The Mont-Joux pass is the erstwhile name of a particularly treacherous mountain pass in the Alps straddling Switzerland and Italy. For centuries thousands of lost sojourners perished trying to cross it in the biting winter. When a snowstorm unpredictably arose, there would be a whiteout, and with no way to stay on course travelers would get disoriented, distressed, irrevocably lost, and slowly freeze to death.
But, suddenly, in the 1700s the death rate declined drastically. The reason was not due to any serendipitous technological advances. The climate hadn’t changed. The reason for the increased survival rate was a dog; or to be more accurate, a breed of dogs. This uncanny canine breed possessed a prodigious aptitude for navigation in the blinding fog, a preternatural stamina in below freezing temperatures, and an almost mystical ability to locate lost people in a blizzard.
By this stage in history the pass had been named for the monastery founded by St Bernard of Mont-Joux, so naturally the dogs were also canonized, as St Bernards.
During the 200 or so years that the faithful saints served on the St Bernard Pass, over 2,000 lost souls were rescued from the frost-bitten clutches of an icy death. When the “saints” found a lost soul, they would rescue the iced travelers with a simple but effective, methodical process: first, they located them in the snow with their super-sniffer abilities, then they would deliver a life-saving supply of whiskey and bread in quaint oaken barrels strapped around their necks, and finally they would lead the revived popsicle back to the monastery at a blood-stirring pace by borrowing a pathway with their broad chests at a determined gait.
The rescue dog breed is an apt metaphor for the intrepid sub-species of Christian, the full time missionary. This is a breed of believer that exhibits extraordinary stamina and perseverance, and the exceptional abilities to sniff out local spiritual and physical needs, and lead disciples by example, into the soul-saving truth. Missionaries also admit that they are impotent to help the lost soul, except for delivering the life-giving elixir they carry with them, namely the gospel message.
Missionaries are men and women who are never content with the status quo that creeps like a pall of apathy over the church. They constantly sense the adrenal urgency in Christ’s great commission to reach the world with the gospel.
Missionary C. T. Studd captured this sentiment in this pithy couplet:
Some wish to live within the sound of a chapel bell; I wish to run a rescue mission within a yard of hell.”
As the world turns people scurry like ants to build their respective fiefdoms of influence. Companies merge and grow, populations explode and expand, empires conquer and reclaim, and societies upgrade and increase in the interminable pursuit of betterment. And all the while the real kingdom growth is happening silently but surely in the spiritual realm. We call it missions.
• Matthew 6:10 Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.
• Matthew 28:18-20 And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
• Luke 17:20-21 Being asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come, he answered them, “The kingdom of God is not coming with signs to be observed, nor will they say, ‘Look, here it is!’ or ‘There!’ for behold, the kingdom of God is in the midst of you.”
• Ephesians 6:12 For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.
Missions is nothing less than an organized revolutionary assault on the unseen forces of the present darkness by a spiritual legion of soldiers who fight for the extension of God’s kingdom to dominate the Universe. And local churches are the bastions that defend that cause, forge the weapons, train the soldiers, and populate the ranks with men and women bent on spreading God’s fame, or die trying.
When Paul was commissioned to take the gospel to the Gentiles, his journeys blazed the trail, like a gallant St Bernard, for those who would emulate his example in the future, those who eschew the sedentary life in favor of a mobile mission.
Of course, all Christians have a compulsion to spread God’s glory and the good news of salvation in Jesus. But some have a deeper urge driving them, the craving to go.
What’s your role? Ask God whether you could be someone who goes, tunneling into the barren spiritual tundra of a foreign land. Or consider whom to support.
Thank God that there are still men and women who hear the clarion call of God to storm the gates of Hell on foreign soil. And thank God for the many supporters who make the campaign possible by holding the ropes.
For more on this topic see my book Holding the Rope: Short-Term Missions: Long-Term Impact.