Most missionaries are not scared of death, at least not substantially. We have weighed the risks. We chose to become missionaries even though there might be terrorists not far away and we live in a region where nearly invisible bugs can bite you without you knowing and deliver an illness that kills more people in the world than any other. Early missionaries packed their belongings in coffins, and it is not surprising to me that ominous warnings like “You will be eaten by cannibals” did not keep men like John Patton off the field. Why? It is simple really, we believe that the Gospel is worth more than our lives. And becoming a Christian means that we have laid down our lives for the service to the cross.
Threat of physical harm and death do not keep missionaries off the field, but there is something that does. I have heard it from the mouths of Americans unwilling to consider missions, and ringing in my head these last few weeks: my kids could die. This last week I was bent over my daughter on the floor of my house, laying in a pool of her own blood. I was trying desperately to get the bleeding to stop, but it just kept coming. And I knew there was no ER and I felt lost and afraid. If you have followed the Zoey Saga, you know that we were able to find a solution, and in fact, it was not as serious as I had thought. Two stitches placed by expert hands in a far away hospital stopped the blood and Zoey is doing fine. But sitting in my house, 13 hours away from that hospital, I knew that she could die and that it would be because of my choice.
That is when the thoughts go through your head. When you realize that you chose to risk your life for the Gospel, but Zoey did not. As far as I can tell she is not even a believer, she does not even understand the value of the Gospel. And death for her might mean eternal separation from God. And I was afraid.
Mighty David and Fear
I have very fond memories of my father talking to me about David and his mighty men as a child. Stories of mighty acts of valor, enemies defeated, and undeniable victory. This is the image that I have of my namesake, a great fighter among great fighters. The kind of man who stood bent over his friends as they died in pools of blood. And I imagined him sad, but unflinching, kind of a God-fearing Jack Bauer. So I am a bit surprised when I read something that David wrote in Psalm 56:
“When I am afraid I put my trust in you. In God whose word I praise, in God I trust; I shall not be afraid. What can flesh do to me?” Psalm 56:3-4
Before, I had always thought of a little girl scared by a storm when I thought of this verse. But what we actually see here is a godly warrior, who had been seized by his enemies the Philistines and he was afraid. Maybe he was afraid of death. He certainly did not have all the revelation that we have about future hope in eternal life. Maybe it was torture, maybe he was afraid for his men.
Where did his thoughts turn in that moment? Was he hoping in an ingenious escape plan? Did he trust his mighty men to overpower the guards and pursue violent revenge? No, that is not what we see here. When David was afraid, he put his trust in God. He says here, “What can flesh do to me?” I can think of a lot of things. I just read recently that the Boko Haram were burning children alive in Nigeria. Sounds pretty bad to me. But because of his faith in God, I believe that David thought of torture and violent death as what Paul calls “light and momentary affliction” (2 Corinthians 4:17) not worthy of being compared to the glory that we will one day see.
I see myself in a similar situation as David. There may be some debate about this, but I think that America is pretty tough. We have a big army and are generally not afraid to use it. When I am at home, I feel like David surrounded by his mighty men. If I was to determine that I could not live in Cameroon due to my fear for my children, by default I would return to the States. In doing so, I would reveal that I am putting my trust in the wrong place. I would be trusting in a safer country and not in God.
Just as David did not say, “When I am afraid I will trust in my mighty men,” I cannot say, “When I am afraid I will trust in the United States of America.” David is calling me not to return to my “safe zone,” but to trust in God. David thought he was worthy of trust, will I?
Trusting a God Who Did Not Spare His Son
God has a son, a son that he loves. In fact, the love that we have for our children is only a foggy mirror reflection of the love that he has for his son. He has loved his son from before there was time. Multiple times he lit up the sky when his son was on this earth to say “This is my beloved son, in whom I am well pleased.” God loves Jesus and yet, he led him to his death. Isaiah even tells us, “It was the will of God to crush him” (53:10). God the Father did not just “allow” it, or stand by and watch it. It was God’s will that his own son be crushed. Of course, it was not for no purpose. “He was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities” (53:5). God crushed his son for love.
The truth is I trust a God who killed his son. I trust a God who did NOT prioritize the physical safety of his child. Instead he willingly lead him to death for a greater cause. I do not want my kids to die. We make them wear long sleeve shirts and bug spray to avoid mosquito bites. They are pretty much always within our sight and they have been trained to look out for one another and alert their parents if they see danger. I do not treat the physical safety of my children casually. But I believe (and I am raising my children to believe) that there are more important things than their lives. And for me to believe that, and for them to believe that, we must trust God. Trust him when he says our affliction is light and momentary. Trust him when he says that all things will work together for our good. Trust him when he says his Gospel is worth more than our life. Trust him when he says that we ought to love him more than we love our children.
This is a choice that missionary parents make. It is a choice not to be controlled by fear. It is a choice to trust. Not to trust that God will take care of everything, and everything will be ok. We have no promise of that. But it is a choice to believe that God is good, even when (especially when) everything is NOT ok. It is a choice to believe that in the face of danger and death, we have nothing to fear.
When I am afraid, I choose to trust.
“O Lord my God, in you do I take refuge;
save me from all my pursuers and deliver me”