[The following article is used with the permission of David Sitton and To Every Tribe]
[learn_more caption=”Editor’s Note”] The following is a transcript of a speech that David Sitton, President of To Every Tribe, gave at the annual burial form signing ceremony for Missionary Trainees at the Center for Pioneer Church Planting. [/learn_more]
I want to start with a statement that you’ve heard from me a lot of times. But the more often that I say it, the more that I believe that it’s true. It’s the statement that, “When we are called to Christ, we are called to His mission.” Every believer, not just missionaries, but every believer is meant to be “all in” in our commitment and devotion to Jesus Christ. And we are to be “all out” in our zeal and our efforts to advance the gospel and extend the borders of the Kingdom. That’s for all believers; to be “all in” and to be “all out”, that’s for everybody.
But sometimes when you say that in churches, people will come up and say, “So what you’re saying is that everybody’s a missionary.” And I say, “No, that’s not what I’m saying!” There is a difference. There are some nuances of the word “missionary” that I’m not going to get into now.
The point that I wanted to begin with is that missionary or non missionary, we are all, as believers, called to the mission of Christ and we are called to the same level of commitment, sacrifice, risk… all of those things. So that’s number one.
Number two: Most of the world, if you don’t know, is a dangerous place, not just for missionaries to go but for people who receive the message and who believe it. It’s dangerous in the going and taking of it and it’s dangerous in the hearing of it. In many places in the world, those who put their faith in Jesus Christ, they and most of their family and maybe their children are going to be slaughtered, dead, within several months. That’s difficult to get out of my head that when people say with their lips and live with their lives that “Jesus is Lord,” that they could be dead pretty quickly.
Baptism for these guys is their burial form.
And this process is not an accident. It’s part of the divine plan that follows this process- A person believes in Jesus through your ministry, they go public with that faith, with their testimony including baptism, but in other ways as well. Then, very often, there will be persecution and hardship that comes to them because of their association with the name of Jesus. And finally, there is a result of that persecution and hardship environment is created. The soil suddenly becomes fertile for the quicker advance of the gospel in those places.
You can’t out-radical Jesus. Jesus is always on the upfront, telling you what He’s going to expect from us as believers. He doesn’t hide it away in the small print and you find out about it later. In Luke 21, he’s itemizing and putting into category all of the kinds of sufferings that his disciples are likely going to encounter. They are going to be dragged before kings and governors and before the Sanhedrin. They are going to be betrayed by parents and brothers and relatives and friends. They’re going to put some of you to death and all men will hate them because of Jesus.
In the middle of this description of the horrors that are going to be coming upon the disciples as they go in Jesus’ name, Jesus tucks verse 13 in, with a little bit of encouragement and gives us insight into his plan for suffering. [6:49] He says, “And this will be the result,” “this” meaning all of these sufferings and persecutions and hardships. “[All of that] will result in your being witnesses to them.” Meaning, its going to give you a better opportunity to witness than you would have had without the sufferings, hardships, and persecutions.
This is what these burial forms are about. It’s forcing us to go through a process of thinking and examining our lives and counting the cost. We do this in advance because it’s going to help us greatly as we go forward to wherever it is the Lord takes you.
These sufferings and hardships that Jesus lays out are not just historical facts that happened to our brothers before. These are the kinds of things that are happening right now by the hundreds of thousands to believers all over the world and to thousands of missionaries who are carrying this message to them.
A Pledge of Allegiance to Jesus
We’re standing here doing an incredibly weird, strange thing. We’re talking about burial forms. Why are we talking about burial forms?
Well, we’re talking about burial forms because most of us come from the West. And we don’t live in places around the world where there is that kind of hot, overt, daily, frequent persecution. Prisca (my persecuted sister in Papua New Guinea) didn’t need a burial form. She came out of the water being baptized and she was repeatedly beaten and raped and her house burned down several times. She suffered all manner of hardship. She didn’t need a burial form because she lived it everyday, dying everyday, in a multitude of kinds of ways.
But we don’t live in that kind of an environment. We have been blessed to grow up in a place where there has not been that kind of overt, frequent, direct hardship, suffering, and persecution. But you’re going to be going into it. And so you need to reckon with it. And that’s why we have burial forms.
I see a lot of similarity between the burial forms and baptism (not that this replaces biblical baptism). But it’s similar in the sense that in the New Testament, baptism was a big deal. They were saying publicly, “Jesus is Lord, Caesar is not.” They were inviting persecution to come flooding in upon them. We don’t have that kind of pressure when we get baptized, and so we go through it and we’re baptized and we go along our merry way.
Burial forms help us process. It reinforces what we should have learned in the gospel, the kind of commitments we’re making to Christ, as we were baptized in the first place. Baptism was intended to be a pledge of allegiance to Jesus. That all of our lives belong to Him. That He bought our bodies. They don’t belong to us. They are paid for by Christ. And He can do to them whatever He wishes to do with them, wherever He wishes to do it. Public pledge of allegiance to family, friend, and foe that we are cross-carrying (or as we often say, death defying when necessary) believers who go as missionaries into these dangerous places.
They Had Coffin Shops, Not Coffee Shops
Historically the Fijians didn’t need burial forms. The Fijians were the ones that went to Papua New Guinea the very first time knowing that many of them were going to be slaughtered by the cannibals there. And what did they do? They got ahead of the game. They didn’t need burial forms, they just went ahead and built their coffins, put their stuff in them, and left.
And the Moravians, they did not need burial forms. You know what they had? They had people in the community who were carpenters. You know what they built? Coffins! They had “coffin shops” not “coffee shops.” The had coffin shops to try to keep up with the demands of martyrs.
If we go in the name of Jesus to some of these dangerous hostile places and produce “blood witness disciples,” then we’re going to need to be willing to be “blood witness missionaries” who go. “Blood witness,” meaning, we’re not going to be on the first bus out of town when there is the first hint of trouble. We’re not going to cut and run, that’s not in our DNA. We’re going to go in because Jesus is worth it and we’re going to stay. We’re going to stay with the message.
I want to end this with a few missionary quotes.
We follow in the steps of some great missionaries. They’re just men and women who struggled with exactly what you’re struggling with right now. Some of these guys were married, they had wives, they had children. And the demands of the cross, the demands of Christ on their life, they were having to reckon with and wrestle with in the same way you are. And so maybe some of these quotes will just kind of help boost our own faith and confidence to move forward with boldness.
Here’s one for the ladies! Lottie Moon said, “If I had a thousand lives, I would give them all for the women in China.”
Three quotes by Hudson Taylor. The first one, when he was 5 years old, he said, “When I am a man, I mean to be a missionary, and I want to go to China.” Then, a few years later, he’s a young man trying to get to China. He’s not in China yet, but as he’s trying to get there, he says, “I feel that I cannot go on living unless I do something for Christ in China.” And then later in his life, after decades of giving his life through many hardships in China, an old man, a veteran missionary, he said the same thing as Lottie Moon. I don’t know who got it from who, but he said, “If I had a thousands lives, I’d give them all for China.”
I was privileged a few week’s ago to stand at the grave of David Brainerd in Massachusetts. What a man! He died when he was 29 and wrote this as he was dying, “All of my desire was for the conversion of the heathen. I cared not where or how I lived or what hardships I went through. Only so that I could but gain souls for Christ.” He says, “I declare, even as I am now dying, I would not have spent my life otherwise.” Sounds like a burial form, signing his life away who invested in Indians right here in North America.
Two quotes from David Livingston. One, very short, “Death alone will put a stop to my efforts in Africa.” And that was the case. But my favorite quote of all time by a missionary, he said; “God had an only Son and he was a missionary. A poor, poor imitation of him I am, but in this life I now live, and in this life, I wish to die.” And he did it. May 1 1873 he died with his hands folded, bent over his little cot in the middle of Africa. His national co-workers cut his heart out and buried it under a tree. And they gutted him, embalmed him as you would embalm someone in the 1800’s, dried him out with salt, probably, and carried his body back to the coast.
And that reminds me of my final quote. I wasn’t going to use it but I’ll use it maybe as kind of a humorous way to end and move to the signing of this burial form. You remember what my mentor Joe Cannon said, as he’s got the burial form laid out and he says, “Sign it!” And he’s laughing, “Sign it! Four days in the bush, I’m not going to haul your carcass back to the coast.” That’s where all of this comes from. There are humorous parts of it, like Joe making jokes and laughing, because that’s what you do with really serious things sometimes. But I love what he said to me. After we signed the thing, we packed our bags as we’re ready to go to the Kukakuka tribe, a location Joe had never been. And he says, “you know brother, we’re going to walk three or four days, and we may die, we may get malaria, we may get dysentery, we may break a leg out in that kind of jungle, you would never find your way back, or they may kill us when we get there” and he says, “If that ever happens, that one of us dies, the other one should laugh and say (as you bury the other guy) that Jesus is worth it.”
Learn more about To Every Tribe here!
David Sitton writes…
“I wasted away my teen years in the early 1970’s in Corpus Christi, Texas, rebelling against the expectations of established society. Surfing was the thing I was most devoted to in those days and I aggressively embraced the surfing sub-culture, including drug use and the cruising and carousing lifestyle. It was a fun and exciting way to waste my time. But God began to step into my life through the friendship of a high school girlfriend and her family. Through their lives and testimony I was drawn towards Jesus. I sometimes say that I embraced Jesus and the gospel. The truth is that Jesus did the embracing. He took firm hold of me and radically rescued me from sin, rebellion and a ruined life in 1975.” Follow this link to learn more about David Sitton and To Every Tribe.
CMC: David Sitton is a good and long time friend in the Gospel. We highly recommend the ministry of To Every Tribe to our readers.