My guest for this interview is Allen Roth. He and his wife Carolyn have spent the last 40 years involved in church planting and cross-cultural evangelism. Many of you will recognize him as the president of DestiNations International, a role he filled until this past July. Allen and Carolyn also teach regularly at several Bible Institutes and the Missions Training Center in New York. I recently interviewed him to find out more about his time at DNI, his thoughts on missions, and where God might be leading them next.
Just for some background, how long has DNI been going and what has been your involvement?
DNI was established in 1999 at the beginning of BMA. I was asked to serve as president in 2000, in which capacity I have served until July 2019. It has been a wonderful and stretching journey for which I will always be deeply grateful.
Were you always passionate about missions?
No. At a young age of 9, I accepted Christ and immediately felt a desire to witness to others in spite of my timidity as a farm boy; however, I would not have consciously been aware of my calling being cross-cultural. Interestingly, during my high school years, my parents were very active in international student ministry and during high school I studied French for three years. My time of service in northwestern Ontario clarified my calling as being one of working with people rather than with wood (which I enjoyed). It was actually during study at Bible Institute that God used two courses, The History of Missions, and Strategy of Missions, to awaken me to urban, church planting among unreached people groups of the world. Those courses, along with the life of my professor, “lit the fuse” of my passion for missions.
DNI focuses on planting churches among unreached people groups. Why such specific direction?
Very briefly, first, because we see from the example of early Christians that Jesus’ commission to witness and make disciples was understood as and resulted in church planting. And secondly, Jesus tied His return to this witness being carried out among all ta ethne, people groups, and then the end will come (Matt. 24:14). John, in his vision of the eternal future, foresaw and foretold some from “all nations (ethne–people groups), tribes, peoples, and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb” (Rev. 7:9). That is where all of history is headed…and we have the distinct privilege of being caught up in the greatest drama in the universe!
What is the biggest thing that God has taught you through DNI?
Perhaps the vital importance of perseverance, the long walk, through thick and thin. As a boy I often started projects, then half way through when the going was tough, I dropped them and started another. Perhaps another is the way God uses so many people with so many different gifts, personalities and abilities to accomplish His work. What a wonderful privilege it is to be a participant in a people God is using to accomplish His purposes!
So where to next? Retirement on the beach somewhere?
I’d say next is “re-fire-ment”! No beach is on the horizon! I (we) are curious to see what God has in plan for us as the DNI board and new president seek to discern how we can invest our remaining days and energies to advance the cause of our Lord, specifically through witnessing, disciple making, mentoring, leadership training both nearby and far away for the goal of encouraging church planting among unreached and under-reached peoples/places of the world. I also have had a long concern for the nearby Bengali Muslim neighborhood of 12,000-14,000 people just a mile away from our home. I assume we will continue visiting, befriending, and praying until God gives us some Bengalis open to reading and discussing the Bible with the goal of establishing a group of disciples among them. I’d also like to do more reading as God gives me opportunity.
Anabaptist beliefs and culture are distinctive. Do you see that as an advantage or disadvantage in missions? In what ways?
Yes. And yes. Our back-to-the-Bible approach makes sense to new (and older) believers who read the Bible and say, “Shouldn’t we do what it says? Shouldn’t we obey the clear commands of Scripture?” Our commitment to follow Jesus’ teaching in the Sermon on the Mount, including love for our enemy even to the point of laying down our lives, is an amazing treasure as we live and share among peoples of the world who have been harassed and even killed by “Christians”. Jesus said it; He commanded it; why not? Hard…but consistent with what He said and how He lived.
And yes, in some ways our beliefs can make our work in missions more difficult, because some Scriptural commands will “fly in the face” of the cultures we seek to penetrate with the Gospel as we plant churches. In every culture there are beliefs and practices contrary to Scripture. One example of that is insisting on head coverings for sisters in cultures where women do not cover. Or insisting on men uncovering in cultures where men cover.
Our culture(s) as Anabaptists (for not all Anabaptists have a Swiss/Dutch/German ethnic background) has been deeply shaped by this approach to Scripture for which we have so much to be grateful. We have been given a wonderful and precious treasure. Now I will admit that the treasure given us does have rough edges that still need polishing and which sometimes trip us up in missions. We have sometimes added applications of Scriptural principles to clear commands of Scripture and view them with the same unchanging authority as the commands. By not thinking through this difference at times we end up exporting and requiring our traditions, disallowing the possibility of equally valid local applications that make more sense to local believers, thus hindering the advance of the gospel and adding an unnecessary “foreign flavor” to the gospel we share.
Mennonites don’t have the best track record when it comes to evangelism. Do you think that is changing?
Early Anabaptists had a very strong track record in evangelism. But with persecution and the fires of revival waning, our zeal for evangelism cooled. I do think that is changing, for which I am deeply grateful and for which I continue to pray.
|Bryce Wenger lives and works on a small farm near Dalton, Ohio. He has a love for music, literature, and learning. His free time is usually spent backpacking, canoeing, or otherwise enjoying nature. He is passionate about knowing God’s Word and living life to the fullest.|