What's in Your Hand? :: Gospel Fellowship Association Missions

What's in Your Hand?

Alan Patterson
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A Hoe and a Rake

A hoe and rake—these are the tools Robert Moffat held in his hand. Loving to get his hands dirty to maintain a beautifully arranged and manicured garden, Moffat was also a teenager and a growing Christian when God arrested his attention with a placard announcing a missionary meeting. Memories of Moravian missionary stories his mother had read came flooding back as he stood before the placard. He describes the transformation that happened on the spot: “My thoughts became entirely occupied with the inquiry of how I could serve the missionary cause. No Missionary Society would receive me. I had never been to college or at an academy.”1 Moffat went to that missionary meeting, talked afterward with Mr. Roby, the missionary speaker, and right away asked to join Roby’s mission society. The society rejected him, saying they were obligated to take the most promising applicants.

Convinced God was calling him, Moffat persisted (as did Mr. Roby), and eventually, the London Missionary Society accepted him despite his lack of academic training. This gardener, though lacking higher education, went on to establish a church and missionary hub at Kuruman in the south of Africa. He taught the people how to irWhatsInYourHand_Moffats.jpgrigate and farm, but more importantly, he also preached the Gospel and taught them the Word. They did not have the Word in their language, so he learned their language, translated the Bible, established a printing press, and planted a church that functions to this day. 

Top Scholar Award and Books

In contrast to Moffat, Henry Martyn was a Cambridge University graduate. In his hand was the top scholar award and books in Latin, Greek, and Hebrew. Challenged by his missions-minded pastor and the writings of David Brainerd, Martyn determined to use his language skills for reaching the lost in the Muslim and Hindu worlds. This meant leaving behind the woman he loved (her parents would not release her for a missionary life) and facing a ministry of Muslim hostility. He died at the age of 29 in Turkey, but not before he had translated the New Testament into Urdu and Persian.

A Drawing Pen

With her tool, a drawing pen, Lilias Trotter knew how to produce some of the finest art of her day. The leading British art critic, John Ruskin, took her under his tutelage and trained her to the height of the profession. The crisis came in 1879 when she and her mother went to stay with Mr. Ruskin for personalized training. When he told her in glowing terms the brilliant future that could be hers if she gave herself entirely to art, she knew she had to decide: “I see clear as daylight now that I cannot dedicate myself to painting in the way that he means and continue to seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness.”2 Convinced God was calling WhatsInYourHand_Trotter.jpgher to reach the Muslim people, she applied to the North Africa Mission, but for health reasons, she was rejected. Undaunted, she and two friends went unconnected with a mission to Algiers and began a ministry that extended 40 years. She learned Arabic and wrote tracts. She also conscientiously kept a daily journal for decades, recording what God was teaching her and how He was working in the unplowed fields of Islam. Using her drawing and water-color skills, she captured the stunning vistas of mountain, desert, and oasis that so contrasted with her native England.

Old Shoes and the Tools to Repair Them

Old shoes and the tools to repair them—these were in WilliamWhatsInYourHand_CareyIndia.jpg Carey’s hand. The humble work of a cobbler provided a subsistence income for him and his family. But God knew he had better gifts and opened doors for Carey that revealed those skills. Carey’s persistent challenge to his pastor friends about the necessity of obedience to the Great Commission finally resulted in the establishment of the Baptist Mission Society with Carey as its first missionary. The poor cobbler became the man considered to be the “father of modern missions.” One can still visit the cramped room where Carey cobbled and sold secondhand shoes and handle Carey’s workbench and tools. One can also visit a museum in Serampore, India, and see all 40 of his Bible translations into the various indigenous languages.

Slide Rule and Piano

J. O. Fraser had a slide rule and piano in his hands. He used the slide rule as a skillful engineer; he played the piano as a skillful musician. How does a piano-playing missionary use WhatsInYourHand_FraserLisu.jpgsuch a tool when ministering to the Lisu tribal people in the mountains of southern China? He uses a portable organ! Fraser shared his passion for music among the music-loving Lisu, and they developed amazing skills. When a missionary with OMF (CIM in Fraser’s day) visited those mountain people decades after Fraser’s ministry, they sent the worker away with a rousing rendition of the “Hallelujah” chorus! The technical side of Fraser enabled him to develop an alphabet for these illiterate people, an alphabet still in use, and called the “Fraser Alphabet.”

Empty Hands?

From all appearances to mission executives, Gladys Aylward was empty-handed. But God knew better. Though not highly skilled technically or academically, she did have the ability to relate to the lowly and needy, work hard, care for orphans, and learn the Chinese language, despite earlier rejection by CIM for not making acceptable progress in Chinese.

Scalpel and a Suture

Dr. John Dreisbach’s tools were a scalpel and a suture. A WhatsInYourHand_DreisbachJ.jpgwell-trained surgeon, Dr. Dreisbach, could almost work miracles as he developed special techniques for repairing the deformed limbs of lepers. Serving as a medical missionary among the mostly nomadic Africans of the Sahara, he used his medical tools to open the door for the Gospel, which he preached to all who came. A brilliant man, working in extremely primitive situations, Dr. D. could not express frequently or eloquently enough how much he loved being a missionary. His were “gifted hands.”

The skills and tools of these men and women differed widely, but they had one thing in common—a passion for serving the Lord as missionaries. How are you using what God put in your hand?

1 John S. Moffat, The Lives of Robert and Mary Moffat, 12 ed. (London: T. Fisher Unwin, n.d.), 13.

2 Patricia St. John, Until the Day Breaks (1990; reprint, Carlisle, U.K.: Paternoster Publishing, 1997), 17-18.