When I was a child, I briefly wanted to be an astronaut. I think I was inspired by my Grandpa, who served as a rocket scientist for NASA’s moon landing. That phase passed, however, and I instead followed in the footsteps of my father, who was a pastor. Now, three decades later, I’m wondering if it was necessary to choose.
Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos are charting a course to the stars. Musk wants to colonize outer space in case of an extinction-level event (like an asteroid hitting the earth). Bezos wants to outsource heavy industry to space, to preserve the climate of our planet. They are leading a new space race, that involves Russia, China, the USA, and large corporations. As the Artemis program seeks to return Americans to the moon, a Russian-Chinese joint project is unfolding to touch the lunar surface. The United States intends to setup a lunar base at the moon’s south pole. Russia and China intend to do the same, and both bases will likely materialize in the 2030’s. This may sound like the stuff of science fiction, but it’s not. Ready or not, the final frontier is coming. And this rapidly emerging frontier will shape how we think about mission in hard places.
Taking the Gospel to Hard Places
Missionaries are driven to proclaim the gospel to everyone, everywhere. In the history of missions, we have embraced a “whatever it takes” approach to getting missionaries onto the mission field. This requires creativity. Moravian missionaries worked as carpenters on board merchant ships since they couldn’t get a ship to transport them to their mission field in the West Indies. They also expressed a willingness to become slaves to reach the inhabitants of the island of St. Thomas.
Later, as the frontier expanded across the United States, Methodists developed a creative approach to mission: the circuit-riding preacher. This was a preacher who practically lived in the saddle, traversing hundreds of miles to share the gospel in remote destinations. The circuit-riding-preacher braved hunger, weather, and violence to bring the gospel to people in hard places.
In the modern era, Christians continue to push forward to the frontiers. We design strategies so that missionaries can gain creative access to countries that are closed to the gospel. And don’t forget about Antarctica. The chilly continent is home to about 1,000 people, mostly scientists. Surprisingly, there are several churches on ice. Gospel witness in this isolated locale occurs through chaplains (often military chaplains) and bi-vocational workers, who are on the ice to engage in research (or support those who do).
Whether it’s a country that is formally closed to the gospel, or a distant research station in Antarctica, modern missionaries carry on in the creative, pioneering spirit of their missional ancestors. This is what we have always done: take the gospel where the people are.