One more week to go! Just seven (7) more days on the countdown and then we’ll be boarding the plane and heading back to Africa.
When we talk to different people about our upcoming travels we get a lot of different questions . . . “What is it like living in Africa?” . . . “Will your children speak English or learn other languages?” . . . “Do you feel ready to go back?” . . . etc
But I would say that the question we hear the most often would be: “Is it safe?”
There is so much on the news these day about the civil unrest going on in so many different countries in the world.
It is true that there is a lot of civil unrest in the country where we serve and an increasing risk with regards to international travel (and you may be comforted to know that we do have a contingency plan in place in as far as it is in our ability to plan for the unknown future).
It is also true that the location where we are going has a high risk for tropical diseases, poisonous snakes, and any number of day to day challenges and threats. And while it may be common for us to give a shrug or a passive remark in response to a concerned comment or question, this “passiveness” is not because we aren’t seriously considering these risks but rather because we have seriously considered them and have chosen to leave it completely in God’s hands.
We get a lot of questions with regards to the trials and challenges we are likely to face overseas, and we hear a lot of talk about “the good old days” and about how this world is getting darker and more dangerous every year. But when I consider the trials and challenges that we can anticipate I don’t see them as being any more difficult than what others have faced before us. In fact, I don’t see the “good old days” as being any safer. Perhaps they are on a “global scale” but not so much on a personal scale.
In the past, when missionary families were first being sent out, they didn’t use suitcases to pack their belongings in, instead, they would pack everything up in a coffin and carry it that way. The coffin was seen as a necessity to take with them, because it was almost a guarantee that at least one family member would pass away shortly after their arrival in their “new home”.
I think once again of the pioneers and their ventures out West. They literally took their families in the wilderness, to untamed country, where there would be no hospitals or doctors, no access to supplies and medicine, and no guarantee of protection from bears, wolves, snakes, or Indian raids.
I look at the lives of these missionaries and pioneers and I find myself feeling so very fortunate. Yes, we are going to Africa where there are threats of malaria, typhoid, snakes, scorpions, and even terrorists. But, oh, how fortunate we are that there is a known cure for malaria and typhoid, that we are able to get supplies and medicine, that we have access to hospitals and doctors in the case of emergencies, and that there are police and military working in our area looking out for our well-being.
Is it safe? Well, no, it’s not. But then, is anywhere in the world really safe?
I think that for many of us we are used to living in an environment that gives us the “illusion” of being safe so when we hear on the news that all these terrible things are happening around the world (and that they pose a threat to our “otherwise safe environment”) there is a tendency to panic.
But, in all honesty, none of us are really as safe as we may think. One environment is not more at risk than another. The threats may come in different forms, but the reality is, no matter where you live your life is at risk and eventually we are all going to die, there’s just no escaping that.
But it’s not something we need to fear. There is such great comfort in the realization that God is the one who determines the exact number of days we have on this earth.
I often think of the saying, “The safest place to be is in the will of God” and I really believe that to be true. God is the one who determines the outcome of our lives. He is the one who has full control of whether we live or die. At any moment of any day any one of us could pass away through a car accident, a heart attack, or any number of causes.
I know someone who devoted many years of service doing what he could to help people in the middle of a war zone. His life was “at risk” every moment of every day for several consecutive years. Later, he moved to a so called “safe environment” and soon after died of cancer.
Was it “safe” for him to be working in the war zone? At first thought we would say no, we would think it was very dangerous and very “unsafe”. And yet, he was exactly where God wanted him to be, doing exactly what God had called him to do, and God alone determines the number of days in this life. So yes, it was safe for him to work there, because God was watching over him.
I know another missionary who had a gun pointed at her and was actually shot at from close range. She told me the story herself. To this day it is not known what exactly happened to the bullet, but she was unharmed and lived to tell the story and so many other stories of God’s protection over her life.
Even in my own life, as I have lived in very many conditions that would be considered “high risk” or “dangerous”, God has proven himself over and over again to be the Almighty God who is in full control of every situation.
So is it safe for our family to be going back to Africa? Well, yes and no. We certainly don’t go looking for danger or taking unnecessary risks, but there are certainly challenges and dangers that we can expect to face – but then, isn’t that’s true of anywhere in the world?
But most importantly, we really believe that this is God’s calling and will for our family.
I am reminded of the story of Jonah and how he was afraid to go to Nineveh because the Ninevites were known to be very violent and dangerous people. What Jonah didn’t realize was that a storm at sea and a large fish were a greater threat to his life than the Ninevites ever would be. It was all a matter of his obedience to God and ultimately God’s will for his life.
I love the account of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego (Daniel 3). When the king threatens to throw them into the fiery furnace I love what they say in response . . .
“Our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of your hand, O King . . . BUT EVEN IF HE DOES NOT, we want you to know that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.” (Daniel 3:17-18; emphasis added)
When asked the question, “Is it safe?” the same is in our thoughts and on our heart . . . Our God is able to deliver us, but even if he does not, we will still follow him. Whether in life or death, we want to be obedient to God and be a witness to those around us, and that is far more important than the “feeling” or “illusion” of being safe!