When global crisis hits should we put Christ’s call to “make disciples of all nations” on hold?
Since embarking on my mission career in 1990 I’ve been through a few crises, nationally, regionally and globally. Here are some examples:
1990 October: Hindu-Mulsim riots swept across India including the city where I first arrived nine months earlier. Shoot-at-sight orders were imposed for several days on anyone leaving their neighborhood. Sporadic rioting continued throughout the next two years. We were always concerned for our safety.
1991, January: Persian Gulf War began. T-shirts with Saddam Hussein’s face were selling like hotcakes in my city in India. A downturn in donations hit our organization. We were concerned about finances and safety.
1992, December: Hindu-Muslim tensions in Mumbai’s slum areas erupted into rioting that killed over 2,000 people and caused over $3 billion in damages. I left my slum in Mumbai just three months earlier. We felt fortunate to get out in time.
1999, January: An Australian missionary and his two sons are martyred in North India. Thereafter, open evangelism in India is curtailed because of the increased persecution of Christians and ministries. We were concerned about the possibility of persecution from that time onward.
Y2K: We celebrated the New Year at my in-law’s place in India with flashlights believing major disruptions of global infrastructure were imminent. We were concerned about finances and safety.
2001, 9/11: Terrorists strike America and those of us living abroad were warned we could be targeted. Our home in India was twenty feet away from a Muslim graveyard. Funerals happened weekly. I was the only American in the city and stuck out like a sore thumb! We laid low for a few days thereafter. We were concerned about finances and safety.
2002, January: India and Pakistan come close to nuclear war. All Americans are asked to leave India. Our first wheelchair distribution team from Joni and Friends is forced to cancel its trip. We were concerned about finances and safety.
2003, March: Iraq is invaded. A fundraising documentary produced by a Dutch TV station is postponed due to the war so our funding is delayed. We were concerned about finances and safety.
2008, September: Global financial crisis hits six months after we moved to Seattle to help lead our organization. We were concerned about finances for ourselves and the organization.
2012, December: Increasing persecution in India confronts our team during a village Christmas event. They are slapped around and taken in to police custody. We were concerned about our personal safety and the safety of our ministry teams, the organization, our clients, etc.
2014, May: India’s right-wing Hindu Nationalist party comes to power. We were concerned about finances and safety.
2016, October: The Indian government denied international funding permission to thousands of non-profit organizations. Many are Christian NPO’s. Our NPO’s bank accounts were briefly frozen. Compassion International in India had to shut down six months later. We were concerned about finances.
These are but a few of the times when the world around us was uncertain and we felt vulnerable to financial, social and/or religious troubles. Did we put God’s call on hold in any of these instances? No. That’s not to say we are giants of the faith! At times I think we were ignorant of the risks. At other times we just didn’t know any other way but to persevere. However, what we learned from these experiences helps us stay on course in this current time of crisis.
Here’s a few of those lessons.
1. Stay true to your calling. Jesus said, “In this world you will have troubles” (John 16:33). Christians can’t run away from troubles. We also can’t run away from the calling Jesus has given us to make disciples of all nations in the midst of those troubles. Course corrections may be required but don’t withdraw from your calling based on the mere threat of troubles. If your calling is to go, keep going. If it’s to give, keep giving. If it’s to love, keep loving. As you stay true to your calling, remember the words and life of Jim Elliott, “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot lose.” Those words prompted Elliott and his team to reach an uncontacted tribe in the Amazon, in spite of the dangers. Sadly, he was martyred at 28 by the very tribe he was seeking to help. Yet his faithfulness led to the transformation of the tribe and a testimony that remains in our hearts today.
2. Pray. Paul challenged the Philippian Church, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:8). You need a level head in times of trouble. When you cast your cares on the Father (1 Peter 5:7) He will guard your heart and mind against anxiety and keep you focused on navigating through your troubles in a way that brings Him glory and provides you the abundant life He promised (John 10:10). You will also receive comfort in ways that help you be a comforter to others during troubling times (2 Corinthians 1:3-4).
3. Listen & Obey. Read Psalm 119:105-112. Hear what it says. In David’s troubles he declared that God’s word was a lamp to his feet and a light to his path. This is true for us as well. God’s word comes through His Scriptures, through His still small voice we hear in prayer, through the counsel of others, through signs in everyday life, through our worship with others. As you navigate these troubles listen to what the Holy Spirit is speaking to you. But don’t stop there. Obey what He’s telling you to do. James says, “Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says” (James 1:22).
4. Connect with fellow believers. The author of Hebrews says, “And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching” (Hebrews 10:24-25). The original recipients of the “Letter to the Hebrews” were persecuted believers. They were experiencing troubles that came from being harassed, maligned and mistreated for their faith. Such harassment makes you want to throw in the towel and give up on God’s calling. Hebrews encourages us to overcome this by intentionally connecting with other believers. During these times of “social distancing” we may need to be creative with connecting but don’t give up on it! Connecting with others believers, sharing your challenges, praying together, encouraging one another…these are crucial to keeping you on course with all God wants you to do.
In conclusion, this is not the time to give up on Christ’s call to reach the nations. But if you are going to stay true to that call during these troubling times you need to ramp up your prayer life, be attentive to the Holy Spirit, obey His direction, and take proactive steps to connect with fellow believers for mutual encouragement. We’ve found that doing these things will help you navigate through these and any troubling times in ways that God’s Great Commission continues to be fulfilled through you.