Brother Ron Hicks spent the early years of his life in Adelaide and later moved to Washington DC in conjunction with
his work. He is currently employed by the International Monetary Fund and in that capacity has had the opportunity
to visit many of the so called under developed or third world countries. This is the first of two articles outlining
some of his experiences and detailing some of the very encouraging and exciting developments in the extension of
the Truth and of ecclesias in those areas.

Change and the prospect of change usually generate mixed feelings. We like the certainty, stability, and familiarity of things that we know. From these we wish to have no change. Of course, the greatest stability that we have is the Lord and His promises. In Him “there is no variableness nor shadow of turning”. There is no change, or should not be, in our Scriptural beliefs, our attitude to the world, the standards by which we live, and so on. These are things that don’t change, or should not change in our understanding and practice of them.

But our focus in this article is on what is changing. Many examples come to mind. However, I want to focus on the great change that has been occurring in the ecclesial landscape over recent years. Up to the time, say, of the second world war, the ecclesias were predominantly in the Anglo-Saxon world. There were very few ecclesias in Africa, Asia, and Eastern Europe, for example. But now, what a completely different picture there is. We now have many ecclesias throughout Africa—in Malawi alone, where I have visited so many times, there are around 3 000 brothers and sisters—Asia, and Eastern Europe, as well as other parts, such as the Caribbean. These numbers, of course, remain very small relative to the population in these areas. However, in just a few decades, the ecclesial picture has changed so dramatically.

Just consider Africa. From much correspondence and assembling of data (which I won’t weary you with now), we can get some impression of how things have developed. Traditionally, South Africa has been the focus of ecclesial activity, where the number of brothers and sisters has been around the 500 mark for quite a long time. But in Eastern and Southern Africa (excluding South Africa), we now have well over 4 000 brothers and sisters, and about 125 ecclesias. In West Africa, ecclesial membership comprises about 600 brothers and sisters in about thirty five ecclesias (about one half of whom are in Nigeria).

Closer to Australia, ecclesias are expanding in several countries, most notably in the Philippines and India, but the spread is wide, from Korea through to Fiji. Even where ecclesias are very small, or non-existent such as in many of the South Pacific islands, the response to the gospel preaching has often been remarkable. Our missionary magazines, such as the Bible Missionary and the Gospel News, as well as missionary newsletters and other similar publications, should certainly be read to catch the spirit of what is happening in our times.

These, then, are dramatic changes. The question is, how do we respond to them? It is quite obvious that these developments open up all kinds of new responsibilities and challenges. How are we going to meet these challenges? How are our new brothers and sisters going to be looked after in their pastoral needs, as well, to some extent, in their material needs? How are we going to satisfy the vast interest in these areas in the Gospel message? Just take one case. A little while back I was in Rangoon, the capital of Burma (or Myanmar, as it is now called), in South East Asia, talking to an interested friend who had been receiving our literature for some time. He said, “This is very interesting. Could you come to [the address was given to me] and talk to some other Burmese friends who are interested in the Scriptures?” Of course, I said “yes”. And, in the event, about 100 people came, and it was so exhilarating as, after I gave an opening talk, many Biblical questions were asked (and often very different points to those we would normally expect). And then the inevitable question, which comes up so often in the mission field. In this case, “where do the Christadelphians meet in Rangoon? Oh, you’re not here? Why is that, when you have such a great gospel to present?” One doesn’t really know how to answer. We must do our best, and pray.

Scriptural interest in Africa, in particular, is deep and wide-spread. Very often during a business discussion, one notices a Bible on the desk, or Scriptural quotations placed on the office wall. Buses going down the street carry the sign “God is good”, written boldly on the side—or, approaching the end of an inter-city bus trip between Blantyre and Lilongwe, the two principal cities of Malawi, the music comes onto the sound system in the bus: “God be with you till we meet again”. These and many other such signs are clear evidence of widespread interest in Scripture and provide excellent talking-points to generate a Biblical discussion. When one talks to a cross-section of people, and observes their behaviour and interests, it is clear that in Africa there is a vast field white to harvest.

In Eastern Europe we have preaching opportunities that we have never had before, and some faithful believers are now responding. But will the window for preaching always be open there? Who can tell. Only the Lord knows. I am sure that He wants us to accept the challenge with enthusiasm while the opportunity is there.

These, then, are very important changes. When the Lord said: “Other sheep I have which are not of this fold”, he had a particular background in mind. But I am sure that the new vistas that are opening up for us in the breadth and diversity of the ecclesias point to sheep other than those from the traditional, Anglo-Saxon world. There are sheep in folds located quite differently from what we have known before.

These, then, are major changes. How do we cope with them? One response could be—we are not really very interested, because we have so much to do in our home areas. The latter may be true, but what if the early apostles had responded in the same way? What about witnessing both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth (Acts 1:8)? This great commission would never have been accomplished if the apostles had not had a wider grasp of their calling. We need to meet our responsibilities at home and abroad, and work out, with the Lord’s blessing, how this can be effectively undertaken. Certainly, we need to give full support and show keen interest in what is being done in the Lord’s name.

A major implication of these changes is that we must be thinking of the needs of our brothers and sisters in these new areas. In particular, our new brothers and sisters in the non-traditional mission fields are greatly encouraged by being remembered. They love to receive letters describing ecclesial life in other parts (but it is not a good idea to refer too much to all the material benefits that we have in the western world, lest we unwittingly create envy).

So, even if we stay at home, we can still help with correspondence, through which we can invoke a wonderful spirit of fellowship, interest, and caring.

Let me give an example. The correspondence tutors who write, say from England or Australia, to the contacts in Africa, and other parts, are especially loved, most particularly when a baptism has resulted. Once, I went with an African brother to a rather remote location in Malawi, close to the Mozambique border, to see a contact who had been corresponding for a long time with a tutor, a sister, in England. We reached his very humble home and, after quite lengthy discussions, we were impressed with his Biblical knowledge. He had a really excellent understanding of the first principles of Scripture. I asked: “How did you know all this? You have an excellent grasp of the foundations of the gospel”. He opened a drawer near where he was sitting, and brought out a pile of letters, wrapped in an elastic band. “Mrs (he mentioned her name) taught me all this”, he said. And then he asked me: “She’s a saint, isn’t she?” I responded: “Yes, she’s a saint”.

I have attended many baptisms in Africa, in conditions that must be much closer to the circumstances of the first century than we experience in the western world. After these baptisms, I have been asked on several occasions: “Please make sure that [brother or sister, the tutor] hears about this”. Of course, they would write and tell them about their baptisms, but the wish for a photograph or a comment to be passed on shows the affection which they have for those who have taught them the great gospel of salvation.

My point is that we need to change our attitudes quite a bit to think more of our brothers and sisters in these new areas. Apart from letters, they love visits, of course. This is not always very easy, because some of the places are rather remote. But this is certainly not always the case. The paucity of visits which they have is rather disturbing in some respects. Once, after a memorial service in an ecclesia in Tanzania, I noticed some brethren reading a letter, and getting quite excited. I asked what the excitement was about. They told me that a missionary brother would be visiting for a few days in about nine months time. We are so used to much visiting, hearing different speakers, and so on, that it is quite a jolt to hear such enthusiasm for the visit of one brother in nine months time! Once I heard the comment: “When they fly over the top of us, I wonder if they think of us?” With so much travelling these days, brothers and sisters in these new parts often can’t quite understand why they do not receive more visits. I feel at times that they perceive Anglo-Saxons helping Anglo-Saxons, and wish that they could benefit from more visits, even if quite short, to help them spiritually. There is so much to be done, that one hardly knows where to start. But we have a special obligation to help these wonderful new sheep in the fold.

These changes, then, are not something that we should, at worst, ignore, or even hear about but respond with disinterest. It is a great thing that is happening in our times. When we speak of prophecy being fulfilled in the last days, we tend to focus on the return of the Jews, the decline in morality, and so on. But one aspect, it seems to me, is often overlooked. In Matthew 24:14, we read: “And this gospel shall be preached in all the world for a witness unto all nations, and then the end shall come”. I believe that the spread of the truth covering so many more areas than previously is surely in line with this prophecy. Of course, there are still vast areas seemingly untouched, but we know that Scripture speaks of a remnant rather than large numbers. We should then be even more exhilarated about what is happening when we see it fitting in with a prophetic plan.

As this work progresses, we will need new literature in different languages. Topics covered which are of key concern in these mission areas, include spirit and ancestral worship, and the approach to be taken with respect to the major religions. I have often been asked about the Christadelphian attitude toward Buddhism and Islam, for example; and then: “Could I please have a pamphlet on the subject?” Most important of all will be our prayers, and our involvement, ranging from interest and encouragement, to participation, either at home or abroad. For young people in particular, mission work can be a great maturing experience, as many will attest.

To be “all things to all men”, is often construed in a pejorative way. In fact, the apostle Paul implied quite the reverse. It is about presenting the gospel effectively against different environments and backgrounds, making sure that the Lord is honoured in all things. This is our responsibility in the multifaceted ecclesia which is emerging in the last days. May the Lord give us the strength to do His will, and rejoice in this new ecclesial environment where we all have our part to play.