In Light of Global Terrorism, Isn’t Missions Too Risky?

In Light of Global Terrorism, Isn't Missions Too Risky?

The recent terrorist attacks in Paris have caused a lot of public debate—surrounding issues of immigration (broadly), refugees (specifically), public safety, the nature of Islam, the role of compassion and much more. In light of this, we reached out to one of our Summit missionaries working in a predominantly Muslim context to ask if he felt threatened or unsafe. His response has a lot to teach us about what it means to risk it all for Christ:

I have been thinking all morning about an answer to your question. First of all, I totally understand the response of fear. We, as people, fear what is unknown, and Islam is both very unfamiliar and very threatening as a whole right now.

But as Muslim countries go, ours is far from threatening or dangerous. We live surrounded by Muslim neighbors and friends. My family, with young children, lives miles from the nearest other foreigners, yet not once have we felt threatened. In a country where nearly everyone claims Islam, there has been absolutely no danger from religious violence. I’ve actually been more worried about my neighbors in the U.S. wanting harm for us.

To put things in perspective, in the last 15 years, the U.S. has had one major terrorist attack and a few other smaller ones (not to mention the many others that have been caught before being successful). There have also been a dozen mass shootings, everywhere from malls to elementary schools. That’s just the United States. Look at London, Paris, and numerous cities in Europe and North America—“safe” places. They’ve been hit with many targeted attacks. In that same time period, we’ve seen nothing like that—no large terrorist attacks, no school shootings.

We do have, of course, very specific security protocols in place—as all of our workers do in this part of the world. We are registered with the U.S. State Department. We get regular updates from the State about possible threats or dangers. We have personnel within our company who are tasked with keeping a good eye on the security situation. And if a threat arises—even if we feel it’s safe—we have a clear exit strategy. We are, in many ways, overly cautious.

But even with all of that said, I don’t know that this is any real reassurance. I certainly can’t promise safety—not for me, or my family, or any of my team. We don’t come to a place like this because it is safe. Honestly, we come (at least in part) because it is not. We are here, not because we are promised security or comfort—by God or by any person—but because this is where we are called to be.

The unreached of the world are unreached because they are difficult and even dangerous to reach. If you want to build bridges, you have to go where the rivers are. God may choose in his sovereignty to keep us all safe. I pray he does, and really think he will. But he may not. The only promises we are given in Scripture are that we will face suffering, we will be persecuted, we will be as sheep among wolves. We never get a promise that we get to avoid that.

No one attending a football game or concert in Paris was worried about an attack; no one going to work in New York on 9/11 thought the world was about to change; no one at the Boston Marathon thought it would be anything other than a long race. Security, even in America, is nothing more than a very expensive illusion. At least here we know.

Each of us has to choose obedience to God’s direction, regardless of the cost or consequence. That can be pretty hard to live with sometimes, but God gives strength for his task. We do all we can to stay safe, but no matter where we live, our safety is in his hands, not our protocols. The finest security in the world cannot keep you entirely safe. And the most dangerous force in the universe cannot harm a person God has determined to protect.

I live daily with the reality that I brought my family to a place that most assuredly is not “safe.” We didn’t do this for the adventure. We didn’t do it out of some sick sense of masochism. We didn’t even do it, primarily, because we love this place or this people (though we do). We came here because our Father told us to go and promised he would sustain us here. That might sound frightening. But it’s what God calls every Christian to do.

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J.D. Greear
J.D. Greear, Ph.D., is the President of the Southern Baptist Convention and pastors the Summit Church in Raleigh-Durham, NC. Tagged by Outreach magazine as one of the fastest growing churches in America, the Summit has grown in the past 8 years from 400 to over 5,000 each weekend. The Summit Church is deeply involved in global church planting, having undertaken the mission to plant 1000 churches in the next 40 years. J.D. has authored Breaking the Islam Code and the upcoming Gospel: Recovering the Power that Made Christianity Revolutionary.