E-pistle January 15

A Risk-Filled Life
Thhaitie day after the massive earthquake in Haiti I received word from a friend and colleague in Western Pennsylvania that two members of the church he serves as pastor were among those unaccounted for in the aftermath of the destruction. The American church members, a doctor and his wife on a trip to visit a mission project supported by the church, had arrived in Port au Prince just hours before quake and there had been no news of them since. By yesterday the names of the two Pennsylvanians were on a list of foreigners who were safe, but not able to communicated with the outside world.  Thank God for his tender mercies.
In the 24 or so hours between hearing the initial news of grave concern and then the relief of the news of their safety, I thought a lot about this whole business of the short term mission trip. Churches like First Presbyterian in Beaver or LPC on the other side of the state sending its members, in Christ’s name, to minister to and with some of those who Christ considers to be his brothers and sisters. What do we think we are doing? So many of those places are not safe: earthquakes, hurricanes, drought and famine; crime, violence, corruption and poverty.
And, yes, a group of 18 LPC folks leave for Guatemala in two weeks. We travel to a part of the poorest country in Central America that was ravaged by floods and mudslides five years ago and which was at the epicenter of the Guatemalan civil war which ended only a dozen years ago.  It is not an altogether safe place. 
I thought about Jonathan and Kristy beginning a year in Honduras.  I thought about that March day nearly seven years ago when a group of Presbyterian pastors and elders I was leading was held up at gunpoint in the shadows of a dark alley in Favela da Ventosa, a slum in urban Brazil. What do we think we are doing, buying airline tickets, packing our bags full of medicine for a clinic and craft supplies for children, and heading off to places like Haiti, Guatemala, Honduras and Brazil?  Are we nuts or just naïve?
Maybe nuts and maybe naïve, but we are doing what God’s people have always done.  In speaking of his own life and ministry, the Apostle Paul tells the Corinthians:

Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my own countrymen, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false brothers. I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked. Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches. (2 Corinthians 11:24-28)

When Paul commends his friends Priscilla and Aquila to the Romans, he says, “They risked their lives for me,” literally “laid down their own necks." (Romans 16:3-4)
Gospel living is always risky living. Jesus pronounced a blessing on those who would be persecuted and maligned for his sake. (Matthew 5:11-12) Who do we think we are, sending our kids onto the high school or college campus every day? Are we nuts or just naïve?
For those of you with loved ones traveling to Guatemala in two weeks, please be assured that our Guatemalan friends at PLM go to extraordinary lengths to ensure our safety.  The cliché is absolutely true: the most dangerous part of the trip will be the drive to the Newark Airport. But is there a risk involved in saying “Here I am, send me?” when God calls us to a place like Guatemala? Of course there is.
Were we nuts or just naïve to think that we could follow Christ without risk?