“Set Thy Face Toward the South”
For 52 months the United States of America was not united states at all. Division, secession, and bloodshed marked a nation split in two. During the early 1860’s we had two presidents, two armies, two capital cities, and scores of antagonistic agendas. When Lee surrendered to Grant in the village of Appomattox Court House in April of 1865, it all but ended what we know of today as the American Civil War. But it would require more than a hoisted white flag by a cornered general to unite divided states again. Compromise, understanding, national maturity, hard work, and plenty of time would all be necessary to bring the North and the South closer together. The next century brought with it the political and economic unity critical to our nation’s stability and progress, while at the same time preserving the cultural diversity of each region. Arguably, the cultural uniqueness of the southern states is among the most notable and admirable features of our nation, especially its religious character.
What Has Helped Us:
As we have sought to preach and live the gospel in the South, a number of things have greatly impressed and aided us. First, there is generally a belief in, and deep respect for, the God of the Bible. Hence, the area has come to be known as “The Bible Belt.” I can recall few verbal tussles with atheistic or agnostic minds, for which I am thankful. Many bow their heads in public to give thanks for meals provided by the good hand of God. Second, as God is respected, so is His Word. Tracts, texts, and Bibles are almost always received with little or no persuasion. It is a rare thing to be refused or turned away at the door of a southern home when presenting the Word of God. A third thing which has helped us has been the general ease of obtaining property for use in preaching the gospel. Tent work is still alive, permits are still readily given, and people still come!
What Has Hindered Us:
It is often a principle that helps can quickly become hindrances. Our field of labor is not without some significant religious roadblocks. Several things have stood in the way of the gospel’s success in the South. Unfortunately, familiarity with Bible terminology and Scriptural language has lulled the minds of people into a false sense of security. Almost everyone attends a Protestant church – such churches outnumber convenience stores in most cities. Many claim they are saved and may even use the term “born again” to describe themselves. A surprising percentage of church-goers could even explain gospel doctrines such as substitution, atonement, and justification. But familiarity does not necessarily mean true understanding.
We have been greatly hindered by people’s confusion about what salvation really is. When most people are describing their “conversion experience,” 99% of the time they will tell you about the day they “came forward” or “went down to the altar.” Almost every church service concludes with an emotional appeal to “come and make a decision for Christ.” Even religious songs in the South are filled with such language. The concept is appealing to a results-oriented ministry. Often you will hear people say that dozens or hundreds of people were saved at their church service the prior evening, never stopping to consider the fact that the same listeners are tearfully going forward again and again. The gospel we preach is a message that MUST appeal to man’s will and emotions, but if it stops there, it stops far too short. The whole of man (will, emotions, and intellect) must be reached in any true conversion. Romans 6:17 describes what occurs in genuine salvation—”But God be thanked, that ye were the servants of sin, but ye have obeyed (The Will) from the heart (The Emotion) that form of doctrine (The Intellect) which was delivered you.” Any time we appeal to one part of man and not the whole in our preaching, we run the risk of reaping what is not real. Our biggest battle has been to destroy the kind of thinking that equates genuine conversion with a simple “decision.”
What Has Humbled Us:
As we move from city to city and from state to state, we are humbled and overwhelmed by the great need within the South. We are confronted by whole states and entire metropolitan areas without any assembly evangelists among them. “The harvest truly is plenteous, but the laborers are few” (Matt 9:37). This harvest of souls is accessible and valuable, yet in danger of being lost because there are no reapers to bring them in. Will you “Pray therefore to the Lord of the harvest, that He will send forth laborers into His harvest” (Matt 9:38)? I am touched to think that it is called “HIS” harvest. Were it that of some ungodly, overbearing tyrant I would care not that he should lose anything. But because it is the harvest of our gracious and loving Father, I cannot bear the thought of its being lost.
Perhaps you may pray that the Lord will send others. But then what if He should put His hand on you? You will notice it was immediately after Jesus instructed His disciples to pray for more laborers, that He called them to be laborers themselves (Matt 10:1). It is as if the Lord Jesus were saying, “You have being praying for men; you yourselves are the very men I want.”
Are any willing to pray? Are any willing to go? Are any willing to “set thy face toward the south” (Ezek.20:46)? It will always involve great sacrifice. Trust is never easily gained, but there are few areas within our United States where trust is as slowly gained as it is in the South. However, the cost of such a sacrifice is not one that cannot, nor will not, be repaid in heavenly currency. Jesus said, “Lift up your eyes, and look on the fields; for they are white already to harvest” (John 4:35). If they were ready then, how much more are they ready now?