This is the first of three blogs on lessons we can learn from Christian missionaries and evangelists who did not become famous (on earth).
Ever heard of Sam Pollard? Thought not. And he’d probably like that. Born in 1864, Pollard was the son of a preacher, who had no thoughts of becoming a missionary, and certainly not one to China. He was very intelligent, ranking seventh in all of England in his Civil Service clerkship. There isn’t space here to to look at Pollard’s entire life, and this blog won’t tell you much about his missionary exploits. However, there are three lessons to be learnt from Pollard’s life that we would do well to take to heart:
1. No place was too far
Pollard was first inspired to reach the lost for Christ after learning about the ministry of David Livingstone in Africa. His interest in China was twofold: his explorative nature wanted to visit unknown lands and peoples; his gospel-passion drove him to share Christ with many he knew had not heard. Even when he arrived in China, Pollard travelled massive distances. He undertook evangelistic journeys to parts of China that were considered dangerous and unexplored even by the Chinese.
There is no place ‘too far’ to share the gospel. There are no people groups ‘too remote’ to hear the news of what Jesus has done for sinners. When Christ said ‘to the ends of the earth,’ I’m pretty sure that’s what He meant.
2. He met the people where they were
The history of missions contains stories of many gospel-bringers who made unwise decisions throughout their time on the field. A common error has often been to impose Western culture on the people being reached. I’m not saying Pollard was perfect in this regard, but he did make huge efforts to become ‘as Chinese’ as possible. He dressed according to Chinese culture, he learned the language, and he acted appropriately. God used this to bring Pollard respect among the people he was trying to reach. If Pollard is ‘famous’ for anything, it was the script he invented for the Miao language (parts of which are still used today). He then taught this written language to the people and translated the New Testament for them.
We are called to preach Christ; not Western musical styles, dress code or customs. As far as how we live our lives is concerned, the law of Christ is our first filter for everything we say, think and do. After that, be like the people you’re reaching. See 1 Corinthians 9:19-23 for more on this.
3. He kept going
In spite of our rough surrounds we young fellows got on all right, for our hearts were brave and we were soldiers of the King and willing to endure for His sake.
These were Pollard’s words as he journaled about his time in China. When you read about his many adventures, they were not glamorous or comfortable by any means. But Pollard never gave up. He sometimes revisited villages where the reception had been harsh and even militant.
We will be tempted to give up many times. In some ways, it’s easier to give up at home. Pollard could not just jump on a plane—he was committed to China, geographically at least. More importantly, however, his heart was committed. If our hearts are committed to the cause of reaching the lost, our whole beings will be too.
You’re maybe thinking ‘I haven’t really learnt anything about Sam Pollard here.’ Good. Because it was never about Sam Pollard and it never will be. This might come as a shock, but it will never be about you either. The mission we have to carry out is God’s. At the end of the day the glory will all belong to Him. We are merely tools in his hands. I pray that we would all learn to be effective nobodies for Jesus.