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Missionaries see God working in hearts of friends & strangers

RICHMOND, Va. (BP)–Though the attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon on Sept. 11 shocked and stunned Southern Baptist missionaries all over the world, they report that God is at work in hearts all around them because of the crisis.

They also ask Southern Baptists to pray that God would use the calamity to awaken Christians to the urgent need to take the good news of God’s love to all the world’s peoples.

“Just like you, I’m shocked, appalled and saddened by the events that took place yesterday morning at the World Trade Center and Pentagon,” wrote Philip Johnson, a Southern Baptist missionary in Managua, Nicaragua, on Sept. 12. “Words cannot express my feelings adequately.

“As this drama unfolded before us [on television], we felt drawn to pray for our nation, it’s leaders, our churches and missionaries around the world. We knelt on the floor … and poured out our hearts to the Lord.”

Other missionaries found it hard to absorb the reality of what was happening.

“As for me, it doesn’t seem real. I can sit here and watch CNN all I want, but … the video that comes through the set seems like a movie that I’ve seen before,” wrote Chris Turner, a missionary in Panama. “With the non-stop coverage, it is like a movie that never ends. Being so far away, it is difficult to grasp the magnitude of the lives lost, the destruction, the anger.”

A missionary in The Last Frontier added: “We get tidbits on the Web but no real voices, no tears, no pain, no anger…. I feel ashamed to be so disconnected from country, victims and heroes. I have mourned, shed tears and prayed.”


Southern Baptist workers were deeply moved, however, by what one missionary called “the incredible outpouring of grief, concern and solidarity toward Americans.”

“Across the street [from the U.S. embassy] were people who had gathered to lay flowers around the young trees in the sidewalk,” wrote Monte and Janet Erwin, missionaries in Riga, Latvia. “Many were kneeling and lighting candles.

“I was drawn to one young man (about college age) who was kneeling and holding a candle, with tears running down his face. I told him I was an American and I was moved by his compassion and the compassion of so many who had laid flowers and candles, and I thanked him. He immediately broke apart and embraced me, laying his head on my shoulder and weeping. I couldn’t help but shed tears myself.

“As I entered the consulate’s section of the embassy, the guard handed me the telephone. It was a Latvian voice on the other end who said he had watched from an upstairs window and thanked me for the moment he had just seen out on the street. I knew immediately that Latvians and Russians stood with us in our grief.”


One missionary was struck by the intensity with which believers in Lima, Peru, prayed for America.

“About eight hours after the attacks on New York City and Washington, the National Prayer Movement of Lima, composed of evangelical leaders and church members from many denominations, gathered in Lima, as they do every Tuesday for a time of concerted prayer,” wrote Randal Whittall. “In light of the day’s events, the organizers invited me to bring a brief message as a representative of all American missionaries in Peru.

“I read from Psalm 103, seeking to remind us all that the measure of our faith was not how well we honored God in the calm, but if, like David, we could stand in the face of adversity and still cry out, ‘Bless the Lord, O my soul.’

“What followed was a time of intense intercessory prayer on the part of hundreds of Peruvian Christians. They lifted their voices to God on behalf of the United States and her leadership, for those families affected by the tragedy, and begged God to bring repentance and life-changing salvation to those responsible for such acts of violence.

“It was a truly moving experience to stand in the presence of those for whom American Christians have prayed for many years, and now to hear the favor returned in our hour of need.”


As news of the attacks spread, messages and demonstrations of concern immediately began to pour in to Southern Baptist missions leaders.

Alan Phua, acting executive director of the Singapore Baptist Convention, wrote to say that Baptists in that city were “deeply shocked at the news … and grieve at the tragic loss of innocent lives. [We] share with you and the people of the United States the deep sense of anguish and grief, and offer our deepest condolences to the families of those who have lost their loved ones. … May the peace of God which surpasses all understanding guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.”

“We feel helpless in face of such grief and distress,” wrote Etienne Lhermenault, general secretary of the Federation of Evangelical Baptist Churches in France. “[We] give thanks that in Jesus Christ we have a loving Shepherd to understand our suffering, a Comforter to soothe our hearts and a Sovereign to bring good out of evil.”

“We are faced here with nothing less than a diabolic act, a tragic loss of life, tremendous damage and destruction, immense suffering,” wrote Habib Badr, pastor of National Evangelical Church in Beirut, Lebanon. “And yet we as Christians, especially Christians in the Middle East, are a people of hope, faith and love, we are a people of life and resurrection.

“We urge you, our fellow Christians, to hold steadfast to the truth that Jesus Christ is the Lord of life and of death, that Jesus Christ shall conquer over all and that Jesus Christ is the Savior of the world, the One who put down his life for our sake…. This is the very essence of our hope.”


Southern Baptist missionaries were amazed at the way people — even complete strangers — reached out to them.

“I just got off the phone with a Brazilian pastor that I’ve never met,” wrote missionary Jeff Renard from Niteroi, Brazil. “He shared that he was hurting along with us, that he was grateful for the American missionary presence here in Brazil. He said that it was because of American missionaries that he now has Christ as [his] personal Lord and Savior.

“He then touched my heart even more by praying for me. He lifted America up before our Lord, he lifted up those who have lost loved ones or are without certainty of where their loved ones are, he prayed for our country’s leadership and specifically he prayed for me and my family.

“Here is a man who’s never met me, but knows that we are far from home, hurting and struggling to deal with this situation as best as we can.”

A Southern Baptist worker in Central Asia wrote: “I’ve received reports from several of our workers that nationals are responding to this crisis in the U.S. with great sympathy and support. Our workers have received many calls from their national friends and even neighbors they don’t know very well, expressing grief and condolences for what is happened here Tuesday. Many nationals have placed flowers at the U.S. embassies throughout Central Asia as a way of expressing their sympathy.

“Though Central Asia is a majority Muslim area of the world, by far the greater number of nationals in Central Asia are as afraid of fundamentalist Islamic beliefs and behaviors as we Americans are, and they are very sympathetic to our current situation.”

A Southern Baptist tourist in Nepal reported that the Nepalese were extremely sympathetic and caring toward Americans in the group. Nepalis themselves were devastated at the news their royal family had died in a murder-suicide this past June.

The day of the attacks, a Christian couple in Australia wrote to Southern Baptists they had met during the 2000 Olympics outreach in Sydney: “We want to say that we are kneeling with you all in prayer. There have been many tears here today. People at work have just been very sad today, like a national grieving. People drove to work in a very subdued manner this morning. Ungodliness is evil and evilness leads to madness. This is madness.”

Another Southern Baptist worker in The Last Frontier reported: “We’ve had nothing but an outpouring of sympathy, shock and well wishes from our Muslim friends and neighbors. We’ve gotten phone calls from many of them, just expressing their sympathy and asking if any of our relatives or friends were personally affected.

“I’ve been amazed at how personally many have taken it. I thought they would just think, ‘Oh, that’s half a world away,’ and brush it off. Many have expressed their shock and disbelief that something like that could happen.

“One neighbor came over tonight and said she had wanted to come over to see how I was doing, but she’d been crying for two days and so she didn’t venture out. Others have said they feel the pain because they too have recently gone through a war.

“It is such a blessing for me to see that those we have been building relationships with really do consider our relationships close and caring. Before this, I really wasn’t so sure of that.”


The massive news coverage the attacks have received around the world created many opportunities for witness, missionaries reported.

From Ecuador, missionary Robert Mulkey wrote: “After the attack Tuesday morning, I went to the bank. The guard asked me what I thought and I was able to share some with him about how we need to turn to God. A man in line was listening also. Then I went to a small store and the owner asked me about it and I spent almost an hour sharing from God’s Word with him.”

From Thailand, missionary John Gibson reported: “It is amazing the outpouring of grief and condolences from our Thai colleagues. Many have called to express their grief. Several have expressed concern over our personal safety. I assured them we are in good hands here in Thailand.

“I was even more impressed at their disgust and disbelief of the behavior of some groups [who were] expressing glee over the tragedy. That is so very disgusting to the Thai people and offered a point of testimony to the love of the one true God and how we should act with his love within us. I expect many more opportunities now to share about the saving grace of God and his mercy for us here in Thailand.”

Lynne Flanary, a missionary in Fukuoka, Japan, said she saw God at work in an amazing way because of the crisis.

“The next morning our phone was ringing with calls to check on us,” she wrote. “I teach an English/Bible class on Wednesday mornings, but I did not cancel since presenting the gospel is our main purpose. Mourning would have to wait. But as the students filed in, despite the language barrier, they managed to encourage and comfort us, sympathizing with our feelings of loss and shock. We decided we would conclude the lesson with a special prayer time in honor of our country and those who had lost loved ones.

“The scene that followed next was one only the Lord could orchestrate. Since my class is made up of 16 nonbelievers and only two believers, it is not normal practice for the majority of them to participate in praying to God. The main religion here is Buddhism mixed with Shintoism, yet many pray to their ancestors or believe in no God at all.

“My heart was overwhelmed as I watched every student bow their heads with true conviction, some with great emotion and tears — this meant a lot since most Japanese do not show their emotion openly. As the prayer continued, all in the room were moved with compassion. I even noticed a few were on their knees. Though most Japanese usually sit on the floor with their knees bent, it was the posture of reverence, the clasped hands, the gentle weeping that touched me so deeply.

“The Holy Spirit was present and I believe each person had a personal experience, maybe feeling the Lord’s presence for the very first time. This was truly a bonding time and it is our prayer that the Lord will continue to soften their hearts and reveal himself to each one.

“We are using this time of great turmoil to show the Japanese people that there is only one way to peace … and his name is Jesus. Out of the ashes of the burned buildings and charred ruins there is the hope that many will come to Christ.”
(BP) photos posted in the BP Photo Library at http://www.bpnews.net. Photo titles: HALF-STAFF, EMBASSY IN PANAMA CITY and SHOW OF SUPPORT.

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  • Mark Kelly