'Play it safe later!' Former missionary calls a new generation to missions

SAN DIEGO, Calif. — Pastor Erhardt Von Trutzscheler, former youth pastor at Clairemont Emmanuel Baptist Church, taught young people about world missions from the day they became Christians. His message was earnest and pointed.

"God's heart for the world is bigger than San Diego," he said. "Get out there!"

Brad Buser, who became a Christian at the church in 1972, was one of many young people who heeded Von Trutzscheler's challenge. Buser became a missionary in Papua New Guinea, and two decades later, he continues his youth pastor's vision of challenging young people to consider missions.

Buser and his wife Beth have been married for 32 years. They met at missions training with New Tribes Mission and were married for four years before serving with the mission for 20 years in Paupa New Guinea among the Interi people.

Located in Oceania, the tropical country of Papua New Guinea is part of a group of islands including the eastern half of the island of New Guinea between the Coral Sea and the South Pacific Ocean, east of Indonesia and north of Australia. The estimated six million people in the country are subject to many natural hazards, including active volcanoes—being situated along the Pacific "Ring of Fire"—as well as earthquakes, mud slides and tsunamis.

Buser said three types of people live in Papua New Guinea—the Highlanders, the Lowlanders, who live on a river and the Swamp People who live in the middle ground.

"That's where the Interi live, in East Sepik Province in the middle ground," Buser said. "The Interi are resilient people who care for each other. They have no orphanages. They know how to 'make do.'"

The Busers' ministry included learning the Interi language and culture, creating an alphabet for their language, and translating the New Testament. Just as there are three types of residents, there are also three official languages: English, Tok Pisin and Hiri Moto. When the Busers first arrived in the country, they learned Tok Pisin, the trade language. Then they studied the Interi language, one of 860 other languages in the country.

While they worked on the translation, they taught God's Word. Although there are Roman Catholics, Lutherans, and various other Protestant groups in parts of the country, the Interi religion is completely animistic.

"They had never even heard the name of Christ," Buser said. "They were an untouched people group."

The Busers planted churches as hundreds of Interi received Christ. The Papua New Guineans eventually reached out to others with the gospel.

The Busers return to Papua New Guinea every two years to see their brothers and sisters in Christ, but traveling there is also an opportunity to see actual family members. Two sons, Brooks and Brandon, and their families are missionaries there. The Busers' other two children are stateside—a daughter, Natalie, who is in nurse's training, and another son, "Buzz," in high school.


A shift in thinking
While serving in Papua New Guinea, the Busers served in leadership in the Sepik region and at the Numonohi Christian Academy. Returning home in 1999, Buser, 53, became the missions pastor at Clairemont Emmanuel.

As the national representative for New Tribes Mission, Brad speaks and teaches in a variety of venues, including Inter-Culture Studies at Eternity Bible College in Simi Valley; Cross-Cultural Church Planting at The Masters College in Santa Clarita; the Book of Acts at Ecola Bible School in Oregon; and Intro to Tribal Missions at the New Tribes Bible Institute in Jackson, Michigan.

He is also a frequent speaker at Christian colleges, churches, and in the 13-week "Perspectives" courses. The classes bring people up-to-date about what is happening in missions, teach the biblical basis for missions, and show some of the technologies available for missionaries.

He is concerned about attitudes toward missions that have changed over the past decade.

"There's a shift in thinking," Buser said. "Today, there are short-term missions to the Caribbean, or a two-week trip to Mexico. This short-term movement is good, but in some ways it's been more detrimental than anticipated on the front line, in the bush. There's a dearth of that.

"Southern California is re-awakening to the idea that (ministry in the bush) still needs to be done," he said, "There's no quick and easy way around it."

Partially due to programs like the Perspectives courses, people are more educated and concerned about missions, Buser said,

"But while they have sympathy for it and a desire to go, they are not committed," he said. "This is an information age. We talk about missions, but we don't get it done."


Ask them to go!
Buser said he challenges young people concerning career missions because he feels the challenge part is missing in many churches.

"In some ways, it feels like the church has sold young people down the drain," he said. "Churches won't step up and speak to young people about commitment. They haven't asked them to go."

Despite what many might think, today's young people aren't hard to motivate, he said.

"We just need to make plain what needs to be done," he said. "Churches must challenge them to go, and help them see the biblicalness of it.

"Young people are looking for something to give their lives to, but they're hearing mixed messages from the older generation. Some adults say it takes sacrifice; others say it's not difficult. Young people eventually will gravitate to what's most comfortable."

Buser's own message is direct and challenging.

"I tell young people, 'Play it safe later, when you're 50 or 60!'" he said. "'Be courageous for your King now. Lay it out for Him while you're young.'"

To reach Brad Buser about his speaking and teaching ministry, contact him at brad_buser@ntm.org.