I am writing this report in Africa after a long day of door knocking and evangelistic teamwork for World Bible School. Along with WBS President Brian Davis and our regional coordinator Machona Monyamane, I am also speaking at the Southern Africa International Lectureship (SAIL). Lectures focus on the seven churches of Asia. My assigned topic is “Smyrna: The Rich Poor Church.”
Smyrna now goes by the name of Izmir, the third most populous city of Turkey. In the first century, it considered itself “the first city of Asia.” As a leading trade link between Europe and Asia, Smyrna enjoyed wealth, but it had its poor quarters for slaves, common laborers and the unemployed. To the congregation in Smyrna, Jesus says, “I know your tribulation and your poverty” (Revelation 2:9). Poverty likely was a general condition for many congregations (1 Corinthians 1:26; 2 Corinthians 8:2). But Smyrna was noteworthy, possibly because it boasted the official temple to the Emperor Tiberius. Trade unions boycotted those who refused to worship the emperor. Economic oppression and persecution continued for many years. Most famously, Polycarp was later martyred in Smyrna.
The concept of “rich yet poor” is relevant to World Bible School. The great majority of WBS Students are enrolled in the world’s developing regions, including those served by SAIL. Why is greater receptivity encountered in poorer countries? Why does James (2:5) ask rhetorically, “Has not God chosen those who are poor in the world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom?” Because they feel more need for God. The rich seldom pray in earnest, “Give us this day our daily bread.” They tend to find security in earthly things: careers, bank accounts, insurance policies and retirement funds. To depend on visible assets is to make them ‘god’ and ‘savior’. The poor, lacking earthly props and cushions, are more likely to turn toward heaven.
Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you shall be satisfied…. Woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation (Luke 6: 20-21, 24 cf. 16:19-31).
WBS advertises around the world, but most responses come from poorer regions. Some who enroll have ulterior motives. But their hunger for opportunities, for some way forward in life, makes them willing to learn. In learning, they come to know Jesus’ answer to anxiety: “Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these [needed] things will be added to you” (Matthew 6:33).
Some rich people—those who recognize their spiritual poverty—also respond. They learn to depend on God. Trusting Him, they invest earthly wealth in heavenly treasures by helping the poor (Luke 18:22). They become “rich in good works… generous and ready to share” (1 Timothy 6:17-19).
Because of such generosity, WBS offers all its Bible courses free of charge for our Students. Because of such sharing, WBS adapts to changing world conditions. You are helping WBS to develop and deploy the WBS Lite app so Students can access WBS on their mobile devices. Many of the poor, however, cannot afford even minimal internet use. So, you also help WBS establish “Ocean Bridge” in key countries. This allows us to distribute courses and graded answer sheets between Students and Study Helpers at a faster and more reliable rate than the international postal systems. That is why we are in Africa at the time of this writing, to overcome postal delays and to recruit more Students for the faster methods of interactive Bible study. Please continue to grow in generosity and service to accelerate Jesus’ mission… “to proclaim good news to the poor…. to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed” (Luke 4:18).