Where Christ is not known

Taking part in God’s mission has always seemed to me to the most exciting adventure that there is – so when I was asked to write an article on the sacrifices we’ve made I initially missed the point. What sacrifices? Have we missed out on much that’s worthwhile? Any losses we’ve experienced have been massively compensated for by the joy of adventuring with God and seeing His Kingdom coming.

My adventure started the first time I read through the Bible as a new Christian teenager. I remember resonating with Paul’s desire: “It has always been my ambition to preach the gospel where Christ was not known, so that I would not be building on someone else’s foundation” then “those who were not told about him will see and those who have not heard will understand.” (Ro 15:20-21). And when it came to choose a country in which to serve, I deliberately chose the place that was the poorest and the most overtly hostile to the gospel: home to the world’s most wanted terrorist, reeling from civil war, site of attacks on US facilities and the place where nuns had been shot in the street – killed just for being Christians. Shortly before our first visit two colleagues narrowly escaped a bomb planted just outside their flat. They got up from breakfast and minutes later their kitchen wall was blown in.

Why go to such a place?

Paul would say… “How can they believe in the One of whom they have not heard?” “Christ’s love compels us.” “It has always been my ambition…”. For me, to disobey His leading in my life seemed less safe than walking in His protection. I set off (with my wife and one-year-old) as soon as I was qualified.

The strange thing about living in chaos is that you get used to it. Three months after we arrived, three missionaries were gunned down in the hospital that we’d been planning to work in the following week. Six months in, the war in Iraq started and foreigners in our country were advised to leave. Over the years there co-workers were kidnapped – some released, others not. Neighbours died in bizarre circumstances – the value of life seemed so low to the locals. Embassies sent out warnings of terrorist plots – “wars and rumours of wars”. We felt threatened occasionally, but had an enduring sense of peace.

In time, we moved from the relative ‘ease’ of the capital to a city of 400,000 with virtually no witness. We had a real sense of calling and were completely open about our faith. I shared the message of God’s love as much as I could. I prayed for the sick, went to the homes of Islamic missionaries and invited seekers into my home.

Some were fascinated. Nicodemus-esque, a local lawyer came to my home several times by night. He was one of the first to come to Christ and introduced me to several other young men that wanted to hear about God’s love. The last time I saw him he had led his family to the Lord and had a house church of about twenty individuals.

In the meantime, other neighbours complained to the Secret Police. Soon the Minister of Health and the Deputy Prime Minister were informed of our ‘activities’. They didn’t accuse us of breaking the law but told us it would be unsafe for us to stay there because we’d aroused local emotions. They said the Islamists would take matters into their own hands if the government wasn’t seen to act so they ordered us out of town.

Up until that point we had not felt threatened but that changed at 4am one morning, when an explosive device was thrown over our wall. I was shaken awake by two loud bangs and rushed into my children’s bedrooms to make sure they were still intact. My first thought was about the couple whose kitchen wall had been blown in 8 years ago. Thank God, the children (and the house) were fine. The devices were improvised bangers: all bark and no bite, designed to terror-ise.

Even then, I didn’t want to go. I wrestled with God about staying but instead He led me to the book of Acts where Paul repeatedly got kicked out of every town he went to. He’d move on – and God would use him in each new place. I complied. We packed up and relocated to the capital. And I’d still be there now if they’d let me stay. We lingered for 3 more months trying to get permission to start another project, but the government made it quite clear that we had to go.

I’m not a hero. Romans 15:20 isn’t everyone’s calling, but it is mine. God has used me to help start three house-churches but the main adventure that God has taken me on has been personal. Mission has been His tool to craft intimacy, dependence, faith, joy and excitement into me. To me these far outweigh anything I’ve sacrificed. The beatitudes are true: we really are blessed (“happy”) when we imitate Jesus, no matter what the sacrifice!