by Lucien Accad
Christian workers in Lebanon asked this question hundreds of times.
Should a missionary stay or leave in a violent situation? This is a difficult question. The apostle Paul’s testimony (2 Cor. 11:24-26) triggers many questions in my mind about how to deal with the various dangers that arise during our ministries.
Five times I have received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. Three times I have been beaten with rods; once I was stoned. Three times I have been shipwrecked; a night and a day I have been adrift at sea; on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, dangers in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brethren ….
Suppose someone today applied to a mission board with such a record as Paul’s. Would he or she be accepted? Could Paul have avoided these dangers? Why did he not get special protection from the Lord? Did he lack wisdom?
Christian workers living in Lebanon, during 16 years of war and violence, asked themselves the question about staying or leaving hundreds of times. Before the war, which erupted in 1975, there were more than 100 evangelical missionary organizations in this one small country. One of our jokes about their proliferation in those days went like this: "This missionary came to Lebanon because while he was reading his Bible he came across the word Lebanon."
Since Lebanon is mentioned often in the Bible, wasn’t it "normal" to get a "burden" for this country? There was a lot of good feeling about our country and Christians used "Cedars of Lebanon" on their letterheads with pride.
However, today it’s quite different. Foreign missions and their missionaries have left. The very few missionaries who have stayed (fewer than 10) are sometimes here against the wishes of both their boards and their families. I heard of one mission that removed the word Lebanon from its name and letterhead. Do they believe the place is cursed? Don’t they want to be associated with us anymore?
Who decides whether to stay or leave a specific place when the circumstances get dangerous? Governments? Churches? Mission boards? Families? Individuals?
The apostle Paul did not seem to give much importance to either danger or the advice of the churches when the circumstances conflicted with what he perceived to be God’s calling and vision for him. His friends and brothers urgently appealed to him not to go to Jerusalem because of potential danger to his life (cf. Acts 21:12-16). He knew the threats were real, but the danger did not change his plans, because he was convinced about God’s plan.
Later, suffering and imprisonment reinforced his conviction. He decided to appeal to the emperor at Rome. Paul’s vision was that through all of this the gospel would be preached mightily, even in the emperor’s palace.
Today, Christians generally seem to want the blessings of their faith, while avoiding the suffering and dangers at any cost. In Lebanon, not only the foreign missionaries left (some of them against their will), but also many Lebanese Christians, their leaders and pastors. As a matter of fact, the evangelicals lost more members by emigration than did the other religious communities. I hear that’s also the case in other difficult parts of the world. Protestants and evangelicals seem to be the first to leave for better, safer places.
What will be the long-term results of such attitudes and action? How can the witness to Christ and the gospel survive without any witnesses? Also, is it not in difficulties that God’s promises are put to the test? How can we talk about faith, about God’s care and love, and prove that we really believe in God’s protection when we are the first to flee dangers?
During Lebanon’s extreme violence, many of us who stayed faced strong temptations to leave. Sometimes we felt guilty for staying when we thought about the future of our children, their education, and their security. Was it the Lord or our friends and colleagues who were leading us to emigrate?
Now that some time has elapsed, we can say with much more confidence that the safest place to be is the place of God’s will for our lives. It is no longer a simple statement of faith. We can now look back to many times when we experienced God’s mighty protection-and even his sometimes giving our children a different kind of education. In everything, we always found a living experience of God’s care and presence.
Like the rest of the Lebanese people, several times we were displaced, lost homes with furniture, and had bombs hit our home. I was nearly kidnapped several times. Once I was slightly injured in a bomb blast that deafened me for three days. Like the rest, we saw our economy collapse, the purchasing power of my salary reduced, and suffered the loss of dear friends.
What about God’s protection? It has been amazing in every way. He gave us shelter and a roof when we needed it. We never lacked food and clothing. We can repeat with confidence Paul’s words:
We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair, persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies (2 Cor. 4:8-10).
Only Christians can, and must, "carry in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies." That is why living witnesses must remain in difficult places. When put to the test, God’s power can be seen, and the people will then want to know more about him. Then our oral witness can and should take place. People who have never experienced God as their Father, Savior, and Lord will ask God’s children to share their faith and experience, and to explain what makes them different from other people.
This is why in Lebanon we have seen, as a result of Christians staying, more people turning to Jesus Christ than ever before. Despite the loss of Christians who emigrated, today we have more new believers in our churches.
We have also been blessed by discovering that faith is not a dead experience that applies only to the past. Suffering has been a source of blessing. Those of us who have been through "the fire" have also shown how Christians react to suffering and survive.
Another reason we should stay is to intercede for our countries in prayer. Our confession of sin on behalf of the whole population can stop the corruption and decay of the whole country. If we don’t intercede and confess, the land will turn into a spiritual desert.
God looks at a country, but if the Christians have fled, how can he speak to the country and transform it? If not one of his people is willing to go to such a place, is there any hope for it? Or is it time for the final judgment?
During one of Paul’s most difficult experiences, he was taken prisoner to Rome and his ship got into a severe storm. He had not chosen to be there. In fact, Paul had advised against sailing during that season (cf. Acts 27:11). However, Paul’s presence on the ship saved the lives of all the passengers. God protected their lives because of Paul’s presence (cf. Acts 27:24).
This is a very encouraging thought for those who have to share the life and experience of others in dangerous situations.
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