Greatest Missionary Hymn of the 20th Century?

Written by Karl Dahlfred on .

A fellow missionary recently sent me the lyrics of the song “So Send I You” which for many years had been hailed as the greatest missionary hymn of the twentieth century.  I read through the lyrics and knew that something wasn’t right.  The song goes like this:


So send I you to labor unrewarded,
To serve unpaid, unloved, unsought, unknown,
To bear rebuke, to suffer scorn and scoffing,
So send I you to toil for me alone.

So send I you - to loneliness and longing,
With heart a-hungering for the loved and known;
Forsaking home and kindred, friend and dear one,
So send I you  - to know my love alone.

So send I you - to leave your life’s ambitions,
To die to dear desire, self-will resign,
To labor long and love where men revile you,
So send I you - to lose your life in mine.

Now while I can appreciate the sentiment of the hymn, namely that the author seemingly wanted to say that missionaries endure much for the sake of Christ.  However, I feel like the hymn does a much better job of soliciting sympathy for the poor suffering missionary rather than exalting the focus of the missionary's efforts - CHRIST.  

Imagine this scenario:
You the missionary are at Missions Sunday at First Church, Anytown, U.S.A.  The service concludes with "So Send I You" and as people are filing out, an elderly woman shuffles in your direction through the crowd.  She is near eighty now and has supported you for years with her prayers and the little bit of money she can muster each month from her meager income.  "Oh deary, it must be so hard out there, unpaid and unloved, sacrificing every thing to share the Gospel with those people.  Here you go.. it is not much but I hope you can get something nice for you and your family."  And with that, Mrs. Faithful slips a twenty dollar bill into your hand.  "Thank you so much for your kindness, Mrs. Faithful" you reply sincerely but awkwardly, searching for words. "Actually, my family and I really enjoyed being missionaries.  Yes, there were difficult times and we did miss home at times but we were doing exactly what we wanted to do.  We wanted to be exactly where we were, doing what we were doing.  It was our joy and privilege to be able to share Christ with people who had never heard of him.  Yes, we had discouragements but our reward was seeing God give people new life and seeing God build his church in the midst of darkness.  There is so much that we would have missed out on if we had not been missionaries.  Christ is our joy and our hope and it is Him that we think about and pin our hopes on.  There were some things that we sacrificed in going to the mission field, but I think that we gained much more than we gave up.  God has been so good to us.  So many people have supported us financially over the years and while we may not have had everything that our peers at home may have had, God provided everything that we needed and we did not go without what was really necessary.  I'd rather not think about all the things that I have given up or don't have but rejoice in God's goodness and the greatness of Christ that I saw at work in the lives of those dear saints on the mission field that I would never have met if I had stayed home."

As a missionary, I would be uncomfortable singing this hymn in a church service because I feel like it is exalting me the missionary, rather than exalting the greatness of Christ.  God is referred to in the hymn (albeit not explicitly) but at the end of the song, I feel like it was more about how great the missionaries are rather than how great is the God that missionaries serve.  Without that Great God giving them joy and perseverance and hope, they would all pack up and go home.  I want people to exalt the God who does the real work of missions not just have a momentary feeling of sympathy for "those poor missionaries".

Margaret Clarkson, the author of the hymn, wrote it in 1937 when she was 22 years old and experiencing a time of great loneliness.  About the hymn, Clarkson writes, “Some years later I realized that the poem was really very one-sided; it told only of the sorrows and privations of the missionary call and none of its triumphs. I wrote another song in the same rhythm so that verses could be used interchangeably, setting forth the glory and the hope of the missionary calling. This was published in 1963. Above all I wish to be a biblical writer, and the second hymn is the more biblical one.” (citation).

SO SEND I YOU (newer version)

(1) So send I you- by grace made strong to triumph
O'er hosts of hell, o'er darkness, death and sin,
My name to bear, and in that name to conquer-
So send I you, my victory to win.

(2) So send I you- to take to souls in bondage
The word of truth that sets the captive free,
To break the bonds of sin, to loose death's fetters-
So send I you, to bring the lost to me.

(3) So send I you- My strength to know in weakness,
My joy in grief, My perfect peace in pain,
To prove My power, My grace, My promised presence-
So send I you, eternal fruit to gain.

(4) So send I you- to bear My cross with patience,
And then one day with joy to lay it down,
To hear My voice, "Well done, My faithful servant-
Come, share My throne, my kingdom and My crown!"
"As the Father hath sent Me, So send I you."

After reading the first version, I was dismayed that it had been touted as THE missionary hymn of the twentieth century.  However, it was refreshing to learn that the author had seen her mistake and totally rewritten the hymn.  The new version is much more balanced and worthy of the great God whom we serve.  As such, most churches now use the newer version in place of the older version.


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