Friday, August 15, 2014

To Die is Gain

"Are you still going to Nigeria?" I asked incredulously.  It was a few weeks after the schoolgirls had been kidnapped by Boko Haram, and tensions between the United States and the African country, not to mention between Muslims and Christians, were mounting.  I was sure my father-in-law's yearly missionary trip to the Jos School of Biblical Studies in the central part of Nigeria would be canceled or at least postponed.  When he replied that the trip was still scheduled as planned I was surprised.  Didn't they how dangerous it would be?  He didn't seem worried, so I let it drop.  We continued to pray for him, but his easy manner gave me a sense of security.  In the middle of his trip, that security was shattered.

We got an email from him one morning.  "There was a bombing in the market here today. One report was that there were as many as 200 killed. None of the folks from the school were among those killed. Christians here are determined to continue faithful. We had the church building full tonight."  

My heart was filled with fear, but again, he was taking it so calmly.  There was a bombing; we had a full church building.  I still sent facebook messages and texts to everyone I knew and many people I didn't, asking prayers for his safety.  

What I came to realize as I prayed was that this godly man who raised my husband believed as Paul did.
For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. But if I am to live on in the flesh, this will mean fruitful labor for me; and I do not know which to choose. But I am hard-pressed from both directions, having the desire to depart and be with Christ, for that is very much better; yet to remain on in the flesh is more necessary for your sake. (Philippians 1:21-24)
Paul knew that God never promised His children physical safety as they spread the gospel.  In fact, Jesus promised the apostles multiple times that they would be facing persecution.  (John 15:18-20;  Luke 21:12-17; Matthew 10:16-35).  Luke's account seems to prophesy exactly what Paul would later go through. 
But before all these things, they will lay their hands on you and will persecute you, delivering you to the synagogues and prisons, bringing you before kings and governors for My name's sake. It will lead to an opportunity for your testimony. So make up your minds not to prepare beforehand to defend yourselves; for I will give you utterance and wisdom which none of your opponents will be able to resist or refute. But you will be betrayed even by parents and brothers and relatives and friends, and they will put some of you to death, and you will be hated by all because of My name.
The Jews hated Paul, and they worked tirelessly to bring him down.  After his third missionary journey, when Paul was in Caesarea, a prophet told him that he would be bound and taken prisoner.  Just as I thought my father-in-law should not go to Nigeria, Paul's friends begged him not to go to Jerusalem to meet this fate.  Paul told them simply that he was ready to die for Jesus (Acts 21:10-14).

Paul was indeed captured and imprisoned, but he still had many years yet to share the gospel. After his arrest, he shared his testimony with many of the Jews, local governors Felix and Festus, and King Herod Agrippa.  During this time, he also preached to the Roman citizens with them, and Paul's own bravery emboldened other Christians to share the Word fearlessly (Philippians 1:12-14).  Paul's life was anything but safe, but it led to many people coming to the knowledge of Jesus.

Our missionaries today are under no delusions that they are promised physical safety either. Eight years ago when Helene and her husband were moving to a foreign land, they acknowledged the risk by asking my husband and me to raise their daughter (the only one she had at the time) if something should happen to them.  Those African students at the Jos school will go back to their home countries and face persecutions we can only imagine.  Right now there is an Iranian-American citizen in prison in Iran for daring to convert to Christianity and start a house church movement in the predominantly Muslim country.  He may not live through his eight year sentence. Though none of them have a death wish, they are all willing to give their life and health in order that more people will come to know Christ.

Thankfully, my husband's dad made it home from Nigeria safely.  Helene was able to share the gospel in another country without being jailed or martyred.  And I've learned a few important lessons.  One, don't ask missionaries about their own safety.  Trust me, they've already considered it and decided the risk is worth the gain.  Two,  I've been entirely too concerned for my own safety.  I need to have Paul's attitude just as our missionaries do. If they can go into hostile and war ravaged countries to share the gospel, I can probably go to the "wrong side of the tracks" to pick someone up for church or take a food basket.  No matter what happens, my life can be in no better place than God's hands.


Scripture taken from the NEW AMERICAN STANDARD BIBLE(R), Copyright(c) 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission.

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