Today I am writing about a very specific situation, but one that any missionary or Christian humanitarian worker could face. It has to do with being arrested or taken hostage while overseas. I am only going to speak to one component, but one that I feel is overlooked and should no longer be.

However, let me first give a little context.

I spent a number of years working with organizations that had the express goal of spreading the good news of Jesus, to places where it had been heard least. They used phrases like reaching the unreached, unreached people groups and frontier missions. I heard amazing stories of people who had risked everything to live in some of the darkest corners of the Earth. Most of them had little to tell about positive results; life was more about survival and just not giving up. But there were a few who could tell tales of spreading the good news to thousands upon thousands. And in addition to that, there were always the glory stories of historical missionaries to spur anyone onwards. From the past there was Gladys Aylward in China, William Carey in India, Count Zinzendorf and the Moravians, and the list goes on and on. (If you want a quick read about some of the more notorious, I suggest the Christian Heros series, published by YWAM Publishing. They have at least 30 books.) Anyway, the astonishing stories from the past could frequently ignite the passion for world missions, today. And yet, the world now is a very different place. Which brings me back to my original point.

When we read about folks Hudson Taylor or Corrie ten Boom, we have to remember that people like these and others frequently were sent by some sort of mission organization. Not always, but this was usually the case. And that was because they did not have the direct support of the national government of the country from which they came. And throughout the last two millennia, there was only a small window of time where governments actually sent Christian missionaries. (Think of the missions that established cities like San Salvador {Holy Savior}, São Paulo {Saint Paul}, San Francisco {Saint Frances}, San Diego {Saint John}, Santa Barbara {Saint Barbara}, Corpus Christi {Body of Christ}, etc.) In all other times, missionaries walked alone, with their sending agency supporting them from home.

Now let me tell a story. One day about ten years ago, I went to church. After the service, I started chatting with a guy sitting a couple of seats from me. He was from Asia, originally, but now living the West, with his wife. He worked for a Christian organization and he gave me his business card. I found out later that he had to fund his own efforts, through a process called “raising support.” This is the most common way that Protestant missions are financed and so I then assumed he was a missionary. Well, he was non-traditional, in that he lived in one nation, but made frequent trips to hostile nations, to carry out Christian work in various ways. It was on one of these trips that disaster struck him.

He was arrested and taken hostage. The goal of his captors was to use him as a bargaining chip with his national government. And this is why modern-day missions is different from ages past: With technology, kidnapping for ransom is much easier to carry out. To make a long story short, his government did not bargain, but instead sent some military soldiers in to rescue him. Which they did. But in the process, one of the soldiers was killed.

In reflection, I could not help but wonder about a scenario that I am not sure ever took place. But for the sake of my point, consider this: Imagine that after returning home, one day a women and little daughter knock on his door. He invites them in, and they explain that the fallen soldier was their husband and father. And then the girl asks the man, “What were you doing that was so important that my father had to die?” Let’s say that the missionary says, “Well, we are spreading the good news of Jesus.” To which the mother could reply, “That’s interesting because we don’t even believe in Jesus. And now we have even less reason to believe in your God who appears so cruel to people like us.”

What might the missionary then say?

Well, it was your husband’s job to rescue wayward missionaries who get into trouble?

Or, maybe just a simple I am very, very sorry.

Which brings me to my point. I do not think it is not the job of any secular government to be rescuing Christians who get into trouble overseas. I believe that when people are living or traveling abroad, with the express purpose of Christian missions, they should do so without the support of national governments. Meaning, before they leave, they should sign a release form that says that if they get arrested or taken hostage, they request that their government not get involved in any way whatsoever. And sending agencies should warn the missionary that they will do all that they can to help, without enlisting the help of the government.

And I would suggest that national governments should also notify all mission organizations with a new policy something like this:

If you risk your life to travel or live overseas as a missionary, you are on your own. We will not rescue you, bargain for your release or use any political pressure to assist you. Rely on your God to take care of you in whatever you might face.

That way, the missionary really has to trust in God and God alone. And that also makes the locals less likely to fall into associating mission activity with a particular government. And it keeps soldiers safe from getting mixed up in something that really might not concern them.

To put it another way: A missionary carries a Kingdom passport, and it is as if they renounce their earthly citizenship when they take up the task of missions. They do not need the support of national governments and they do better without them. God can be more glorified either through their release (sometimes miraculous) or through their martyrdom. To even get involved in missions in the first place, they must carry the seriousness of the task. And they must realize that God often uses Christian martyrdom to grow the Kingdom of God. (Nowadays there are many people who tout being in missions, when it really is not much more than a desire to travel and have adventure.)

This might sound idealistic to some and so let me offer a semantic caveat. If a person wants to go overseas to do humanitarian work (even as a Christian), then I think it is reasonable to ask a secular government to help if one is in trouble. But a Christian missionary is a much different and a much higher calling.

Was the guy I met in church a missionary or a humanitarian worker? Maybe he was the later, and if so, maybe it is easier for him to sleep at night. To his credit, he also might not have known anything of the military involvement/rescue, but it all could have been coordinated by his sending organization. Even so, I suspect it would be very hard for him to continue traveling, after the trauma of knowing that someone died so that he could live.


A story that has been often told, but which seems to be closer to what I would hope for, for the future of missions, is that of Jim Elliot, Nate Saint, Ed McCully, Peter Flemming and Roger Youderian. They were speared to death in 1956 in Ecuador when trying to spread the good news of Jesus there. They were young missionaries and they paid the price with their lives. At the time, the story was in national newspapers and magazines. And the US government could have gotten involved and messed things up. But it did not. Rather, their martyrdom was secured, and the wives mostly forgave the locals for murder. Through that process, years later many of the people who killed those men, ended up becoming Christians. If the US government had instead gone in to punish the locals for murdering US citizens, I doubt there would have been as much good that eventually came about.

To learn more about this story, check out Elizabeth Elliot’s, In the Shadow of the Almighty; or Steve Saint’s End of the Spear (also in film form).

FOOTNOTE: I once went to a Christmas party and was chatting with someone in front of a fireplace. There was a curious object hanging over the mantle that caught my attention. The owner of the house came over and saw my fascination. He then removed what was a spear from the wall, and handed it to me with a smile. It was long and had old Bible pages wrapped around the shaft. He then told me that what I was holding was one of the spears used to kill those martyrs back in 1956. I could not help but be in awe. I guess his father was one of the missionary pilots sent in to recover the bodies. While doing that, he grabbed one of the spears. Amazing.

© 2019, Alignment Life

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