JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (BP)–In the early weeks of America’s war on Saddam Hussein’s evil regime in Iraq, our citizens were urged to pray for those who bravely serve our nation through the armed forces, as well as to pray for family members left behind. This is fitting and proper; those who have volunteered to defend the freedom we enjoy indeed deserve the thanks and prayerful support of the rest of us. We should pray for those who serve — especially those on the front lines in the heat of battle.
But Southern Baptists should not forget other heroes serving around the world during this difficult time: our missionaries, and all other missionaries who proclaim the Gospel.
The seminary hymn of my alma mater, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, is “Soldiers of Christ, in Truth Arrayed.” Written by Basil Manley Jr. and sung at every convocation of the seminary since its founding in 1859, the hymn rightly likens those called into Christian service (which includes all Christians, incidentally) with those who defend their country. Rather than battling for freedom against temporal evil, however, these soldiers serve Christ by fighting for the eternal souls of human beings.
In times of war and at other times of international conflict, we are reminded of the truly heroic ministry of our missionaries. It is times like these that parents and friends of missionaries most feared when they learned their loved ones submitted to God’s will and answered the call to missionary service.
Untold numbers of Southern Baptist missionaries faithfully serve Christ in regions of the world that are extraordinarily hostile to the Gospel message. Many of these areas are dominated by Islamic governments, some of which reject the principles of religious freedom cherished and protected in the United States.
There can be no doubt that the work of our missionaries is being hindered by the war in Iraq, even as necessary as I believe it is. Indeed, our missionary martyrs of recent months demonstrate how difficult missionary service has become in some parts of the world.
Shortly before the war began, I met a missionary couple who serve in a nation where virtually all the citizens are adherents to Islam. I asked how the impending hostilities have and will affect their ministry. Their answer surprised me; they said that it makes things more difficult, but it also “opens doors.” The husband told me, “Strangely enough, it is helping our work because we can define true Christianity and be able to talk about our love for the people and how we don’t want to see people perish.”
This faithful follower of Christ talked about how his heart breaks as he thinks about his place of service in a land where God has been “robbed of His glory” because so few know Christ. Speaking of one of the major cities of that nation, he said, “I could look at the city … and say there might not be anybody at this moment in time giving God the glory and honor that’s due.” Although the work is difficult, his motivation for service is to see that God gets the glory He is due in that land, even if few others will join him and his family in that obligation.
Habakkuk 2:14 tells us that one day the missionary’s vision for his land will be realized: “For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea.”
Our missionaries are captivated by the apostle Paul’s words to the Romans: “How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? How will they believe in Him whom they have not heard? And how will they hear without a preacher? How will they preach unless they are sent? Just as it is written, ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who bring Good News of good things!'” (Romans 10:14-15).
During this time of worldwide crisis, as we pray for our soldiers in battle in Iraq (and Afghanistan), let’s not forget our soldiers of Christ in battle for the souls of human beings all over the globe. Pray for the missionaries.
James A. Smith Sr. is executive editor of Florida Baptist Witness, on the Web at www.FloridaBaptistWitness.com.