Altars and Missions


Dr. Dan Schafer, President

Dr. Dan Schafer, President of World Gospel Mission

Memories fade. Don’t you find that to be true? Once so vivid, the experiences of our past lose their sense of clarity and even their distinguishing marks of reality as time and distance take their toll. Like photo paper exposed to direct sunlight, the images imprinted on our minds steadily dissipate.

God understands better than any mortal the limited ability of the mind to remember—to recall the passion, details, emotions, and commitments that were made. He knows that without assistance, people are likely, over time, to forget what they have promised Him. For that reason, Scripture often records God’s request for His people to build altars to immortalize His interventions in their lives and their resulting promises.

In Genesis 35:1 (NASB), God asks Jacob to build an altar “to God, who appeared to you when you fled from your brother Esau.” Undoubtedly, Jacob hadn’t forgotten that night when he wrestled with a heavenly being. However, the influence of that event on him had diminished over the intervening decades. God’s solution to Jacob’s fading memory—build an altar!

Whenever God chooses to reveal Himself to us in extraordinary ways, we feel as though we will never be separated from the awe of that experience. We make promises to Him in those moments that we expect to last a lifetime. But the God who knew the need of Jacob’s heart knows our needs also, and He advises us to build altars—lasting symbols that will permanently capture the story of His interface with us and retell that story as often as needed to keep us in touch with it.

God still calls people to His service, including service as missionaries. How often I hear of people who at one point in their lives had a clear, vivid encounter with God and heard His call but then never fully acted on it. Today, the memory of that encounter with God is nearly gone.

I also meet others who after 20, 30, or more years can give a clear account of how God called them into missionary service. The difference often lies in that they obediently built an altar to God. They immortalized that moment in their mind, and that immortalized memory—that altar—has served as the continual anchor through the joys and trials of a life spent serving God.