Unrelated and half a world away, word came out of Sudan this week that the uneasy truce that had been in effect in that country since 2019 when President Omar al-Bashir was deposed by a military coup after thirty years of dictatorship has been suspended by the current military leaders. Concern now is that those in control of Sudan will remain in control rather than turning the country over to civilian leadership in mid-November as had been anticipated. This sort of civil unrest is sure to have a debilitating effect on evangelistic efforts in that country which had been opening up recently. One of my former students from my teaching in Africa is from the Sudan and will likely be impacted by this instability.
Speaking of Africa and on top of these stories, my son and his family experienced a robbery a week ago, while the family was at church. Thieves who must have been watching their coming and going, seized the opportunity to enter their property when they left for church and stole cash and technology, including some funds they were saving to be disbursed for an ongoing house renovation project. Thankfully, they recovered some of the personal documents that were taken the next day when the family discovered a bag had been tossed over their wall with the documents inside. But the event was unsettling to say the least.
All of these incidents point to the real uncertainty that Christian workers face around the world nearly every day. While North American Christians argue over vaccines and masks, social justice, worship, and a host of other issues, Christians around the world continue to work for gospel advance in places that are less than stable. Many countries in Africa and Asia have experienced increased poverty due to the uncertainties of the pandemic, making things like kidnapping and burglary greater possible threats to outsiders. Political unrest is ever present in this world from Afghanistan to Sudan to the very steps of the US Capitol making life increasingly dangerous, especially for Christians. None of these incidents specifically targeted believers, but Christians live in and around these places and seek to bear witness for the Lord Jesus despite the instability that is ever present. Christians experience the same instabilities that these events bring to the general population.
How should the church respond to the world and our gospel workers during these perilous times? First, we need to be aware that these co-laborers have left their homelands to take the good news of Jesus Christ to difficult places knowing full well that these decisions come with a certain amount of risk. Many of these places have diseases that the workers are unaccustomed to. They have to learn to live in environments where disease and pestilence are real possibilities. Prayer is the most urgent thing we can do for our overseas partners. Certainly, one thing that Christians should pray for regularly is for the personal safety of these gospel workers in their difficult environs. When political unrest or natural calamity adds additional burdens to the daily life of these gospel workers, greater prayer needs arise. Additionally, our gospel workers need wisdom, wisdom to know just how to respond in these difficult times. Each situation is unique and there is not a one size fits all approach to these problems. Gospel workers need divine guidance through God’s word and good counsel to determine how to best operate under these unique situations. Finally, prayer needs to be offered for the trauma that gospel workers experience during times of increased safety concerns. Gospel workers may be devastated over certain calamitous events. Likely the experience of the seventeen workers in Haiti has sent chills down the back of many gospel workers worldwide. Many labor in places where security is a genuine concern. Will they be the next to face such a threat? Should they stay and minister or leave and seek safety? There are no easy answers. Husbands are concerned for their wives and wives for their husbands especially if they travel in difficult areas. Parents are concerned for their children and children for their parents. The anxiety that these gospel workers may face is enormous and our prayer can help them carry the burden by lifting them up to the Lord. There is something comforting knowing that the church is praying for you back home.
This is part of the “holding the ropes” burden that we assume when we commission foreign workers. Financing them to get to the field is only a small part of our overall ministry to these servants. Encouraging them while they are on the field is our great privilege and burden. When my wife and I first went to serve as gospel workers in Canada, among the Ojibwe, our connectivity with those “back home” was limited to expensive telephone calls and slow mail service. Today, churches can stay in regular contact with their gospel workers through email and any number of internet-calling services. Just before I began this essay, I called my son in Zambia, via Facetime, to get his permission to tell part of his story in this essay. We talked and saw each other through this wonderful technology! What a boon for gospel advance. We just need to use this regularly to appreciate its full potential. I am aware of a missionary who visits with his sending church pastor weekly via this technology. There is just no reason not to know what is happening on the field in almost real time.
Being aware of the needs is only part of the burden we bear with our gospel workers. Looking for unique and specific ways we can increase our commitment to these workers during these specific times of need is also important. In my son’s case, churches and individuals have risen to the occasion to make up the losses experienced, including one church who specifically helped my son fix his security breach with the hopes of prohibiting this from happening in the future. Christians back home need to be aware of occasional expanding needs of their workers on the field, praying fervently for God’s grace on their lives and being prepared to offer what additional assistance may be needed in a temporary or long-term situation. I am grateful, for example, that some churches and individuals have stepped up to provide additional financial support for my son and his family during their crisis.
We live in uncertain times. Is the pandemic nearing an end? Will things get back to normal, whatever normal is? Our gospel workers need rope holders to help them carry their burdens. In recent days, those burdens have become heavier to overseas laborers I know. Let us remember to pray for our gospel workers. They need our help!