Let's celebrate 125 years of pioneering mission - and look forward to many more

Walter Gowans, Thomas Kent and Rowland Bingham

The very genesis of SIM 125 years ago encapsulates everything we still believe today.

When three young men arrived in West Africa in 1893 determined to share the gospel with the people of the Soudan, they could never have dreamed they were starting a global mission agency.

They went with a simple yet profound understanding that people living in a large area of the world – the interior of what was then called The Soudan in central west Africa – had never heard of Jesus Christ.

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Canadians Walter Gowans and Rowland Bingham, along with American Thomas Kent, were inspired by the belief which is summed up in today’s SIM purpose and mission statement:

Convinced that no one should live and die without hearing God’s good news, we believe that he has called us to make disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ in communities where he is least known.

Gowans, Kent and Bingham arrived in Lagos, Nigeria so utterly convinced that no one should live and die without hearing God’s good news they were determined to set up a mission base 500 miles inland.

The initial idea had come from 25-year-old Gowans, who had developed a passion for the Soudan and the need the people there had for Jesus. His passion inspired both Bingham, then aged 20 and who had emigrated to Canada from Kent aged 16, and Bingham’s good friend, 23-year-old Kent.

That collaboration between gospel-hearted people has been mirrored many times in the history of SIM. That has sometimes been shown in partnerships between our workers, with workers from other agencies or through joining forces with other agencies.

Just in the last 18 months or so, SIM has merged with Middle East Christian Outreach, helping us fulfil that desire to take the gospel to people who have never heard it, wherever they may be.

We are now working in places like Egypt, Lebanon, Jordan and in North Africa to share the good news of Jesus.

Our #howwilltheyhear campaign to take the gospel to migrants and refugees in the Middle East and Europe is only possible because of a partnership between several agencies, all of which share our core convictions.

Those three first SIM workers were also inspired by something else that drives us today – a desire to take the gospel to places which are hard to reach and where there is no known church.

When they could not find a mission agency willing to send them into the interior, they decided to go on their own, no matter how difficult that might prove.

That pioneering spirit is still very much part of SIM, whether it be in the way we are setting up small businesses in countries where you cannot be a Christian mission work or going to countries where other agencies choose not to go to. Some of this work is too sensitive to reveal or even discuss, but God is enabling churches and people to share his name.

Gowans, Kent and Bingham could never have imagined their fledgling attempts at mission would grow into the worldwide organisation that is SIM today.

Indeed, within a year of first arriving in Lagos, both Gowans and Kent had died of malaria. And it would take Bingham until 1901 to finally establish a mission base at Patigi, 500 miles up the Niger River.

Bingham, who died in 1942, went on to play a key part in establishing SIM but not even he could have foreseen that their desire to take the gospel to a difficult place would result in the gospel being taken to so many places.

But very rarely do mission plans work out in the way the original authors intended. In almost every place SIM works, there are people taking on roles and responsibilities they could never have imagined, as God has called them to serve him.

To take just one example, when project manager Neil Parmenter went to South Africa from the UK he thought he would be involved in some office administration and planning future gospel schemes. Well, he was…but in addition to that, he is also now helping teach the truths of the gospel to young people on an agricultural training scheme called Living Hope in Cape Town.

Of course, mission work can come at a great human cost, as Gowans and Kent discovered in the most terrible way.

In more recent times, many mission workers have been kidnapped, imprisoned or killed and those risks are still very evident today. That is true in many parts of central Africa, some parts of Asia and in the Middle East.

But just as that cost was willingly borne by our founding fathers, so it is by our modern workers, whether they are in Burkina Faso, in Lebanon or in central Asia.

That passion for the gospel, that desire to overcome all obstacles is summed up by the letter Walter Gowans to his mother as he lay on his death-bed in August, 1894, knowing he would soon be in heaven.

It read in part: “Don’t mourn for me darling dearest mother. If the suffering was great, remember it is all over now and I think of the glory I am enjoying and rejoice that your boy ‘was permitted to have a hand in the redemption of the Soudan’.”

That heart for those who do not know the gospel still inspires all who serve with SIM today. May we all be permitted to have a hand in the redemption of those who would otherwise live and die without hearing the good news of Jesus.
 

 

Tim Allan