As I write this, I am at a conference for “at-risk missionaries” and am crying, having just heard a missionary share how he was forced to leave Pakistan for security reasons. He wept as he shared the news that two suicide bombers entered the church he left behind and blew up themselves up along with over 100 Pakistani Christians who were worshipping inside. Fifty or so fellow missionaries and staff grieved and gathered around our missionary friend to pray for our Pakistani brothers and sisters who suffered this shattering loss. I couldn’t help ponder…should I pray for justice or mercy?
Another missionary who converted from Islam rose and stood to ask us to forgive those from the Muslim world who desperately need to know Christ and His forgiveness. He pleaded, “Forgive my people for they know not what they do.”
The gathering that I am a part of is in Switzerland and is called “Traction.” Traction is for at-risk missionaries with participants from Mongolia, Zimbabwe, Cameroon, China, Pakistan, Thailand, Laos, Northern Vietnam, Tajikistan, Tunisia, Turkey, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Nigeria, and other such places. We are walking them through some of the challenges they face spiritually, relationally and strategically. It is pretty intense but fruitful.
The Traction conference is led by Dr. Daniel Hahn of Catalyst Int’l, an organization that Daniel and his wife Lori formed in 2004. Daniel also pastors Bible Fellowship Church in Ventura. He carefully selected a staff of member care counselors and cross-cultural leaders to encourage those serving in cross cultural ministry roles.
THE BOY BEHIND THE CURTAIN
Daniel’s parents were missionaries in Ghana. Living in simple conditions, as a youth, Daniel slept behind a curtain and could hear his parents counsel fellow missionaries as they struggled with culture, relationships and ministry. As he lay there he learned of the great pressures of missionary work and developed a heart for those who were far from their own cultures seeking to share the good news of Jesus and help new believers grow as followers of Christ.
This heart of compassion for missionaries grew into conferences for missionary couples (called Breathe) and for missionary men (Traction).
Most people in ministry have experienced a loss of traction. Working cross-culturally especially can leave missionaries feeling as if they are unanchored and afloat, perpetually propelled by forces they feel we have no power to resist. Sharon and I certainly experienced this in our moves to Europe.
Thus, Traction was designed to be a week of restoration to help men gain spiritual footing and move forward in their roles as leaders in mission and family, as they serve in Europe, Asia, Africa, and the Middle East.
ENCOURAGEMENT AND BACKSIDE PHOTO
It has been rewarding to see the men at the conference open up and share the things they are struggling with and be able to help them process their situations and give encouragement.
To protect the anonymity of the participants we do not take pictures of the missionaries, nor reveal their identities. Of course we keep the confidentiality of the issues they share with us as well. I have taken a backside photo of a portion of those attending (hopefully, none of you will recognize these backsides).
My Global Training Network co-worker Hud McWilliams and I lead one of the three small groups that meets daily and have individual counseling/coaching sessions during the day.
In addition to all the meetings, we hiked in the Swiss Alps together, which produced a great sense of camaraderie. At the top of a nearby mountain, we sang songs of praise and prayed to our Almighty Savior. Looking across at the grandeur of the Eiger, Munch, and Jungfrau mountains, we rejoiced over the promise of Psalm 121:
I lift up my eyes to the hills —
where does my help come from?
My help comes from the LORD,
the Maker of heaven and earth.
He will not let your foot slip —
he who watches over you will not slumber;
indeed, he who watches over Israel
will neither slumber nor sleep.
The LORD watches over you —
the LORD is your shade at your right hand;
the sun will not harm you by day,
nor the moon by night.
The LORD will keep you from all harm —
he will watch over your life;
the LORD will watch over your coming and going
both now and forevermore.
One of the great lessons from the conference and the climb up the mountain was to stay focused. At the last part of the climb we had to traverse a narrow and steep part of the path. It was a 7,000 foot sheer drop to one side and a 2,000 or more foot steep drop to the other. As I picked my way across the narrow path, my mind started to shift to the peripheral danger on both sides, and fear arose inside me.
I knew that if I didn’t stay focused on the next step of the path ahead that fear would grip me, and I would lose my balance. I had to keep saying to myself with each step: “Stay focused! Stay focused! Stay focused! Discipline yourself! Stay focused!” Fortunately I did, and made it across and on to the top of the mountain.
The same is true in following the Lord. A peripheral focus on all that is wrong in our world around us leads to fear, maybe even falling. The only way across is to “stay focused.” Stay focused on Jesus as the Lord who helps us, watches over us, shades us, and who keeps watch over our comings and goings from now and forevermore.
It is an honor to be with courageous missionaries who are staying focused in the midst of hardship and danger.
Now unto the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only wise God,
Linus (for Sharon and me)