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Waking Up A Hundred Sleeping Firemen

I wrote this essay as a rationale for the Perspectives program. I was national director of the Institute of International Studies at that time. I share how this mission study course could help mobilize students in Christ’s global cause.

What would you do if you discovered a huge brush fire raging in your backyard? Would you immediately run for a bucket of water to throw on it? Or would you go and sound the call to wake up a hundred sleeping firemen to come and help fight back the flames?

Obviously, one bucket of water would be no match for acres aflame. Likewise, the unfinished task of Christian missions is too immense for our present missionary force to tackle. We need to increase the rate of missionary volunteers, not just from North America, but from all six continents! Recently, mission leaders have raised the banner: “200,000 missionaries by the year 2000!” But how will God sound the alarm to awaken these “hundred sleeping firemen?”

We believe that much more than an occasional conference or newsletter is necessary to mobilize this new emerging movement. God cannot lead the over 1.4 million Christian students studying in our secular universities on the basis of facts they do not know.

Thousands graduate each year, and make major vocational decisions, without knowing the crucial dimensions of world evangelization. Surely, every major decision a student makes will be faulty… until they begin to see the whole world as God sees it.

In order to bridge this information gap, we feel that a special credit-bearing course on world missions is needed. For the past ten years the Institute of International Studies has been offering this type of academic program which enables students to view the world from the lens of scripture, history, culture, and missions strategy.

Originally organized by Dr. Ralph Winter in 1974 as the Summer Institute of International Studies, and later as the Institute of International Studies, we have been seeking to help students build their world Christian vision so that whether or not they pursue a career overseas, they can discover the contribution they can make to fulfilling the Great Commission in this generation.

We are located in Pasadena, California, on the campus of the U.S. Center for World Mission. And over 3,000 students have studied under our programs offered in conjunction with Christian colleges. The Institute has always been designed as a college level program giving Christian students the opportunity to supplement their degree program with credit-bearing elective courses in missions.

By inviting outstanding mission leaders to speak in our classes we have sought to give students the big picture of what God has purposed to do, has done, and is doing at this very hour in history. Rather than persuading students to be missionaries or even preparing them for cross-cultural ministries we have always sought to teach, this overarching perspective of God’s Mission–and this has been our hallmark.

By teaching this introductory level course, we affirm that the highest priority of our program has always been to toughen up the intellectual and spiritual dimensions of the people back home. Curiously, the average Christian today who is supposedly “holding the ropes” of those who are overseas probably knows more about the current political world situation and understands less of the role of the Christian mission in that world than at any previous time.

This is why we are committed to changing our present situation by increasing the number of students enrolled in our programs. We realize, however, that only a small percentage of students in North America could ever come to Pasadena for our program, but if we packaged our curriculum in the form of a one course elective and made them available to students on their campus, the vast majority of Christian students on secular campuses could take Institute sponsored courses during some time in their college years.

Many Christians know of the existence of the Student Volunteer Movement of the last generation as a tool God used to mobilize college students for the Great Commission. But few of us know what actually motivated these 100 thousand students to dedicate their lives to Christ’s global cause. What was the regular, weekly, integrating factor on campus for these Student Volunteers?

It was the Mission Study class! Beginning in 1894 with only 200 students in 30 groups across the campuses of North America, this world Christian phenomenon grew to 40,400 annually by 1914 in over 600 campuses.

Church and campus staff reported a marked change had come over the student world to such an extent that Mission Study was regarded to rank with Bible Study as one of the foremost fundamental Christian activities among students. Some college fellowships reported anywhere from 300 to 600 students in Mission Studies on a weekly basis. That statistic is incredible if you realize that college enrollments were 1/37 of what they are today!

We would have to see up to 1.2 million Christian students today enrolled in Mission Study courses to match what God was doing in that generation. Looking at it from this angle, today it is fair to say that Mission Study has got to be the missing dimension of the Church’s total discipleship effort, yet nothing could provide a more important, central, and unifying context to all we are and do for Christ.

John R. Mott, one of the greatest Christian statesmen of this century, stressed the importance of this study experience for students. His words are over eighty years old but still carry the ring of truth:

There is no subject, unless it be the study of the Life of Christ, the study of which is more broadening, more deepening, more elevating, more inspiring, than the subject of world-wide missions… I fail to see how any young person can be perfectly sure that they are doing what God wants them to do, if they are not carrying on a thorough study of this great world… We do our fellow young people a grave injustice if we keep out of their lives this sublime enterprise as a special study.

In light of the great need to recruit more missionaries today to reach the unreached, and in view of the remarkable ways God has worked among students in the past to rally them around this task, the Institute is praying that its program will eventually be offered at over 300 study centers so that up to 10,000 students annually can infuse their academic program with a foundational grasp of the most significant movement the world has ever known.

We pray that this will only be a beginning of an emerging break through of thousands of students to penetrate these last frontiers so that together we might establish a Church for Every People by the Year 2000.

Questions for Reflection:

1. How true is the statement that “every major decision a student makes will be faulty… until they begin to see the whole world as God sees it”?

2. How should world evangelization relate to our students’ life decisions?

3. What is the value of offering a program which gives students the “big picture” rather than trains them to be missionaries?

This article was designed to supplement the materials that are presented in Session #1 of the PERSPECTIVES Curriculum workshop. For more information on the Institute of International Studies, the courses they offer or the teacher training workshops they conduct, contact Perspectives.

Dr. Jay Gary is president of, a foresight consulting group. Over the past twenty years he has helped non-profits, foundations, civic leaders, and strategic alliances to create more promise filled futures. He also teaches strategic foresight, innovation and leadership at the graduate level and through professional development courses.

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