News Articles

FIRST-PERSON: Terror & turmoil, a lost world
& no-turning-back witnesses

RICHMOND, Va. (BP)–“The only thing we have to fear is fear itself….”

Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s words have been quoted more than once since the Sept. 11 attacks on America. Many people nowadays forget, however, that Roosevelt’s comments did not refer to the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941 but to the Great Depression, which had begun ravaging the nation a decade earlier.

Roosevelt challenged Americans not to succumb to the “nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.” But he also challenged the country to keep its face turned outward, meeting the needs of others also caught in the global economic crisis: “These dark days will be worth all they cost us if they teach us that our true destiny is not to be ministered unto but to minister to ourselves and to our fellow men.”

Both of those are challenges the evangelical churches of America must take to heart particularly as Americans worldwide face possible retaliation for the U.S-British strikes on Afghanistan that began Oct. 7.

It’s inspiring to see flags proudly flying from front porches and cars. It’s encouraging to see Americans crowding into churches to pray for our nation. It’s heartening to see strangers greeting each other on the street instead of mumbling into cell phones as if no one else exists. It’s particularly refreshing to see sophisticated, postmodern folks singing “God Bless America” without a hint of irony or embarrassment.

But followers of Christ need to get something straight: God has blessed America so that we can be a blessing to other nations.

For Christians, that doesn’t mean rushing back to business as usual just so we can export capitalism, or democracy, or Hollywood. It means loving, serving, and proclaiming the gospel to all people — including the people of the Middle East, of North Africa, of South and Central Asia. Including people who may hate us or fear our message. Including people who may violently oppose the preaching of Jesus Christ.

They live in some of the most unreached parts of the world, and God commands us to share the good news with them. No turning back.

Yet we are tempted to turn back, if we’re honest.

Witnesses at a congressional hearing Sept. 26 warned that a “mental health catastrophe” might be one of the unseen results of Sept. 11. Millions of Americans who watched the planes crash into the World Trade Center over and over on CNN — and heard countless warnings of new threats or attacks — might lose their sense of personal security and stability. Even in small towns and rural areas, reports National Public Radio, many people now are willing to “accept more restrictions to make their world safe.”

In such an environment, how many of us are willing to accept more risks to save our world?

A return to normal activities is helping us all. But if more attacks on Americans occur at home or abroad (and they probably will, particularly abroad) will a spirit of fear — “nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror” as Roosevelt called it — begin to pervade not only our society but our churches and our mission work? Will volunteers stay home? Will Christians refuse to send their sons and daughters to all the world as missionaries? Will we hide behind the walls of a mental Fortress America and convert advance into retreat?

This kind of spiritual isolationism cannot be allowed to develop.

In the short term, increased caution is warranted and wise. Volunteer mission trips to potentially unstable regions were canceled or postponed in the immediate aftermath of the attacks. Missionary relocations have occurred in a few highly vulnerable places; more could come.

The Southern Baptist International Mission Board, other mission agencies and thousands of mission workers in many countries are taking new security precautions. These are the new facts of life on some mission fields.

But a higher reality accompanies the precautions: The Great Commission to preach the gospel to all nations didn’t cease on Sept. 11. It remains the church’s biblical command, privilege and reason for being — regardless of the price. And there will be an increasing price, even for American Christians, who still have little understanding of the price many believers around the world pay daily for their faith.

“If we are truly on the edge, there will be casualties,” says one missionary focusing on a large unreached people group in the Middle East.

“It’s worth going into difficult areas,” says another leader. “It’s worth taking risks. Can we do any less?”

A colleague and I boarded a plane bound for a Middle Eastern nation the day before the Sept. 11 attacks. When we got there, people were just hearing about the disaster and beginning to watch TV replays. In the days that followed, virtually everyone we talked to — Muslim or Christian — spoke of their deep sorrow about the tragedy. Many sought us out on the streets and asked if we were Americans, then expressed their sympathy.

But some of the Christians there had a question: Would American believers continue to help others around the world who are putting their lives on the line for Christ?

“I think this is a sort of shaking, a warning, a calling to the church in America,” one Christian leader told us. “I think God is saying, ‘Awake, you giant of faith, and come back to your call as an example to the other nations and to the whole world.'”

Back home, I’ve seen and heard of some encouraging signs that American believers aren’t backing down. Four examples:

— The very day of the attacks, one Southern Baptist called the International Mission Board to report that God had used the event to compel him once and for all to give his life to missions.

— Two weeks later, a missionary candidate conference went on, and potential workers ranging from recent college graduates to retirees arrived on schedule to match their lives and skills with critical overseas needs.

— I called a new missionary family who flew with their two young children to their new country of service in Central Asia a week after the tragedy. Their relatives’ deep concerns “didn’t make it any easier, but we went ahead and came,” said the missionary husband and father. “We were trusting the Lord, and we weren’t going to turn back. The turmoil didn’t change our minds at all.”

— I called a church friend, a house painter who’d been planning a volunteer mission trip in October to a country near the Middle East. I wondered if he was having second thoughts.

“I prayed about it with my wife,” he said. “I’m good to go.”

God “did not give us a spirit of timidity,” wrote the great missionary and apostle Paul in 2 Timothy 1:7, “but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline.”

No turning back.
Bridges is a senior writer with the International Mission Board. (BP) photo posted in the BP Photo Library at http://www.bpnews.net. Photo title: STILL LOST.

    About the Author

  • Erich Bridges