Recently I finished reading Ascent to the Tribes, a book by Isobel Kuhn describing the ministry to the tribes in Thailand by China Inland Mission missionaries who had been run out of China by the Communists.
One chapter describes Father Wood, their name for the first convert in one of the tribal areas. Upon initial contact they found him an opium smoking, arthritic, demon worshipping, filthy old man. In time he received the gospel, took down his idol shelf, and quit smoking opium. He even scrubbed off the soot that for years had been caked on his body.
Medications helped with his arthritis, but he was still so incapacitated that he could only make short forays out of his shack. Nonetheless, he shared the gospel with anyone coming to his hut. Despite his evangelistic efforts, his family was the only one of the village that had become Christian. He was subjected to animosity from those who had not. Even family members were only marginally committed to the Lord.
The book recounts his death. The tribal custom was for the people of the village to build a casket for the deceased, dig a grave, and then carry the casket to the grave. Because Father Wood was a believer, they refused to build him a casket, dig a grave for him, or carry him to his burial. This left the family to dig a shallow graves in which they placed his body without a casket.
As I think of missionaries who ministered to Father Wood, we can imagine that if we were in their place it may have been difficult to ward off a sense of superiority. Even as missionaries they had financial and other material resources far beyond his. They had education as compared to his ignorance. They had world experience as opposed to his exposure limited to his village. They were clean while he was dirty. They enjoyed health as compared with his sickness. They had a relationship with the Lord, but he worshiped idols.
In reflecting on these differences, I recognized that Western Christians do enjoy superiority; not a superiority in personhood, but of privilege and advantage. Multiculturalists notwithstanding, we do enjoy superior education, superior culture (though this distinction is beginning to disappear), superior cleanliness, superior health, superior financial position, and other advantages.
As I read the account of Father Wood’s death, it dawned on me that upon our arrival in heaven all of those superior advantages are eradicated. In fact, Father Wood’s willingness to stand alone as he only Christian in his tribe, suffering persecution, being thrown in the grave without a casket, might result in his enjoying superior status in heaven.
The realization that someday the superiority that I now enjoy will be gone led to the conclusion that I must invest whatever temporal advantages I have now in order to convert them into eternal assets. In other words, I can make the choice to squander my advantages on temporal benefits or use them to make eternal investments.
In fact, Scripture requires that I do the latter. It asserts, “To whom much is given, much is required.” The advantages that I possess have been given to me for a reason–with a purpose in mind. Ephesians 2:10 states that fact as follows: “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God has prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.”
Consequently, if we do not use our superior resources to achieve God’s purposes, at the Judgment Seat of Christ they could actually become liabilities. Father Wood had practically nothing, but he used what he had. If God has entrusted us with much, and we have little to show for it, we will have a lot of explaining to do—explaining to One who can’t be fooled by empty explanations.
So, we need to acknowledge our superiority as Western believers, superiority of resources and opportunity, and realize that someday they will be gone. However, we can still possess them if we send them ahead. If we do not, Father Wood, when he visits us in heaven, may pity us when he enters our hut and reflects on our inferior status.