By Randall Margo, PhD
Global Commentator/Global Economy & Administration, G.L.O.B.A.L. Justice
Imagine you’re a 21st century Christian missionary: Where on this vast earth would you go to bring the word of Christ? For Pastor Mike Goodyear of Pathways Church in Fair Oaks, California and his congregation, the answer is simply 10-40 degrees latitude. Within these geographical latitudes is drawn a rectangle from longitude 15 degrees west of the meridian at Greenwich England to 120 degrees east of the meridian. What lies within this rectangle is the African continent’s northern half, the middle east, along with southwest and southeast Asia and much of China. As Pastor Mike, as he is affectionately known points out, this area was chosen because we wanted “to go where the need is greatest.” He explains that about 2 billion people live within this rectangle area who “don’t know Jesus.”
While his missionary travels began back in 1998 within Bolivia’s Amazon jungle, he soon realized that a greater need existed in countries where Christian churches were lacking or often banned by government decree. This has led him to missions in China, Cambodia, Bangladesh, Myanmar, Mongolia, Pakistan and most recently Iraq. In many of these nations, the government prohibits building churches. He notes that China in particular has made a concerted effort to abolish Christianity. Consequently, Christian followers frequently meet underground in individual homes, especially in Islamic countries, where Christianity is seen as immoral, and apostates of the Muslim faith can be killed if they convert. Christians are known as ‘insiders’ within these Islamic countries, as they pray to Jesus for their families and friends while attending services at Mosques.
His most recent journey to Iraq, just north of Mosul in Kurdish held territory reflects both the hardship and blessing a trip of this nature has on its participants. With a team of 21 people, of whom 7 were medical personnel, Pastor Mike faced the challenge of bringing medicine into the country without it being confiscated. Whether through serendipity or divine intervention, he met a woman at a stopover in Dubai who chatted with him about his trip to Iraq. When he happened to mention the issue of bringing medicine into the country, she volunteered that she had a relative in the Iraq government who could assist in his endeavor. The problem was solved. Other matters required more ingenuity. For instance, daytime temperatures reached a scorching 117- 121 degrees during their two week stay. Working out of old school buildings left vacant during the summer months, there was no air conditioning. So, Pastor Mike scrounged around and procured some swamp coolers to make the conditions bearable for the staff and patients using the makeshift medical facility. During their stay he also was blessed to meet a man who managed a nearby hospital and offered the hospital for
future use by medical personnel. Pastor Mike now intends on bringing a surgical team next time to address those suffering horrific birth defects, and maladies associated with poisonous gas. Yes, he emphasizes that the effects of poisonous gas were visible among those treated.
He observed that Kurds, while mostly Islamic, practice a more peaceful version of the Koran in keeping with the early writings of Mohammad. Still, when invited to a bible meeting among locals, he and other participants roam around the gathering site several times before entering to ensure the utmost secrecy. While “in country” he sends his congregation followers out in two’s, ” like Jesus” to meet the local people with only enough money for a taxi back to the hotel. If they want to eat, they must be invited in by a stranger they meet. Fortunately, the Kurdish people are most hospitable, and everyone gets invited in for tea or lunch. Frequently, they are asked back for dinner and even to stay overnight. In a more poignant consideration, Pastor Mike remarks that those attending his trips “always receive more than they give” reflecting upon the fact that we have so much and these people have so little. He sees his journey “as a blessing for people we serve and a blessing for us.”
Less of a blessing and far more controversial has been Pastor Mike’s dispute within his own Methodist Church. In an ironic twist, while he has given his life to “reaching the unreachable” the Methodist Church has tried, albeit unsuccessfully, to remove him from his pastoral duties. From his perspective, the leaders of the Methodist Church, as well as those of Presbyterians, Lutherans, and Episcopalians have embraced a Universalist approach to Christianity, which rejects the notion of an eternal hell, and purports that all souls will ascend to heaven. Consequently, in a larger sense, if Universalism is true, then the need to spread the gospel and Christian truths seems irrelevant. Whether the leaders of these various branches of Christianity believe in
Universalism is highly disputed. Nonetheless, historical concepts of sin, such as homosexuality or gay marriage have become crucibles for this generation of Christians and created a chasm between those who adhere to the scriptures for literal guidance and those who have moved to a more broader interpretation of the Bible.
Pastor Mike is resolved to upholding his traditional beliefs in the face of current societal changes, and is convinced that biblical justice, as articulated in the bible and through God’s command will prevail. So, he begins to plan his next evangelistic journey to Bangladesh next year.