(I have some friends who serve as overseas workers in the Middle East. We have had some conversation in the past about how the church talks about safety and mission and what the balance is of those things. She agreed to write a guest post for me and I was challenged. I hope you will be too.)
“Is it safe?” It’s the inevitable question that hangs in the air and is verbalized within the first five minutes of any conversation we have with our fellow Americans about our living in the Middle East. When my husband and I first moved to this part of the world, over ten years ago, we would often tell others that, “the safest place we can be is in the will of God.” While the sentiment is nice, we’ve come to realize that it’s not entirely biblical. The question our friends are asking is undoubtedly one of physical safety, not eternal security, and there is simply no guarantee of physical safety in this broken world. Yet we as Americans have wholeheartedly bought into the false gospel of self-preservation—and it is wrecking the Church.
If those in God’s will were to be, without exception, physically protected, why do we not see this with his most avid followers, those of the early church in Acts? Why have there been martyrs? Have those brave men and women been outside of the will of God? One would have a difficult time making such a case. The command was not, “Go therefore and keep yourself and your family safe, …and if possible make disciples of all nations.” Nor was it the reverse: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, and be sure to keep yourself and your family safe.” Safety isn’t even a footnote in the great commission given by our Lord.
It is recorded in Matthew’s gospel that Jesus told his disciples, “I am sending you out as sheep among wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.” Too often, I’ve heard Christians using the latter part of this verse, “be wise as serpents,” in order to defend a Christianity that fails to go out into the world. We move to the safest neighborhoods in the safest cities, in the safest country—all in the name of wisdom. But, in fact, we are neglecting that Jesus says that he is sending us OUT. This verse carries a tone of advance rather than one of retreat that would call us to hole up in our homes and lock the doors. We are to go into all the world. And while he may, in fact, be sending us to a safe neighborhood or a safe country, never should we go to those places as a response to fear of the alternative. Motivation is of the utmost importance and as followers of Christ, we should be motivated by his purposes.
There are those who consider us crazy at best and abusers at worst for bringing our children to a relatively volatile part of the world. When everyone seems to be running from the flames of the Middle East, we’re walking straight into it. I can understand that it might be seen as insane if our choices are viewed through a lens of self-preservation. It doesn’t make any sense when the filter through which one views the world is “safety at any cost,” but our family is making every decision on the foundation of “Christ’s kingdom at any cost.” We must die to the lie of self-preservation in order to fully live for the one true King. Nowhere in Scripture does God encourage a true believer to choose safety over kingdom growth— or even the safety of our own family.
That is not to say we don’t care for and seek to protect the heart, mind, and bodies of our three precious children—but we also refuse to make them idols that keep us from going to the most unreached parts of the world. How can we show our children what it means to truly follow God if we are too busy making sure they have the most of everything in life? Who exactly are we teaching them to worship? Themselves? Does that mean that our children might suffer? Yes. They likely will in some ways. Their education will likely suffer. They’ll miss out on most things that I grew up enjoying. They will never understand what it means to grow up near family—even for the holidays. They’ve been exposed to and have had to process refugees, militias, and and conflict zones even before they’ve learned to read. But— they will have a deep understanding of what it means to be the suffering Church.
We, the American Church, have lost our comprehension of the beauty of suffering and replaced it with our gospel of self-preservation. Suffering is part of being the Church. It always has been and it always will be until all is fully restored. Our children will understand what it means to set aside many of our own desires so that one more person will get to hear the Good News. Even at young ages, they understand that they too are diligently studying the very difficult language of Arabic so that they can share Christ’s love with someone who has never heard it. Our children will grow up fully understanding what it means for God to step down into the earth and sacrifice himself for our sake, because they too will be stepping into new territory and making daily sacrifices so that men and women of the Arab World might be a part of the glorious kingdom.
What hope does the world have if the Church closes its doors and succumbs to the fears of the world? What message are we sending? Is my earthly life really more important than another’s eternal life? What exactly are we trying to protect ourselves from anyway? Loss of earthly life? What degree of importance does the earthly life hold? When we embrace the gospel of self-preservation, we miss the point of the Gospel. It was God himself who came down, out of the security of his divinity to become human in order to sacrifice himself for our sake. This is the gospel. Do we truly believe it? We can’t just tell God that we believe His message. If we truly believe it, it will pour out of us. Rather than being a mere cerebral understanding, our confidence in the gospel should be exhibited through our behavior, our choices, and how we approach and interact with the world .
Does that mean you should quit your job and move to the Middle East? Maybe. But I would suggest that you begin with self-reflection. Allow the Lord to reveal areas in your life that are ruled by fear. Let him challenge you and gently push you into something new and perhaps something scary. Ask yourself difficult questions. “Am I missing an opportunity to share the gospel with someone because I’m too busy clinging to the comfortable?” “Do I believe that my physical safety is more important than the eternal life of those who are outside of my family, my community, my country?” Allow the Holy Spirit to peruse your heart, cleanse it, and prioritize his kingdom in your life— not just today, but every day. Because we can’t afford to be a Church led by fear and self-preservation. We have the call of the Living God on our lives to go into all the world and make disciples— may we do it well, friends.