|July 1, 2009
“We are targets. We ARE targets.” That phrase kept repeating itself in my mind after a terrorist attack that interrupted our lives for many months. The period of post traumatic stress that followed was an enriching time of processing our theology of suffering and risk.
My husband and I serve in a creative-access country where traditional mission work is not acceptable. We work with an international non-governmental organization in an English language teaching project. We minister wholistically through our lives and project work as we interact with the local population in class, in the market, and in our daily lives.
There are various reasons why our country is not an easy place. However, the harshness of our location does not take away from the effectiveness of witness. Rather, it seems to enhance it, in God’s mysterious and unexplainable way of working.
Our location is tough emotionally because of the security issues and the real physical danger we face. Explosions, fighting, kidnappings, murders, and robberies are part of life. We have security guards, security training, and security updates. Obviously safety is not the main motivating factor in our lives. We live and work among people whom God loves and who are lost and needy.
They also have security to worry about, and where do they go when they want to find safety and a refuge?
Secondly, we are in a spiritually hard place. We are in enemy territory. The majority religion has a strong hold on people, and there is little response to the good news. If there is some positive response, the enemy of our souls attacks. There can be threats to the Christian worker, with implications for his or her project and company. There can be threats against the local person who has made a profession. A local brother’s decision to change his faith might be with mixed motives of wanting help to leave the country or to have a better life. It can seem that all our work has no fruit, and discouragement and darkness prevail.
Living here is physically hard. It is a harsh environment. Our country is beautiful with breath-taking views of snowy mountains and vast barren deserts, yet the challenges of travelling and living in a developing country that lacks the facilities and infrastructure for convenient living are not in place. We would appreciate reliable electricity, clean drinking water, paved roads, responsible government, and dependable transportation. Many little things can go wrong in our daily lives and lots of energy is used in the effort it takes to live here.
It is also socially challenging because of the transience of colleagues with whom we serve and share fellowship. Many do not stay for long. When their aid or development projects are done, they leave. It can be wearing to keep saying hello and goodbye so often. Relationships and friendships can become superficial, and deep fellowship and the resulting edification of each other is hard to find.
All of these added together constitute for a life of unrelenting bombardment of feeling overwhelmed. Why stay in this place?
Yet for some reason there are many workers here who find it difficult to leave, especially if they have been here longer. Why? I think one reason is precisely because it is a hard place! It is a challenge to be here, and yet seeing how God undertakes and sustains and pours out His grace is an incredible joy. There is encouragement from the visible evidence of how our efforts in aid and in developing the country and people, helping bring them some hope in a bleak place. Things can improve, even if it is on a small scale.
Though there are seemingly unending challenges in a hard place, there are also many open doors. We serve to meet needs in a wholistic manner – physically, emotionally, spiritually and socially. At one Easter party we had for our English students, we were discussing how Easter is celebrated and why. In response to some students’ question, one of the students mentioned the Christian website in their language where they could find more information!
People are curious about foreigners and will ask questions. So we often pray for divine appointments, and God provides them. Peoples’ needs give us opportunities to listen to them and pray with them. We can share our message discreetly, in small steps, learning to be as wise as serpents and as harmless as doves. There are many times and places we can share about what God has done for us. Our testimony of “God moments” in our daily life (rather than comparing and contrasting our religious systems, like fasting or worship or sacred books) is easy to talk about with our local friends and neighbours. In our conversations we can give examples of how God has provided answers to prayer, how we are not afraid to live here, and how we keep learning about the local language and culture. These are simple things they can relate to in their life as well.
So we are targets but not like we think. We are noticed like salt and light. An example is our watchman asking us one day if in our culture husbands don’t beat their wives. Wife-beating is not uncommon in our host culture. Our character and lifestyle send a message.
It is a privilege to be unworthy servants in a hard place. We are nothing more than weak vessels with a message we are ready to share when the opportunity arises.”