Monday, June 28, 2010

Francis of Assisi and World Missions

Mural of Francis and his first companions

Preaching the Gospel to all of Europe and bringing spiritual revival to Christendom was wonderful; however, for Francis and the brothers it was not enough. They desired to preach Christ’s love and atoning death and resurrection to the whole world.

Francis himself had a burning passion to preach Christ to the Muslims. Although they were the archenemies of Europe—and although Francis probably assumed he would be martyred in his mission—he set about to take the Gospel to the Muslim world. On his first attempt in 1212 he suffered shipwreck and had to return to Italy. Undaunted by this delay, Francis set about a second time in 1214, going through Spain and attempting to cross over to Morocco. Somewhere in Spain, however, he was waylaid by sickness.

Determined to share Christ with the sultan of Egypt, Francis embarked on a third journey in 1219, this time achieving his desired destination. Crossing from the Christian territories in Palestine, Francis was captured by Muslim forces and brought before the sultan. Although the sultan did not convert to Christianity when Francis shared the Gospel with him, he did promise better treatment of Christians taken in combat.

Missions Around the World
Over the following decades Franciscan missionaries began to evangelize the far reaches of the world. Friar William of Rubruck traveled to China and back, making a voyage—and some accompanying maps of the known world—similar to the later work of Marco Polo. Friar John of Montecorvino likewise preached in India and then China, arriving just after the death of Kublai Khan. He became the first bishop in China.

Upon the discovery of the New World, Franciscan missionaries risked their lives to share the Gospel in both of the Americas. While the history of the conquistadors is marked with violence, greed and a quest for power, the Franciscan missionaries who often accompanied them leave behind a very different story. Filled with the same compassion as their founder, Francis, and inviting multitudes into the personal relationship with Christ that Francis knew, the Franciscan missionaries marked the beginning of the modern missions movement that has circled the globe.

Although Protestants today look to Martin Luther as the one who articulated their theology of justification, they can look to Francis of Assisi who laid the foundation for the renewal of world evangelization. (In fact, Luther, Calvin and other Reformers never caught on to the need to engage in World Missions. They were so engrossed in reforming Christendom that they neglected preaching the gospel to the non-Christian world. It took several generations until the Moravians and Pietist renewal of Protestantism caught on to the idea of world missions.)

Only in eternity will we have opportunity to know just how many godly Little Brothers—Friars Minor—were sent around the world as missionaries, often laying down their lives for the spread of the Gospel. Only then will we begin to know the tens of thousands who came into Christ’s kingdom as a result of their labors!

2010 © Glenn E. Myers

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