Footsteps Worth Following

by Jim Armstrong, Echoes International General Director

In 1972, the book Turning the World Upside Down was published by Echoes of Service to mark the 100th year since the charity was established. January 1872 saw the first Missionary Echo magazine published with the intent of encouraging others to respond to the call of God into mission, to a world that did not know the Saviour. When the organisation was established, God inspired them with a burden for two things: ‘fellowship in the gospel’ and ‘spreading the knowledge of the Lord in other lands’. Since that first magazine, more than 6,200 brothers and sisters in Christ have served in a cross-cultural context, sent by their local churches and called by God into mission.

Alexander Pulleng, one of the editors in 1972, wrote in the preface of Turning the World Upside Down, ‘When, in January 1872, there appeared the first issue of a small magazine, entitled The Missionary Echo, no one could possibly have foreseen what would ensue during the following century…What God has accomplished through their ministry has been amazing.’

Brother Pulleng was absolutely right when he referred to what God has done and is doing worldwide with His Church. One hundred and fifty years later, we humbly give thanks to God, who, despite our lack and failings, continues to build His Church through our service. Our aim in marking an anniversary is not to herald Echoes International nor is it a rose-tinted look at our missional history, it is to celebrate the spread of the gospel which is very clearly the work of God. In many respects, as we look at our own country, the last 50 years in particular have been barren years. We have seen a decline in terms of numbers and destructive polarisation across the movement while society around us has become increasingly anti-God and post-Christian.

Satan and his army are trying to do all they can to thwart the spread of the gospel. Despite pandemics, natural disasters, wars, revolutions, political dogma and differing world views, nothing can stand in the way of the Lord’s plans and His Church. When Paul writes to the church in Corinth, he reminds us that we do not wage war as the world does. ‘The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ’ (2 Cor. 10:4-5). The work we are involved in is not dependent on us but on our God who knows the end from the beginning. Our Lord is still calling men and women into service and His Church continues to grow across the world.

A Time for Thanksgiving

As we reflect on this 150th anniversary year, first and foremost, we give thanks and praise to God for His faithfulness. It is He who places the motivation in our hearts to offer of our time, advice, talent and our means for His purposes. Secondly, we want to take the opportunity to say thank you to the many individuals, churches, organisations and trusts who have given of themselves and their resources towards the work of the Lord through Echoes International. We are humbled by the amazing generosity displayed by His people. We never take this for granted and our desire is to use every gift wisely and prudently in the furtherance of the gospel. It is the kindness of the Lord’s people, motivated by a giving God, that allows Echoes International to function as it does. As we celebrate the last 150 years of mission, it is right and fitting to express our appreciation for our supporters’ incredible generosity and steadfast commitment to lift each mission partner and ministry up in prayer.

The work we are involved in is not dependent on us but on our God who knows the end from the beginning.

Changing Times

Since 1872, the world has changed dramatically. Huge advances in technology, science and industry have brought significant social change to just about every area of life. In many ways the world has become more complex with new dangers and risks, particularly when we are involved in sharing the truth of God’s Word.

Regulatory requirements, legal expectations, risk assessments and health and safety procedures rightly demand more from a registered charity today, even compared to ten years ago. As a result, the day-to-day running of Echoes International in 2022 is necessarily quite different to when the organisation was first established. The trustees, directors and staff are able to meet these requirements thanks to those who prayerfully support us and help towards the running of the charity.

Inspiring a New Generation

Celebrating 150 years of mission is an opportunity to look back, learn and give thanks for what has been accomplished. Primarily, we seek to remind this generation of the continuing need of the gospel in our world and encourage many more people from the UK to follow the footsteps of the Master. With this in mind, our theme for 2022 is ‘Footsteps Worth Following’. We pray that the Lord will inspire new generations to obey His call to ‘go into all the world’ with the good news.

On the shores of Galilee, the Lord Jesus Christ called His disciples to follow Him. James, John, Andrew and Peter responded, as did others, and through them the gospel spread throughout the then-known world. Through the modern missionary movement, thousands have responded in the same way, denying self, taking up their cross and serving the risen Saviour among a vast number of peoples, tribes and nations today.

Responding to the Call

How do we respond to the same command to go? Since joining Echoes International, I’ve written many times that when you consider the vast numbers unreached, the need of the gospel is greater than it has ever been.

  • The number of people today, who have never heard the gospel, is greater than the total population of the world when Jesus was crucified and rose again.
  • Of the 7,378 languages spoken in the world, 6,661 don’t yet have a Bible translation, meaning one in five people are unable to read God’s Word in their heart language.
  • Nearly a quarter of the world’s population reside in frontier people groups, those with fewer than one Christian per 1,000 individuals, which require pioneering missionary effort.
  • 3.3 billion people live in people groups worldwide with very few, if any, believers.

As we walk through a timeline of history in our exhibition, read the mission stories and look at their photos, we see what a change has taken place in many of the countries where pioneers went in service to our Saviour’s call. In the late 1800s, believers were inspired to pray for mission, support gospel work, and encourage and enable the Lord’s servants to go out with the good news. As a result of their faithful obedience to spread the Word and running their race well, large parts of the world have been miraculously changed. This enthusiasm did not wither. We gladly take time to give thanks and worship our God and rejoice.

As we celebrate what God has done over the last 150 years, we are reminded that we have a faithful God. We are encouraged by the witness of those who have gone before us. However, the task is still unfinished. Today, the enemy of the gospel may wear different clothes and employ different tactics: atheism, postmodernism, false religions, materialism, lethargy, distractions and lack of unity all play their part. But the father of lies remains at the centre of the battle, frantically trying to shore up his crumbling kingdom. He continues to ask, ‘Has God said?’ In a world that is probably just as hostile to the gospel as it was 2,000 years ago, we are challenged that our generation too must answer the call. Pray for many Christians to get involved in mission by following in the Lord’s footsteps.

‘Now to Him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to His power that is at work within us, to Him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen (Eph. 3:20-21).

More information about the 150th anniversary events and materials are available in the magazine and online.

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