Great Moments in Methodist Missions
Methodist Martyr, Burleigh Law
Methodism shares a vibrant history of taking the gospel of Jesus Christ to the un-reached people groups of the world. Great Moments in Methodist Missions is a series designed to inspire Christ-followers in local and global disciple making and to rekindle the flame of a white-hot passion for the un-reached people groups of the world. This month’s feature tells the story of Methodist missionary-martyr, Burleigh Law.
“Precious in the sight of the LORD Is the death of His godly ones.”
Psalm 116:15 (NASB)
There were two things Burleigh Law was sure of in his youth, “his conversion and his call.” Burleigh Law knew that Jesus was worthy of being known by all the peoples of the earth.
Burleigh would meet his future wife, Virginia, while attending college. They would serve together for over a decade in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Serving as a Methodist missionary, Burleigh fulfilled his calling in the Congo from 1950 to 1964. He was not seminary trained, but he gave of himself in cross-cultural missions as a layperson. Serving in a culture immersed in witchcraft, Burleigh spent much of his ministry sharing Christ, supporting medical missions, serving as a mechanic, and through providing airlift support as a pilot. In her book, Appointment Congo, Virginia Law shares the heartfelt love she and Burleigh had for the people of the Congo. She states, (Many) “missionaries might have stayed in relative safety on the mission stations, but we found ourselves drawn out to those suffering villages to do what we could.”
With a wisdom that exceeded many of his predecessors in cross-cultural missions, Burleigh understood the importance of seeing the church of Jesus Christ established within the culture without importing his own culture. Burleigh once said, “When the Christian message is carried by the Congolese themselves from the mission station out into the villages, then we are really building the church here.”
In the summer of 1961, civil war in the Congo was intensifying. On August 4, Burleigh flew his small aircraft into a war torn area in an attempt to rescue five Methodist missionaries who were captured and held by rebels. During the rescue attempt, a rebel soldier in the Congo aimed his rifle at Burleigh Law and fired. Burleigh died some hours later in the mission hospital he spent eight years of his life helping to build for the people of the Congo.
His death was not in vain. Today, through the faithfulness of Burleigh Law and many Methodist missionaries, there is a strong Christian witness in the nation of the Congo. This witness includes numerous churches, “hospitals, and a large network of dispensaries, pastors’ schools, a theological school, a technical school, many women’s schools, and primary and secondary schools.”
Christ-following Methodists stand on the shoulders of those who have sacrificed to establish the church. Let us remember and honor the life of Christian martyr, Burleigh Law, as his life represents one of the great moments in Methodist missions.
Paul Lawler is the Lead Pastor of Christ Church UMC, and founder of The Immersion School, a discipleship training center in Birmingham, Alabama. He and his wife, MJ, have four children and one daughter-in-law. In addition to serving as a pastor, Paul and his brother, Dallas area businessman, Patrick Lawler, founded the Patricia B. Hammonds Girl’s Home for 60 orphans at high risk for human trafficking in Thailand. The home is operated through the international ministry of the Compassionate Hope Foundation. Paul also serves on the North Alabama Conference Discipleship Team. He often tweets Kingdom thoughts at @plawler111.
i Appointment Congo; Virginia Law, Rand McNally & Company; 1966, p. 26
ii Appointment Congo; p. 260
iii Appointment Congo; p. 158