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A new generation called to face a task unfinished: East Asia needs the gospel

MISSION NEWS  |  Kaley Payne

Wednesday 13 January 2016

In a push to highlight the still “unfinished task” of reaching East Asia with the gospel, mission organisation OMF International (Overseas Missionary Fellowship) is going back in time.

It’s looking to an old hymn that was successful in raising up hundreds of mission workers in China in the early 20th century. And it hopes a similar movement in 2016 will help raise more workers for bringing the gospel to the region.

“While God has been exceptionally good to us in establishing his church, there still remain two billion East Asians who don’t know Jesus as their Lord and Saviour.”

In partnership with modern hymn writers Kristyn and Keith Getty, OMF — formerly China Inland Mission — is releasing a new version of the hymn Facing a Task Unfinished on February 21. More than 500 churches around the world have committed to singing the song on that day. And OMF is hoping for hundreds more.

Keith and Kristyn Getty are praying the hymn will become an anthem for a new generation “rising up to face the unfinished task and going to all the world to proclaim salvation in Jesus’ name.”

When Keith and Kristyn Getty discovered the lyrics of this 1930s hymn, they were challenged.

Facing a task unfinished
That drives us to our knees
A need that undiminished
Rebukes our slothful ease
We, who rejoice to know Thee
Renew before Thy throne
The solemn pledge we owe Thee
To go and make Thee known.

“They are not easy words to sing, they are raw – uncompromising. They stare you right in the face – they are ‘claim-every-breath-in-your-body’-type words,” the couple wrote on their blog.

“They are not easy words to sing, they are raw – uncompromising. They stare you right in the face – they are ‘claim-every-breath-in-your-body’-type words.”

Claiming every breath in your body is certainly the feel the hymn writer was aiming for. Facing a Task Unfinished was written by Frank Houghton, a missionary with China Inland Mission in the first half of the 20th century. Houghton later served as general director of China Inland Mission from 1940-51.

OMF’s Australian deputy national director, Philip Nicholson, says Houghton wrote the hymn in a time of “great unrest in China” – the Chinese Civil War.

“About half of all our missionaries had to be withdrawn from their stations,” said Nicholson. In 1927 hundreds of missionaries around China were evacuated. Twelve China Inland Mission workers had been martyred along with five associates.

“Rather than reduce the number of workers, the Mission had assessed the needs in China and asked for prayer in 1931 for God to raise up 200 new workers. This hymn was particularly used to encourage and support that prayer effort.”

Since that time, China Inland Mission has changed its name and expanded its work to cover more of East Asia, including Cambodia, Indonesia, Japan, the Korean Peninsula, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singpaore, Taiwan, Thailand and Vietnam. More than 100 Australians are serving with OMF long term, working as church planters, medical and education professionals, children and youth workers, in community development and ministries to the urban poor and marginalised.

Mr Nicholson says that across East Asia there is need for continued growth of the church in both maturity and in numbers.

“While God has been exceptionally good to us in establishing his church, there still remain two billion East Asians who don’t know Jesus as their Lord and Saviour,” he told Eternity. 

He says there is a particular need for the gospel among majority people groups in Myanmar and Vietnam.

 “Those leading our teams across Asia have been reviewing the needs of their regions and are asking God for more workers, to allow us to keep reaching the neglected frontiers for the gospel in the region, and also to continue to grow our work in Asia’s big cities. 

“OMF cannot do this task alone, but our God is not unable to meet this need… As the church in East Asia matures, they also are sending out missionaries. But the challenge is to keep looking out for people who do not yet know Jesus and, one by one, bringing the love of Jesus in all its fullness to these people.”

To listen to the full hymn, and to sign up your church to the February 21 Facing a Task Unfinished movement, click here.

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