By Bill Webb
Our page 1 story in this issue deals with challenges of doing missions — particularly overseas missions — in a world that is certainly complex and often hostile. Hostility may be because a missionary is a cultural or racial outsider, but more often it is rooted in hostility toward a religion or faith that is different. The coverage, of course, focuses on Baptist missions, particularly Southern Baptist Convention and Cooperative Baptist Fellowship missions.
The questions are significant: How should a missionary function in a hostile environment? When is it ethically permissible to hide one’s identity as a missionary while in a host country? Or is it ever permissible? Are there any ethical limits on trying to reach people for Christ? Is it alright to smuggle Bibles into countries where that practice is illegal, for instance?
If the answers were clear-cut, there would be no reason for the cover story in this issue. The struggle is evident in the responses of current and former missions personnel, perhaps all of them among the most passionate witnesses for Christ that one is likely to find.
There are some threads that seem to run through the various responses:
• Avoid deception. The integrity of a Christian witness simply must not be compromised. When any Christian worker is caught in deception, it produces a rippling affect. The worker might face consequences, but his or her missions colleagues are at risk, too. Even worse, local Christians become suspect and might also face consequences.
Missionaries — whether career or volunteer — must always seek to do what is right, as hard as any particular decision may seem to be.
• Deliver as promised. There are places where Christians cannot enter a country as missionaries but may be welcomed because they are teachers, agriculturalists, business professionals, physicians or any one of several other professions. These people by their outstanding service minister as Christ and usually find others willing to know what — or who — motivates them to self-giving service.
Those who are familiar at all with Baptist missions could likely rattle off the names of a few of these people. A missionary with a fake business card would be in a poor position to deliver as promised.
• Count the cost. Being a Christian can be risky, and being a Christian in a missions setting can be dangerous. Virtually every person who accepts a missions assignment must deal with the risk potential. In commissioning services, missions leaders inevitably issue a last-chance reminder that serving Christ in another country can be dangerous to the missionaries and their families.
• Do not abuse the opportunity to serve. Missionaries don’t spy for their home country, nor do they take advantage of ways to profit by, for instance, exchanging currency on the black market. It is not unusual for missionaries to be accused of being spies. That probably happens to people from other countries who come to America as missionaries, too. Mission-sending agencies have resisted that, even when some in government push for it in times of international intrigue.
• Go by the rules. Going by the rules may mean that meaningful ministry takes more time that it might by skirting the laws. It might mean that a gospel witness to a particular person is delayed. It may mean that reports to the missions agency back home are not as robust as they might otherwise be. Any tension between respecting the laws of a host country and particular evangelistic must be carefully considered. Missions is almost always a bold enterprise, but it rarely is effective when practiced recklessly.
• When in doubt, just ask, “What would Jesus do?” Ultimately, that is the question mission boards, missionary training programs and missionaries must raise in times of complexity as well as in places of hostility. And the entities with which most of our readers are aware seek that standard. It is Jesus’ story that missionaries seek to communicate, after all. And it is Jesus’ way in which followers walk and to which they call unbelievers.
There is no recorded case of Jesus as a deceiver. In fact, that is a term Jesus used for his spiritual adversary.
Jesus always delivered when he came in contact with believers and unbelievers. He left no broken promises in His wake.
Jesus was willing to count the cost — and to pay the price for faithfulness.
Jesus never abused his position as the Son of God, although he was tempted to do so.
Jesus did not disrespect the rules; the Bible said that He came to fulfill the law. Still, he was willing to stand against mis-guided or selfish interpretations of the law.
Christ is the model for all things good, and He is the standard for ethical behavior in every experience of life. He is courage personified and worthy of missionary devotion.