Part 6: Risk and Vulnerability
You raise several questions. The only one I’m going to get to today relates to how to prepare missionaries to go overseas—what kind of vision statement or consent to danger and difficulty would we recommend? Perhaps the most practical approach would be to have a waiver more like the legal documents that we’re familiar with, but have a paragraph in the waiver refer to the missionary’s own vision statement and acceptance of risk as part of that vision statement. Then each missionary could explain what he or she hopes to accomplish, why he or she is called, and why (or whether) such a calling is worth encountering disease, violence, or other disasters.
In the 19th century, missionaries literally went overseas to die. They knew their chances of making it through very many years were not great. The African Soudan (now Nigeria) was called the White Man’s Graveyard because of the high mortality rate, mostly from diseases like malaria, but also from violence. Even if they lived a long life, travel was so expensive that they might never be able to visit home again. Some of the missionaries packed their belongings in their coffins—an interesting organizing approach. Here’s one letter written by a missionary dying of malaria at the age of 28 (one of the founders of SIM):
August 9, 1894
Written in view of my approaching end, which has often lately seemed so near but just now seems so imminent & I want to write while I have the power to do it.
Well Glory to God! He has enabled me to make a hard fight for the Soudan and although it may seem like a total failure and defeat it is not! We shall have the victory & that right speedily. I have no regret for undertaking this venture and in this manner my life has not been thrown away. My only regrets are for my poor dear mother. For her sake I would have chosen to live.
Mother Dear: And what a mother you have been. It seems I appreciate you now more than ever I did. Oh how often I have thought while lying here of your love and how I have longed to see you again in the flesh. Don’t mourn for me darling dearest mother. If the suffering was great, remember it is all over now and I think of the glory I am enjoying and rejoice that your boy “was permitted to have a hand in the redemption of the Soudan.”
Oh! How I did wish to live for your sake…..
……Goodbye dearest, till we meet at Jesus feet,
And recently, the entire Pals family, young missionaries with WorldVenture, was killed (summer of 2016) in a car accident before even reaching the field—while on their way to missionary training. “In speaking with WorldVenture President Jeff Denlinger, Jamison and Kathryne’s fathers each echoed this sentiment: ‘Though we are devastated, we are praying that God would bring many to Christ through their testimonies and this tragedy.’” 2
My point is that before we can start the details of crisis management, we need to have our theology of suffering clear. Are we ready to pick up the Cross and die? In today’s world, we don’t pack our coffins, which wouldn’t make a great checked bag, but we face bombs and active shooters. Malaria is still around, too. Despite easier communications and more convenient lives, the death rate still is 100% without fail. What do we mean when we say we will follow Christ? How sure are we of life in Him? Mrs. Gowan and Walter met again, long ago. After we get that sorted, we can start talking about the details of crisis management.
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