We in the West often wonder how those living under persecution can choose to stay instead of fleeing for safer countries. We wonder how a missionary would choose to live in a dangerous place, even placing their lives on the line, when they could stay where it is safe. We are a little baffled by those who organize underground churches, and continue to share the Gospel even though it could mean prison or worse.
My wife and I often go for walks together. We see deer, rabbits, squirrels, chipmunks, cardinals, and robins. Where we live, people wave at you when you walk or drive by. You can leave the door of your house unlocked when you go for a walk. It’s safe.
“Safe” Looked Different In Africa
For the 13 years we lived with an element of fear in everything we did and everywhere we went. We lived in Johannesburg, South Africa for 8 years and in Swaziland for 5 years. When we moved there, I thought the car-jackings and break-ins only happened to other people, but I was wrong.
During the time we were in Africa, we had many hijackings where staff were involved. A number of hijackings included weapons, some of them were very serious and the trauma had lasting effects on the individuals. At night, you did not stop for a red light. If you had to, you slowed down and looked both ways before creeping through the intersection. If you stopped, chances were good you would be hijacked.
People would say that our home looked like a prison (see picture above). We had a fence around the property. In the picture you can see 3 strands of barbed wire have been added on top of the fence since we were there. Only the smaller windows had bars when we lived there, now all the windows have bars. We had a security gate in the hallway to our bedrooms for further protection (to keep thieves away from where we were sleeping at night). We had panic buttons and armed security personnel on standby to respond to an alarm. We had motion detectors in the attic because thieves often removed the roof tiles on homes to break in through the attic.
Break ins were a part of daily living. Read this story about a couple from TWR who were hijacked and their lives spared through prayer.
We took all of these precautions to be safe, but ultimately none of that security was in our hands. Crime was a reality of life.
Sometimes Doing Ministry Is Risky
The first time I visited Burundi was in 2004. The 1993 genocide in Burundi and the 1994 genocide in Rwanda were over (both part of the same conflict). The conflict in Burundi had been downgraded from genocide to civil war, but to be honest it was hard to tell the difference. Even ten years later, things were not that much improved.
TWR had an office in Burundi’s capital city Bujumbura and someone from leadership needed to go there to encourage the team. We had drive to Bujumbura from Kigali, Rwanda because you couldn’t fly into Burundi at the time.
The road between Kigali and Bujumbura was lined with hundreds and thousands of people carrying all their possessions in bags and wheelbarrows because it was safer on the road than in the jungle. At night, the bullets popped and cracked as they hit the perimeter wall around my hotel in Bujumbura. We were warned not to take any photos or leave the city.
Was it safe to be there at that time? Of course not. The whole world, by this time, had heard the stories about what had happened in Rwanda and Burundi. Humanly, it was not safe and everyone knew it. Instead, I asked God, “Will I be safe?”
The reality I had to face was that my security did not come from man, governments, or security alarms. It had to come from God Himself. “A man’s days are numbered. You know the number of his months. He cannot live longer than the time You have set” (Job 14-5-6).
Was I fearful? Of course. But I went anyway.
I got on a plane again right after 9/11. I went to West Africa during the Ebola outbreak. I flew into Egypt after planes were hijacked and blown up by terrorists. I have been held for questioning by authorities. I do not share these things to brag, these are not badges of honour, but examples of how God was in those situations and if you’re obedient He will be with you in the midst of any trial or fear. I took appropriate security measures and went planning to return, but at peace with God if I didn’t.
“For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.” 2 Timothy 1:7
“The Lord is with me; I will not be afraid. What can man do to me? The Lord is with me; he is my helper.” Psalm 118:6-7
“In God I trust; I will not be afraid. What can mortal man do to me?” Psalm 56:-3-4
“Peace is what I leave with you; it is my own peace that I give you. I do not give it as the world does. Do not be worried and upset; do not be afraid.” John 14:27
God has not called us to stay safe and He has promised to be with us anywhere we go. Did you know that the Bible instructs us to fear not, do not be afraid, many, many times? Over 100 times. God wants us to get this message.
So what are we so afraid of?