A senseless waste of life?

Memorial to the victims of the Manorom Crash (source: https://omf.org/thailand/

Over 40 years ago, several OMF mission workers and TCKs from Manorom Hospital were killed in a horrific road accident in Thailand.

Those of us who are part of the global missions community are no stranger to tragedy.  Even if a misfortune hasn’t happened to us, to our loved ones or our teams, we have all heard of mission workers who have died in car or plane crashes, were killed by tropical diseases, wild animals or armed militants, or who suffered unspeakable trauma in some way.

We can be tempted to think that such issues are a senseless waste of life.  We could easily be angry at God for not protecting them.  But those who serve in mission have weighed the risks, and found it preferable to face the danger with Jesus than miss their calling through fear.  After all, we have already died, and our life is hidden with Christ (Colossians 3:3)

A few years ago when I was in Thailand I had the privilege of hearing first hand a testimony from a bystander at the Manorom accident.  Apparently one of the survivors took the opportunity to preach to the crowd, despite the fact that his own family had just been killed.  His message was essentially that it didn’t matter that they’d died, as they’d lived for Jesus and were now with him.  The man telling me this story had been so impressed by this assurance of salvation that he subsequently became a Christian, and is now a highly-respected church leader.

When we glibly quote Romans 8:28 we can be tempted to infer that “all things work together for the good of me”.   Which makes it very hard for us to understand when bad things happen to us.  Perhaps the real truth is that “those who love him” are a whole community that reaps the benefit, rather than people individually.  We can never know what good will come from each individual tragedy, but we can be certain that “precious in the sight of God is the death of his saints.” (Psalm 116:15).

 

You can read David Pickard’s reflection on this tragedy on OMF’s Billions online.

Circumcision

A flint knife of the type the Israelites may have used (Joshua 5:2)

After first sending in the priests instead of storm-troopers, and then stopping to do the bronze-age equivalent of posting selfies on social media, the Israelites are still not going to carry out an invasion in the normal way.  They next thing they do is put every single one of their soldiers out of action for a couple of weeks following elective surgery.  It would have been a great time for the Jericho army to have attacked them.

In some ways, the circumcision of the Israelite men was like the consecration we have already talked about – it was an outward sign of dedication to God, reminding them of the covenant with Abraham.  The Israelites invading the Promised Land were far from being foolhardy in having surgery which would incapacitate them for a fortnight or so.  They were in fact demonstrating their trust in God to protect them and to fight for them when they couldn’t fight.  Much as we would talk about walking by faith, not by sight (2 Corinthians 5:7).  And this group went on to trust God for their victories over the coming years, notably in the conquest of Jericho which they would soon go on to take without even needing to land a blow.

What would be the equivalent for us of being circumcised just as we enter a war zone?  What would that look like in the context where we work?  To follow God with a little more unpredictability rather than always trying to play it safe?  Hudson Taylor pointed out that if there is no risk in our ventures, there is no need for faith.  Yet in our increasingly risk-averse and litigious culture, it can be hard even to entertain the concept of risk when we feel we should be minimising it.

Life involves risk, mission more so.  The places where people don’t know Jesus can be some of the most dangerous places on the planet for us to go.  It’s not that we deliberately seek out danger, as if we were seeking a thrill to enliven meaningless lives, but if following in the footsteps of Jesus takes us into dangerous territory, we proceed in faith rather than turning back because the risk is too great.  We trust God daily for our income, our safety, our visa renewals (just about!) and many other things.  Let us reflect at the start of another year what else we can manage without organising for ourselves but by trusting God to take care of it for us.

 

To boldly go?

Hudson Taylor

Hudson Taylor

In the last couple of weeks I’ve been part of two seminars on risk.  One considered the need for charities to comply with legislation protecting children and vulnerable adults, observe employment legislation, and take out insurance against risks that can’t be entirely managed away.  The other concerned how much risk our organisations are prepared to take when sending people abroad, particularly into potentially hazardous situations.  How much does the litigious culture we live in force us to avoid some legitimate risk, refrain from sending teams to unstable places where they can make a huge difference,  and pull our staff out of dangerous situations at the very time the local people need us most?  Apparently some of the first people on the flights out of Haiti after the earthquake were mission workers.  How tragic.

Evaluating risk is something we all do on a regular basis.  We’re so accustomed to it that we don’t even think of it as such, but each time we cross the road we evaluate the risk of not walking fast enough to get all the way across before that bus hits us.  When we choose a school for our children, we’re evaluating the risk of damage to their education or personality if we get it wrong.  When we take out a pension plan our advisers ask us what our risk profile is, so that they know how to invest our funds. Most of the time, we plan for safe options.  We talk about job security, or financial independence, but what we mean is ‘safe’.  Perhaps there’s not enough risk in our lives.  One of the reasons that apparently dangerous activities like bungee jumping, tombstoning or riding on roller coasters are so popular may be because people don’t get enough adrenalin in their lives without artificially seeking it out.

Perhaps we should actually be looking to live more adventurously.  We were asked at one of the seminars ‘Does God take risks?’  The answers varied, but it was clear that over the millennia his people have done.  From Abraham setting out from the security of Ur for an as-yet-indeterminate country which he would never call home, via Paul regularly suffering beatings, stonings and shipwrecks when he could have had a pleasant life as a Jewish rabbi, to the many missionary saints and martyrs of more recent centuries, God’s people have not been known for being risk-averse.  As Hudson Taylor observed, If there is no element of risk in our endeavours for God, there is no need for faith.

When I was first planning to go and serve God in a particularly undeveloped, post-conflict country in Africa, my best friend asked me what I thought the risks were.  Before I answered him, I thought about the potential damage to my career prospects and my finances.  I wondered about the impact on my hopes to have a family.  I considered the possibility of serious health problems – or even death  – due to landmines, gunfire, malaria or car accident.  In the end I concluded that there was no risk at all… because a risk only exists where what you stand to lose is of value to you.  As that missionary martyr Jim Eliot wrote: He is no fool who gives up what he cannot keep, to gain what he cannot lose.