By Curtis K. Shelburne
I think I’m correct in stating that, from the genealogical research that some members of the Shelburne, Shelburn, Shelborne, Shelbourne, Shilborne, family have done, it becomes clear that our clan has long had a bent toward the ministry. That’s just a fact and not necessarily praiseworthy. I’m quite sure we have had in the clan our share of horse thieves, too, some of whom were probably also in the ministry. (Well, a circuit preacher’s gotta ride, don’t-cha-know!)
In my own little sub-clan, we’ve also had a good number of missionaries, which means that we’ve had ample opportunity to see such work and such workers fairly close up.
My earliest view of mission work and missionaries in general came from my oldest brother and his wife who, since they went to Africa shortly after I was born, I actually got acquainted with on their furloughs. I thought then, and I think now, they were missionaries of the very best sort.
As I got older, I was introduced to one or two of another sort when I would often accompany another of my brothers to a monthly luncheon of area preachers of more or less “our” brand. The guys needing programs for those meetings often invited furloughed missionaries of their own.
With sad regularity, the missionary would start by opining, “When we arrived in Outer Swazilandika, there were 12 Christians in the whole country,” and you got the feeling he wasn’t so sure about 8 of those. “Now there are 127.” The heartwarming nature of the growth was somewhat tempered when you did a little historical research and found that Christ’s emissaries from other brands had already been there for the better part of at least several centuries and the aforementioned math was being done in the head of a guy who was, as one man said, “so narrow that a gnat could stand on the bridge of his nose and kick out both eyes with one foot.” It was further tempered when you listened for a while and realized that were you to spend eternity in close proximity to this fellow, it wouldn’t take you long to decide that when you’d been dispatched to eternity, you’d landed a good deal south of heaven. (Jesus warned us! See Matthew 23:15.)
But my sons (the two presently serving in Uganda) recently told me a story that some large-hearted missionaries of the best sort had told them. It seems that word had reached mature Christian “native” leaders in an African country that a “missionary” of the gnat-kicked type above had heard about their worship (drums, joyful dancing, etc.) and was crossing the ocean to set them straight lest God be appalled by their extravagant joy before him. They met the man at the plane and turned him around: “We love you in the Lord. But we will not allow you to transplant seeds of division from your land to ours.” It was then that the missionaries knew for sure that “their converts” were truly rooted and growing beautifully in Christ.