Today we were privileged to hear from a missionary with 30 years in the field of Ivory Coast and Senegal. I have a special heart for missionaries, perhaps because i have always felt I have been called to go, leave all that is familiar and love people where God sends me. Perhaps because missionaries are willing to forgo the privilege and comfort of america for another culture, different ways, different food, and a mission field that needs to know the love of God. So when missionaries come to speak my heart is waiting to hear what God wants to say.
Today the sermon was about risk theology…. that is to say – taking the time to count the cost of the calling, weighing out the pros and the cons, and agreeing with God that the safest place is in the center of where he has called you to be. He told of a number of stories of violence, of assaults, and car-jackings in the Ivory Coast, of beatings, and of a rising sense of fear. All this going on while he and his wife were raising 4 daughters. They gathered as a family and talked about the rising fears, the risks of their mission field and settled their decision to remain committed, obedient, yielded in the place God has them. As a family they chose to remain where God had called them.
Funny thing is that Steve and I were challenged with the thought of how firm our commitment to God is by an old evangelist who was imprisoned in Romania by the communist government of the 1980s. The Romanian government actually expelled him from that country because of the impact God was making through his life. We met him on a warm summer day at Wheaton College, and overlooked him, thinking that his appearance and speech were not anything of note. He challenged us to pray for Romania, and to pray for the world because the church triumphant is a church being persecution and in the crucible of oppression and martyrdom the church grows strong. We did not realize who we were speaking with until the last speaker at the conference was introduced. It was this odd speaking man named Josef Tsan, evangelist and prayer warrior from Romania. His message that warm summer afternoon was a hard one… it was a call to live for God no matter what the cost, laying aside our own life, and yielding it to Christ. Would this be life changing? Absolutely! Would it be uncomfortable? Yes! Would it mean being willing to accept God’s direction and wisdom above our own? Yes! And would it mean death to self, death to personal gain, and possibly death for our faith? Yes! I remember clearly that challenge – “As you grow in the grace and knowledge of Jesus Christ are you brave enough to surrender this life to Him, accepting the role, calling and direction Jesus asks of you? Are you willing to take the risk, knowing the character and wisdom of our God? Will you follow Him at any cost?”
It was a hot day, and a long drive home from Wheaton College, outside Chicago. The five of us drove home to Cleveland almost silenced, speechless, not ready to give voice to the powerful challenge layed out for us by Joseph Tsan. Pre 9/11 America was still safe, the voices of those who oppose faith had not been so vocal, or so powerful then. We could understand Romania, with an evil dictator who butchered people at will, and sent brigades of guards to kill at will. But we could freely gather to worship and pray. We were free to assemble in our homes, or on the town square. It haunted us that our brothers and sisters around the globe were the target of evil threats and destruction for their faith in Jesus. It seemed so far away, so distant from our comfortable American homes yet his words hung as a reminder that the deep call of Christianity is to lay our lives down and yield them to Christ.
Flash forward 25 years and both Steve and I have watched the climate toward Christianity change. There is a growing willingness to embrace the darkness, to seek answers anywhere but with Jesus. And I must admit in our own lives until 3 years ago we were rather complacent surrounding ourselves with the trappings of this life… yet we never forgot Joseph’s challenge… will you die to yourself and live for Jesus? We remained faithful to bible reading , and prayer, and discipleship, but have we really died to self?
And it was today that I understood how important our financial reversal was… it was God’s opportunity to refocus our lives, strip away all that held us from pursuing him, release us to serve him more. Yes, i think that somewhere in the summer of 1989 at Wheaton College God called us to be willing to die to self, to follow him with our whole heart. I found myself thanking God for the second chance to say yes today, and to stand and yield myself again to his service. I have watched the mighty hand of God lead us through those desperate times of no job, low finances, and the soul crushing rejection for employment. Through each wave of struggle Jesus has seen us through… He has made a way when there was no way, opened doors we never knew existed, and provided our every need. If he could take care of us through these times, how good is his character. How wonderful is His wisdom, and How true is his word.
So today, as we listened to the missionary speak of his theology of risk I can tell you that everything in my soul said “Yes Lord, I can trust you with all that I am… it is yours. I will release my grip on my life, and just ask you to lead me… i will follow. Yes, Lord, I will die to myself, to my control of this life, and yes, I want to be used of you no matter the cost…. for in your presence is fullness of joy, and at your right hand are pleasures forever more. (psalm 16:11-12)
As he gave the challenge – if you have adopted a risk theology, and want to respond, want to be extreme for God please stand to your feet… I could not stand up fast enough.
So this is my prayer – Lord you know the decision we made together today. I ask that you lead and guide, and keep my focus always on you. May it be so. Amen