Risky Business

by Jim Armstrong

What would your advice have been to Paul when he visited Caesarea and stayed with Philip as he made his way to Jerusalem (Ac. 21)? Earlier in the journey the believers at Tyre had urged Paul, ‘through the Spirit’, not to go to Jerusalem. While at Caesarea, even Luke and others in the party asked him to change his mind. This after Agabus told them, through prophecy, what was going
to happen when they got there.

History and hindsight tell us that it was God’s intention for Paul to travel to Jerusalem. As Paul and his party left Philip they correctly stated, ‘The Lord’s will be done.’ Looking back, we know that, as a result, Philippians, Ephesians, Colossians, Philemon and the letters to Timothy and Titus were written, and that the gospel was preached in the city of Rome for two years – preached ‘boldly and without hindrance’ (Ac. 28:31). The Church continued to grow; in AD313 Christians were granted religious freedom and by AD380 Christianity was declared the official religion of the Roman Empire. Bring this question of what your advice would have been into a more contemporary mission setting. How would you have advised Jim Elliot and his four friends as they purposed to approach the Auca tribe? What would your advice have been to John Chau as he yearned to bring the gospel to the Andaman Islands in 2018 or Graham Staines, in Odisha, India, as he worked with lepers and was tragically murdered with his two young sons in 1999?

While you consider this question, think about the advice given by our Lord to His disciples as He sends them on mission. “I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves” (Mt. 10:16). The word ‘shrewd’ is interesting – its root means to have a mindset that is prudent, sensible and practical.

There are always risks in taking the gospel to a world that hates the message, the Saviour of whom it speaks and His messengers.

Jesus reminds His disciples of this as He tells them what they will face, and how they will be received and treated. His instruction was to go, but He told them what to expect and how they should approach these risks.

Have you reached a conclusion yet as to your advice to Paul and his desire to reach Jerusalem? What would you have said to the modern-day martyrs if you had met them before they went?

Let me bring this question into a more likely situation. How does an assembly guide and help an individual or a couple from their fellowship whose calling is to serve in countries like Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan or China? Do we respond like Luke and Paul’s travelling party? Is the task so risky or dangerous that we start to think it would be better for them to go somewhere more ‘mission friendly’? What would be driving this advice? Should we take this tack?

As we consider the command to go, the Lord’s calling on a life and when it is clear that the potential mission partner(s) are being sent, we need to focus on what ‘shrewd’ looks like in these situations. The balance of obeying and displaying faith must be combined with good, sensible actions and preparation, which will better ensure the calling and message are sustained. We will never be able to guess the will of God in these situations, but we can plan to make sure the work is given every opportunity to flourish and reach those to whom the mission partner has been called.

Advising Churches & Mission Partners

As the Trustees of Echoes International consider missional needs in the world today, many of the cross-cultural opportunities are in Islamic and Hindu areas, or in countries with an aggressive stance towards the West and, in particular, the gospel. There are also areas of the world with greater economic, natural or criminal problems than the UK. In all of these cases, the risks of going are much greater. The trustees recognise sending churches need advice and information in preparing and equipping their mission partners. As a result, in 2020 Echoes International will provide additional services and advice sending churches can access and use, some of which are summarised in this article.

The support of any mission partner or full-time worker requires godly wisdom and spiritual discernment.

There are 181 mission partners associated with Echoes International serving worldwide in cross-cultural mission. If you include senior partners and those serving on a short-term basis, including FirstServers, the assemblies have mission partners in more than 35 different countries. We have rated each of those places as either green, amber or red, according to how risky we consider the country to be. These ratings have been made after consultation with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, a professional risk consultant and our knowledge of the various fields of service. The services available will be determined by the rating.

Risk Reports – With the advice of our risk consultant, we have put together a series of risk reports for each country in which our mission partners serve. We will issue these reports to all sending churches and their mission partners and update them three times a year.

In addition, we will host workshops for sending churches with a mission partner in a country or region rated amber or red. These workshops will help to give a better understanding of the risks. We will also provide tips and advice as to how some of these risks can be managed and mitigated, where possible.

Risk Updates – From time to time, there will be incidents that require thought as to how the mission partner and sending church should react: such as an outbreak of violence or disease, as we have seen with the coronavirus. Our risk consultant will provide regular updates and information, which are specific to different parts of a country.

Risk Mitigation – We have put together tools that will help sending churches and mission partners assess risk while serving in countries rated amber or red. Churches and mission partners can avail themselves of these tools to ensure the risks being faced are wisely managed.

HEFAT Courses – Hostile Environment Avoidance and First Aid Training. We are providing a three-day course twice a year to help new and existing mission partners prepare for situations they may encounter while serving overseas. The feedback from a pilot course in January was very positive and we plan to hold our next course at Faskally House, Pitlochry, in September.

Travel Updates – At any point in the year, various people, including our directors and trustees, travel on behalf of Echoes International. Our risk consultant helps us to prepare those who are travelling, advising, for example, if there are areas of the country that we should avoid. I have personally benefited from this service in my recent visit to the northeast of India.

In the Lord’s Will

Have you resolved what your advice to Paul or the other martyrs would be? Do you have a situation in your church where people are looking to serve in a difficult situation?

The support of any mission partner or full-time worker requires godly wisdom and spiritual discernment. When John Chau’s life was taken by the tribesmen in the North Sentinel Island, The Guardian’s headline was, ‘John Chau’s sad death should be a wake-up call to all missionaries targeting uncontacted tribes.’ The article was unkind and critical, describing Christians as arrogant to assume tribes do not have their own rich culture and religion. Today 42% of the world’s population is unevangelised and many of those people live in areas with greater risk. This generation needs to respond to the challenge and go with a burden for unreached people – despite the difficult conditions and risk of harm that may lie ahead.

We should never look to the world or the opinions of individuals who are opposed to the very commission that should be driving every single Christian. In these circumstances, with shrewd thinking and a confidence in the Lord, our response would surely be ‘yes’ and ‘the Lord’s will be done’.

Find out how you can get involved here.

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