Recently, the horrible news of the murder of two American Missionaries, Harold Nichols and Randy Hentzel in Jamaica hit media outlets. Missionary abductions and murders are substantially on the increase. Last October, Roberta Edwards, a missionary in Haiti, was gunned down in Port-au-Prince sitting in her car on a residential street. Missionaries constantly put their lives at risk carrying out Christ's Command to his church, "Go into all the world and make disciples of people." Serving in a missionary capacity for many years, I know first hand the many dangers missionaries face.
Great is Their Reward
Jesus in His Sermon on the Mount dealt with this very thing. “Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake. Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you."
The halls of heaven are lined with courageous proclaimers of Christ's Gospel. While difficult to bare, these two missionaries and their families carry this promise of Jesus Christ. Their reward for this incredibly difficult time right now will richly find compensation in heaven. Jesus promised everyone who gives up family for His work will receive 100 times more.
In a day and age when celebrities making millions living in self-indulgent debauchery excess are often worshiped, these two missionaries stand out as real heroes.
Real heroes give themselves to others in both life and death. Going to the "least of these" without expectation of earthly reward or compensation marks true heroes. Thousands of heroes serve in missionary ranks all around the world. Helping poor undesired and rejected people by giving a "cup of cold water" in Jesus name is a heroic act.
In this day, when people quit church over petty personal preferences, Randy and Harold show what true dedication looks like. They and their families are champions.
With gratitude, I salute you.
Thoughts and Prayers for the Families
A deep pondering of thoughts and prayers for spouses, children, parents, and families is offered. They unexpectedly say goodbye to their loved ones. This temporary painful separation finds hope in Jesus Christ. It is bitter-sweet.
Many are the numbers of families paying the ultimate price for serving our Lord and Savior. Their sacrifice is a reminder of Jesus words, "Be faithful unto death . . ."
Count the Cost
As Christians living in perilous days, increasing persecution encourages us to count the cost of following Christ. Jesus well warned in Luke 14 that following Him is costly. The Missionary Calling is as expensive as it is demanding.
Paul writing a letter to the young Timothy wrote, "This know also, that in the last days perilous times shall come." Timothy, Paul's young protege, served in an environment hostile to Jesus. Paul well described the times more than 2,000 years ago:
"For men will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, unloving, unforgiving, slanderers, without self-control, brutal, despisers of good,traitors, headstrong, haughty, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God."
Sounds likes a description of today; doesn't it? It's on this stage our missionaries live, travel, work, and serve.
Perhaps, a hard close look at missionary preparation is in order too. Increasingly, missionaries are being sent to hostile environments without adequate preparation. Much of Bible College and Seminary training does not account for the cultural settings missionaries enter. One missionary with a Bachelor and Master's Degree shared, "I didn't have a clue it would be like this."
So too, is the growing local church missionary movement. Increasingly, missionaries are sent out from only a specific local church. A more purist biblical approach for sure. However, an individual local church usually lacks essentials to thoroughly prepare missionary candidates for ministry in hostile environments.
A recent trip to a 3rd World field experienced conversations with a number of missionaries sent out by only their local church. As these missionaries spoke of their struggles one cried out, "With a new pastor, my church has sort of forgotten about me way out here. I am alone now."
Missions Agencies. A 2003 report found that most missions' agencies lose 43% of their personnel over a ten-year period. While the report is a bit dated, conversations with churches and missions' agencies today indicate that percentage of attrition higher today.
Survival skills. Security, public relations, inconspicuousness, and acculturation require implementation into missions training today. Some missions sending agencies are adding traveler training and risk management to missionary preparation. Good for them.
Preparation. Missiology increasingly is taught by academics lacking long term exposure to life in other cultures. Also, much of missiology courses involves classes in sanitized classrooms rather than on location. Curriculum revolves around academic accreditation; not missionary exposure and preparation.
New questions need to be asked. Often when talking with young missionaries I ask a series of eye opening questions beginning with, "Has anyone told you you're going to the front lines, and you're probably going to get hurt?" The question always receives a sobering answer, "Ah, what?"
To me, too much missions teaching leans towards prosperity theology a bit. We sort of encourage young missionaries, "Go out with your Bible claiming the promises of God and it will all work out."
Too often, it does not.
Paul, the 1st missionary, described missionary life, "We are hard-pressed on every side, yet not crushed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed."
We need to prepare our missionaries for the hard-pressed, perplexed, persecuted, and forsaken aspects of Missionary life and ministry. Those parts of missionary life and service not shared in Prayer Letters and Reports to supporters.
Member Care, Support, and Preparation
A missionary couple shared not long ago the trauma of witnessing a missionary friend shot dead in front of them. They experienced abuse in a number of horrible ways. As these experiences become more common, better member care is needed. It's at such critical junctures trauma teams need to arrive to help missionaries through such devastating experiences.
Institutional Level. For missionaries sent out from Sending Agencies, member care must increasingly focus on the daily total physical, emotional, and spiritual health of the missionary and family. While agencies provide appreciated, valuable services from logistical to structural support, field workers need skilled encouragers who can come alongside an assist on site in the trenches of ministry and life.
Local Congregations. Churches seeking to send out as many missionaries as possible, often tout their success. As that trend begins to age, missionary attrition rates climb alarmingly high within those congregations. Missionary Care begs attention through the entire missionary process; going and returning and in between.
New Tools. Coaching and Trauma Care are just two new approaches used to help missionaries today. Missionary Coaching is a field just developing. In Missionary Coaching, the coach seeks to help the missionary move forward, making good decisions of their ministry and life.
Confidential Ears. Missionaries need someone to share their fears and challenges. Missionaries regularly share with me their reluctance to talk with American congregations. One missionary clarified, "How can I ask American Christians to pray about my fear of our children being abducted and kidnapped where we live and minister, when their requests for prayer, are for grandma's foot surgery tomorrow?"
Wells of Refreshment. Some missions agencies are adding to Missionary Care times of refreshment, fun, and time for decompression. They spoil their missionaries a bit offering both fun and encouragement at the same time. Missionaries attest with much appreciation the great help this approach provides for their health and welfare.
We need to do more for our missionaries as they increasingly pay more for serving. I am reluctantly confident that more events such as these will repeat themselves more frequently in the future.
Just My Thoughts,
Last night I enjoyed the pleasure of hearing the founder of MANNA Worldwide speak. Bruce is a longtime friend; we go way back! In fact, it was our pleasure to start two MANNA Feeding Centers in South Africa. MANNA Worldwide has grown considerably since its humble beginnings just 15 years ago. It's nothing short of phenomenal.
Currently, 102 Feeding Centers, 23 orphanages, 15 schools, 20 medical facilities, and sports centers help missionaries and churches serve close to 15,000 children worldwide. MANNA Worldwide Partners and Supporters serve over 3 million meals to hungry children every year!
As I listened to Bruce speak, I asked myself, "Why has MANNA Worldwide grown at such an explosive rate?" Five words came instantly to mind:
MANNA Worldwide works almost exclusively through local churches on location. In the 40 countries MANNA serves, almost every ministry is conducted through a church in a particular locale. The Church has long suffered the criticism of turning its back on those suffering just outside the door's reach of the congregation. MANNA Worldwide helps the Church become the hands and feet of Jesus.
MANNA Partners living in location of feeding centers, hospitals, schools, and sports centers provide accountability for the program. Missionaries and Intercultural workers implement and oversee most projects. These Partners make sure funds actually reach the projects and children for which they were given; a huge problem in charitable giving.
During our many years in South Africa, a large Christian humanitarian group claimed to feed 4,000 children in an area where we ministered near our home. They set up a small office in this particular area. The office only appeared to open when Americans came out from the United States. Likewise, children received care only when American visitors were present. After the inspectors returned to the States, the feedings stopped.
MANNA Partners live full time at the locations of feeding centers and schools ensuring integrity of the program and ministry. More importantly; children really do receive love and care!
MANNA does exactly what it claims to do. Providing funding for the Church to cloth, feed, educate, and care for children around the world. 92 cents of every $1.00 gets to the children it claims to serve. Whether food in the bowl of a hungry child, books for learning, clothing, sports, or medical care -- MANNA dollars hit the target 92% of the time. That ranks in the top of charitable giving! This is accomplished in part because all MANNA associates and directors raise their own support.
Here's the thing. Children actually receive nutritious meals, schooling, and medical care! Programs provide better lives for children' gripped in the cruel harsh cycle of poverty.
Working through churches and its MANNA Partners, MANNA offers hope to suffering people. This hope impacts those outside the church's door. One MANNA Partner shared, "The Muslim parents in our area allow their children to attend our church because we provide their children with meals and education."
Once in our church in Ladysmith, South Africa I introduced myself to a new face in the congregation on a Sunday morning. After inquiring to the nature of the person's visit, he replied, "I wanted to see the church that cares for my hungry grandchildren. We are suffering."
For me, the great impact of MANNA Worldwide is seeing hungry malnourished kids transform into happy healthy children! One Zulu mother in her Zulu language shared, "Thanks for making my child's eyes sing again!"
MANNA Worldwide Directors, Associates, Partners, and Volunteers passionately rescue children in the grip of poverty. In doing so, MANNA brings them to a Jesus who said, "Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them!"
Just My Thoughts,
Not long ago sitting in a local Restaurant in Springfield, Missouri, a patron frantically erupted while reading the newspaper, "I don't know what we are going to do? I hear they are letting those Syrian Refugees into St. Louis and then Springfield! Our governor won't stop them from coming in!" Clearly fearful she added, "They get free housing, medical, and food. All I have to say is, 'What about ME?' "
A gentleman sitting two stools down at the counter interjected, "How many refugees have you ever met?" Obviously agitated, he pressed another question aggressively, "What are the chances that a refugee will move in next door to you?" As she looked away, he chided, "Why worry about it then?" The woman admitted to never meeting or seeing a refugee personally in her entire life. Yet, she insisted refugees posed a personal threat. She interjected her strange question again, "Well, what about ME!"
That woman's question probes a universal consideration on our ever shrinking planet of human experience, "Yes, well, what about ME?"
As a Christ-Follower, Christ gave ME rather clear instructions on this refugee matter:
1st - My ME needs to show love towards God.
Focusing ME away from self towards God is my highest priority. Acknowledging my Creator who created me for a higher purpose than myself reminds me that even poor people, refugees, also possess purpose and value. Regardless of valueless attitudes towards these unwanted nomads, they are of my lineage, and we share a common existence.
2nd - My ME needs to show love and mercy to my "neighbors."
Who is my neighbor? Jesus talked about a traveler travelling from Jerusalem to Jericho many years ago. After attacked by bandits along the way, he lay wounded, broken, bleeding, and dying. Many traveled by refusing to help this refugee, I mean traveler, until finally someone stopped to help. Jesus called the helper a "stranger." After giving first-aid, clothing, food, and providing him a safe place, he paid for all the traveler's expenses promising to return to check in on him. Jesus called that wounded, hungry, dying traveler -My NEIGHBOR.
It's very interesting that Jesus calls this the 2nd Greatest Commandment in the whole Bible after loving God. Somehow helping refugees to Jesus was very important.
3rd - My ME needs to show love and mercy to my own.
Jesus often referred to "my own" as "One-Another." Showing love and mercy to people who reciprocate love and mercy to ME offers lesser challenges. It's where many draw boundaries enveloping themselves in safer surroundings. Yet, working with traumatized children over the years, children injured by their very own parents, love and mercy in our own families is sadly absent and desperately needed in too many families in this callous world.
4th - My ME needs to show love and mercy to my enemies.
Jesus said it, I didn't. Don't get me wrong. If a terrorist shows up, if there is a warning, if I know about it, I will defend myself, my family, and my community. Yet, Jesus commands even love towards enemies.
I once witnessed an elderly Zulu man face to face offer forgiveness to a neighbor in South Africa who beat his son's brains out with a rock. The old Zulu man held his son in his arms covered in his son's brain matter as his son died. I know this to be true. My Me was there. His actions prevented a clan war saving many lives. It's still a vivid troubling image in my mind thirty years later.
The Macro & Micro of it all - The macro issue of the refugee crisis is a global issue. It's on the macro stage most want to voice an opinion; an opinion that matters little, changes little, or helps little. Very little of the macro involves ME directly. I live in a micro world of this problem. Micro Me, however, can offer positive contributions to this crisis:
ME can control ME's rhetoric.
Words, opinions, solutions, biases, and verbal atrocities exploded on social media platforms around the world.
There is an ancient saying,
"Talking about a matter before one understands the matter is shameful and foolish."
ME can contribute positively! In our congregation, several members actually serve in some of those horrible refugee camps helping suffering refugee-travelers. They paint the picture of hopeless fearful desperate people leaving murdered loved ones behind looking for hope in a strange new terrifying world. ME contributes money to actual people on the ground in refugee camps helping Christians share the love of Christ with desperate Muslim women and children by serving them.
In giving a cup of cold water in Jesus' name, perhaps Christ's love can emerge from the seed beds of hate and religious extremism.
ME can pray for governments and authorities to make wise decisions. This problem is intricately complicated, requiring wise level headed people to act in the best interests of everyone. Protection of citizens is the highest priority. So too, is this vast swelling of refugee-humanity needing rescue, relief, and restoration.
Bad people will always take advantage of desperate situations. Yes, ME is concern these bad people are dealt with effectively for all our sake.
Yet, my ME concern is for a desperate suffering people of another world-faith looking to people of my faith for help. Now is an opportunity for Christians to respond.
Our greatest opportunity, perhaps avails itself to present Christ before a people who've never met a Christian. It's a defining historical moment in church and human history.
"ME" is the only control I really possess in this unfolding misery. And, the "YOU" is perhaps your only contribution to make as well. But, perhaps, just perhaps, if your "YOU" and my "ME" offered our very best, this world, might become a better "US" . . .
Just My Thoughts,
Don was born in North Minneapolis, Minnesota. Having served twenty-two years in South Africa as missionaries with his wife Kathy, and eight years pastoring in the United States, he shares unique perspectives about life, family, relationships, and ministry.