We all stand somewhere. Everything must rest on something. This is true for people, projects, churches, nations – mission organizations, too. We stand upon foundations.
Our milepost this month takes us to the very foundation of the World Mission Prayer League. There, it turns out, we find a stone. The stone was planted near a place called Benagaria, in the remote Santal Parganas of India, 160 miles northwest of Kolkata – 150 years ago, in this month precisely.
On September 26, 1867, Lars and Anna Skrefsrud of Norway, with Hans and Caroline Børresen of Denmark – and an English fellow named Edward Johnson – laid the cornerstone for what would become the operational center of their ministry in the land of the Santals. They named the stone “Ebenezer.” The mission center that grew up around it became the “Ebenezer Station.”
This was the beginning of what came to be called the Santal Mission. Norwegian and Danish offices soon emerged in Oslo and Copenhagen. An American office followed a few years later, founded in Minneapolis on November 13, 1891. This American Board merged into the World Mission Prayer League on May 1, 1972. The long history of the Santal Mission became our long history, at that point. Those Santal friends and founders became our friends and founders, too. And the cornerstone they planted in Benagaria 150 years ago became a cornerstone for our journey in mission, as well.
The Skrefsruds and Børresens had experienced a somewhat uncertain pathway, before landing eventually in Benagaria. Skrefsrud himself had a pretty colorful background. Jailed as a teenager for drunkenness and thievery, he was converted to Christ while in prison. Upon his release, he applied for missionary service with an established agency in Trondheim. His application was not well received. Casting about for alternatives, Skrefsrud applied to a German society based in Berlin. There he met the Børresens. This time his application was accepted, and he was assigned with the Børresens to India. In 1863 Skrefsrud arrived in a place called Purulia, in West Bengal. Børresen joined him the following year.
Things remained uncertain, however. The Scandinavians were soon at odds with their leadership in Berlin and resigned from the mission in 1867. Skrefsrud briefly joined the Baptists, but again felt little peace and resigned once more. By the fall of the year, Skrefsrud and Børresen had no agency to guide them, no supporters to fund them, no sending base, clear strategy or program. Only a vision to reach the lost – and a passionate confidence in God. This was the vision that led them to the land of the Santals. This was the confidence that inspired them to rest upon the simple, reliable foundation of God’s promises.
“Ebenezer,” of course, comes to us from a passage in 1 Samuel. “The lords of the Philistines went up against Israel,” we read. “And when the people of Israel heard of it they were afraid…” (7:7). “But the Lord thundered with a mighty voice that day,” the story continues (7:10). And God gave Israel a great victory.
At this very point, Samuel set up his famous stone of remembrance. He called it “Ebenezer” (העזר אבן) – meaning, literally, “Stone of help.” ”Hitherto the Lord has helped us,” he said over the stone (v.7). When things are tough, the challenges great, or the going slow – don’t forget! “The Lord has helped us all the way…” (GNT).
This month, let us remember: an “Ebenezer” lies at the foundation of our missionary community. We do not find some clever administrative structure at the base of things. There is not some philosophy, policy or politic. There is not a Norwegian at the base of our fellowship either! There is a simple resolve to depend upon God. God is our help! His promises cannot fail! We will look to him alone. And we will always find him faithful.
If you have prayed with us over the past few months, you will have noticed that many of our missionaries around the world have experienced “short” allowances. This means, simply, that designated gifts for missionary support have not met targeted support needs.
It does not mean, however, that God has not supplied for our need, or that he has gone suddenly missing. We have experienced “short” allowances from time to time since the very beginning of our adventure together – since the days of Skrefsrud himself, more than a century ago. Yet we have not found God unfaithful or unreliable, in spite of occasional shortages. Not once.
It is because of our foundation. Hitherto the Lord has helped us! And he will not abandon us now.
“What happens when we operate in this way?” our Mission Handbook asks.
We may experience a shortage of funds, a scarcity of material supplies, with few possessions and no reserves. We may encounter opportunities for genuine sacrifice, to make do with little for the greater good of shared lives and effective ministries. Yet when obedient faith acts on the promises of God, we may also expect constant advance within the bounds of God’s will for worldwide missions. In this kind of life, we may expect rich opportunities to learn faith, patience, humility, love, obedience to the Holy Spirit and dependence on God (¶148).
Everyone, everywhere, must come to stand on something. At the foundation of our missionary community lies a base of solid rock. It is there that we must plant our feet. It is there that we must rest our hearts. There is no better foundation than the rock of God’s faithful promises.
For these are promises that cannot fail.
Other posts in this Mileposts series: