- The grace of God.
- Their abundance of joy.
- Their extreme poverty.
- Overflowed in a wealth of generosity.
- They gave according to their means.
- And beyond their means.
- Of their own accord (not forced or deceived).
- They gave themselves first to the Lord.
- Then, by God’s will, to the apostles.
What amazes me most is that they experienced “abundance of joy” by the “grace of God” while they were “in a severe test of affliction” and “extreme poverty” (not extreme prosperity). This resulted in lavish giving. Their “wealth” was seen in their generous giving, not in their possession.
How can that be? The Gospel generates unspeakable abundance of joy in the hearts of Christians, and this produces unspeakable generosity even in the midst of extreme suffering. This happens when Christ is treasured above all things under all circumstances.
“The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field" (Matthew 13: 44).
The free gift of salvation and the JOY that it brought to his heart was not worth comparing to all his possessions so he gave it all up. What we treasure most in life is worth giving up everything else, for therein lies our greatest and deepest joy.