Thursday, January 6, 2015 Two gunmen enter the office of Charlie Hebdo, a satirical magazine in Paris, France, killing twelve people including two police officers. The supposedly al-Qaeda-linked killers were taking revenge for published cartoons poking fun at Islam.
Tuesday, December 16, 2014 Taliban militants take over a school in Peshawar, Pakistan and kill 145 people, most of them children. The victims were targeted because many of their parents were members of the Pakistani army, which had been conducting operations against the Taliban.
Thursday, December 5, 2013 American chemistry teacher Ronnie Smith is gunned down during a morning jog in Benghazi, Libya. Though it came a few weeks after Islamic militants called for Americans to be taken hostage, the killers were never identified.
Sunday, September 21, 2013 67 are killed and 175 wounded when a group of men attack a crowded, upscale mall in Nairobi, Kenya. Associated with the Somali group, al-Shabaab, the terrorists asked hostages if they were Muslims or Christians to determine whether to kill them or not.
If you pay any attention to global news, you’ve noticed that stories such as these are more common than not. They’re brutal, unimaginable, and heart-breaking. Yet at the same time they’re, well, distant. Though we tasted our own bitter swigs on 9/11, the 2013 Boston Marathon, and only weeks ago in Orlando, it’s easier for us to watch the nations rage than feel them standing over us with semi-automatic weapons and homemade bombs. For sending churches, who are actively commissioning their people into the neighborhoods and the nations, there is no option to ignore the chaos. While others talk about building walls and restricting Muslims, we’re sending our beloved out. So what does it mean for churches to respond to and even leverage global terrorism in their sending?
It means churches talk about it. Not every sermon has to be like John Piper’s “Doing Mission When Dying is Gain” or David Platt’s “Divine Sovereignty: The Fuel of Death-Defying Missions,” but some of these horrific events should be intentionally acknowledged. Songs and prayers that lament the brokenness of our world instruct the body of Christ, give it ways to express grief and longing, and allow it to join God as he uses even tragedy for his glory. Mission leaders don’t have to hesitate in connecting the dots for their people: going is “not all romance and radical adventure” (Burns). Leaning hard into Jesus’ teaching that people will kill you thinking they are giving service to God (John 16:2) is not only relevant, it’s compelling. That is, it compels people who, according 2 Corinthians 5:11-15, are so captured by the love of Christ that they want to persuade others. How is it that the church is actually emboldened in the face of threat? A shaken church in Acts 4:23-31 seems to show this is how it’s supposed to be. Sweep it under the rug and people will hide there. Talk about it openly and see people strangely eager to go. People like Ronnie Smith, whose “confidence grew that Christ was worth every risk he would face” even as his awareness grew of Libya’s dangers. A war draws warriors. And we are at war for the souls of men.
It means churches lead their people to count the cost. Though global mission has never been a safe venture, those who pay attention to current trends understand that indeed no place is beyond the reach of danger. The attack on Westgate Mall in Nairobi especially awakened me to this reality because it’s one of the places I frequented on vacation while working in east Africa. One image that continues to haunt me is a blood-splattered cafe where I used to relax with a big bowl of ice cream and not a care in the world. People need to wrestle with the reality that they may be caught in the cross-fire—not even because of their witness—but simply for being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Ultimately, it’s more likely that their hearts and minds will be guarded by Christ with peace that passes understanding (Philippians 4:7) if they’ve considered the risk rather than ignored it. And this is only possible if church leaders themselves have felt the weight of sending their little flock out among wolves (Luke 10:3).
It means churches partner with like-minded missions agencies. Most of those who work for mission agencies get this stuff. That’s because they’ve been around long enough to see some caskets come home. And that’s why they often provide training for how to respond in hostile situations. But more than training, many of them have a network on the field and plans for evacuation or emergency medical care or hostage calls or any other number of things you don’t want to be fully responsible for when you get a frantic international phone call at 2am. Partnering with a missions agency does not exempt the sending church from being actively involved and even owning major parts of emergency situations, it merely empowers them to care more holistically for their people through the expertise of agencies.
It means they care for those they’ve sent. The realities and possibilities of global terrorism are all the more reason for churches to remain deeply connected to their sent ones. Is it likely that one of your sent ones will be killed by terrorists? No. But that doesn’t mean that they won’t be crushed (Romans 8:36). Sometimes the enemy uses such vile events to cause missionaries to seriously consider coming home—or at least quieting their gospel witness. Churches need to draw near, ask good questions, help them process, and encourage their resolve to trust and obey Jesus. Give them outlets for sharing how the situation is affecting people so that the church can pray with insight. Remember that in today’s world your sent ones may feel a constant low-grade threat—even when they’re on vacation. That’s heavy. They need you.
It means churches have a plan for how to respond to tragedy. If something does happen, what would you do? I know, it’s a question none of us want to think about. But it was one that The Austin Stone Community Church was forced to deal with when their own Ronnie Smith was killed. And there’s much we could learn from their example, including the way his wife Anita responded and how the church addressed it. Perhaps, considering this question is part of the church’s task of counting the cost. Realizing and acknowledging the nature of sending—the kind that the Bible describes—will lead churches to prepare for the best and the worst. Though for them, they do so with joy inexpressible and full of glory because death—and even the threat thereof—does not have the final word.