My American Dream

In the early 1800’s there was no such thing as a Christian American missionary. It simply was not done. The danger was too high, the potential for success too low, the domestic distractions too entangling. The American dream was too occupied with itself.

Then, in August of 1806 five young college students, taking cover under a thunderstorm, committed themselves to launching American foreign missions. It’s almost impossible to imagine the audacity of their courage, living as we currently do in a world that has been shrunk down to size by technology, ease of travel, and relative peace between religions. But their faith in God bore the fruit of their vision: “We can do this, if only we will.”

In 1812, they sent their first missionaries to India. Thousands more would follow in the years to come. In the early years they often demonstrated their conviction by packing their belongings in coffins rather than chests. Their dream proved costly, and was purchased at a terrible price; many who boarded ships from American shores sailed home in the very casket they’d packed years before.

Americans sacrificing everything for the gospel.

Now that’s my American dream.

These men and women weren’t bowed by fears regarding tax-exemption, federal encroachment on religious rights, or suffering as the minority religion in a pagan culture. Instead, they packed their lives in coffins and set sail, propelled by their faith in God and their obligation to humanity. As Americans they held these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights. And as Christians they surrendered those rights because of their obligation to preach the gospel to all who had not yet heard.

That’s my American dream.

One of the first missionaries they sent was Adoniram Judson, who left when he was 25, served in Burma for 40 years, and toiled for 12 years before he saw as many as 18 converts. One of the first American missionaries, he planted churches, produced Bible translations, and by the time he died had over 8,000 converts.

That’s my American dream.

The legacy of the five men in the thunderstorm can be seen in the story of Nate Saint and Jim Elliot, who took their American families to the jungles of Ecuador, made contact with Indians, and were promptly killed for their efforts. Their widows, Rachel Saint and Elizabeth Elliot, raised their young children in the jungle as they continued the work of the gospel.

That’s my American dream.

The ripples of those five men extend all the way to 1987 (and beyond), which is when my family first moved to Japan as missionaries. My parents said goodbye to their families, sold the house, emptied the bank account, and even left children behind as they graduated high school, propelled by their faith and the vision, “We can do this, if only we will.”

Now that’s my American dream.

My American dream lives on. It lives on with my friends giving their lives to Indonesia, planting churches and translating the Bible. It lives on in my friends in Lebanon, who have chosen to raise their daughters among the very Muslims many of us at home choose to caricature. It lives on in my friends who place themselves in harms way in Nigeria, Kenya, and Sudan. It lives on in those who live far from family in Ecuador, Brazil, and Peru. The American dream lives on in India, Iraq, and Israel. It lives on in Pakistan, Russia, and Thailand, and more.

My American dream lives on in us as well. It lives every time one of us surveys our rights and privileges and chooses gospel over entitlement, echoing the words of Paul:

“But we did not use this right. On the contrary, we put up with anything rather than hinder the gospel of Christ.”

Now that’s my American dream.

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About Tim Owens

I'm a husband, father, and Christ follower. I also live in Albany, NY, where I work as a pastor.
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One Response to My American Dream

  1. Sue Lichtig says:

    As more and more of the Religious Right adopts Ayn Rand’s Libertarianism as it’s preferred interpretation of the American Dream, with personal rights taking precedant over the common good, I welcome your wonderful reminder of what servitude and selflessness looks like. Thanks, Tim.

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