One important part of our training here is poring over the biographies of missionaries of old and biblical characters that God has used to advance His purposes. In these accounts, it seems the Father is not shy about the flaws of His servants.
This week, as we were looking at the life of John G. Paton, it was amazing to realize that in 1865 he was aboard a British man-of-war that was pounding the island of Tanna with heavy cannons for the killing of missionaries. Such horrible lapses of judgment, as well as sexual sin (Abraham), murder (David), callousness, and hyper-driven personalities, are common failings of gospel workers throughout history. In some ways, our current age almost revels in finding flaws in folks who have endeavored to live lives for His honor’s sake, but who have taken great falls.
With all that being said, it’s wonderful to read Hebrews 11 and see these flawed men and women who God used: Noah (Genesis 9:6), Abraham (Genesis 12:11-13), Moses (Exodus 2:12), Rahab (Joshua 2:1). Today it is no different. That the God of Heaven would allow these words, “the world was not worthy of them,” to be written about fallen men and women should give us all great hope.
We can search the Scriptures in vain to find “successful” parents who raised children who were all godly. This is not to nullify the exhortations contained in Scripture regarding our children, and the heartbreak that comes to parents when children turn away from the faith. But the Scriptures are completely realistic about God using fallen men and women. Teaching students at Radius to KEEP GOING, in spite of their lapses, flaws, chinks, and issues, is critically important and in keeping with the track record of Scripture. Who is not encouraged by our Lord seeking out a broken Peter in John 21 to reinstate him and give him hope?!?!
As we work with singles and families here at Radius, many of the tendencies that could take them off the mission field are only evident in embryo form. When these incredible students show up here for the first week of classes, it’s common as a staff for us to feel, “These folks are all SUPER-HEROES!” We hear their stories, sense their heart, and hear of the lives and careers they have walked away from. These are great folks who come here. In a similar way, these new students may look at the staff and say, “These teachers are INCREDIBLE! What they have gone through is truly remarkable.” The embryonic flaws in each student are evident, and the flaws of their teachers are evident also. And now, at this point in their year, students get to decide, “Will I allow these flawed teachers to help mold my character or not?” At the same time, we as teachers have to believe that these students, who are also made of “clay,” will continue to grow, make good decisions, and become the useable gospel messengers that will carry this message to the ends of the earth.
Investing in these students is a privilege for each of us on staff, but over the years we’ve developed a realistic understanding that any graduate is one decision away from taking himself off the field. Those little tendencies that surface while here, if not addressed and tempered, could become the larger issues that take them off the field. We very carefully chart our graduates who make it to the field and those who leave the field (attrition). Sometimes we are truly caught by surprise at the issues that take a person off the field, but as the years go by, we are more and more deliberate about addressing “embryonic issues.” Then it is up to the student to listen, to take advice…or not.
At times, sending churches walk closely with us as a staff to monitor their students—but not always. Oftentimes, folks who come to be trained at Radius are viewed as “rock stars” in their home fellowship, and their seriousness about their walk with Christ is truly noteworthy. But even rock stars have feet of clay, so as we get to know students and their chinks, we want to be careful to point out issues, keeping in mind the significant difference between character gaps that can be grown in (not every “gap” is a five-alarm fire) and issues that could easily take them off the field.
Two weeks ago was CLA (Culture and Language Acquisition) Week. We shut down morning classes, and students were able to do a full week of culture and language acquisition. To put in a full 40-hour week of language study is not a small task. Actually, when a language student is healthy, it’s best to average 45 hours a week. That way, when they are sick, have visitors, or other interruptions arise, they can maintain their 40-hour, immersion-level focus. The discipline it takes to stay focused in the grueling tedium of full-time CLA is one of the best tools they acquire during their Radius training. Daily time charts, where each 15 minutes of their day are charted, help students develop a keen sense of just how much they can accomplish in a day, and how much time was slipping through their fingers previously. Once our graduates are on the field, their area leaders see the obvious difference this training makes in their ability, discipline, and focus. Now we are hearing of some of our first graduates moving beyond first languages, and beginning to move into completely unreached languages, which has always been the point of Radius—to get the gospel, clearly articulated, into languages that have had no access to it before.
There is nothing trendy, sexy, or flashy about what we are preparing these students to do. But this is real. And more than that, the churches they will be planting will be lasting! That is a rare thing in today’s world of missions, where hundreds of churches get planted quickly but can’t be found just two years later.
 “John G. Paton, Missionary to the Cannibals of the South Seas”, by Paul Schlehlein, pg. 46
Founder of Radius International
Brad and his wife Beth planted a church among the