A Trip to the Store

by Robert Buchanan

We were on a six-month home assignment after having served our first term as missionaries in a South Pacific country. At the time we were living in our friend’s finished basement and using one of their vehicles. One night my wife Heather told me she wanted to do some shopping in town. Like many men, I’m not a big fan of shopping, and I didn’t want to go. Heather persisted, and I finally said, “Why don’t you just take the car and go? We can do something when you get back.”

For several seconds she looked like she was in deep thought and then said, “Oh yeah, I can do that here!” In our country of service, it is unwise for ladies to drive off our mission center by themselves. Heather and I had spent over 40 years of our life in the U.S. before going overseas, but now after only two years abroad, we had changed.

Even simple tasks aren’t that simple when one lives in the developing world. If you live in a suburban location in the United States and want to go into town to shop at a local store, what do you do? Most likely, you make a shopping list, grab your wallet and car keys, and drive into town without much thought.

You probably don’t check with the local authorities about road conditions and zero out your trip odometer so that you’ll know exactly how far away you are from home if you break down. Or take the time to ensure that you have a full tank of fuel, check to see that your license and registration is up to date, and know that the vehicle is in good working order.

You are even less likely to make sure someone else knows your itinerary, that you have emergency contact numbers written down, have redundant communications devices available, ensure that there is a reasonable proportion of adult men to women and children, think about who would be an asset and who would be a liability in a critical incident, have a throw-away wallet in your possession in case of a robbery, or on occasion request an armed escort from a local security provider.

As you drive, the tactically minded among you may be looking for roadblocks and choke points, but for most Americans without a law enforcement, military, or security background, that is an odd and foreign concept often relegated to the paranoid. Of course, humans aren’t the only hazards on the roads, but in the U.S., you are unlikely to have pigs, dogs, and drunk people wandering in the middle of the “highway.” If for some reason that does happen, it doesn’t last very long.

Similarly, you’re unlikely to drive over bridges without railings or that seem ready to collapse. Pedestrians and other drivers may sometimes use bad judgement, but for the most part, Americans follow the rules of the road which are actively enforced by the police.

When you arrive in town, you probably don’t have someone stay with the vehicle to deter theft. You probably don’t consciously ensure that the men in the group take responsibility for looking out for the women and children. You probably aren’t looking for surveillance and likely don’t have a mental contingency plan for a riot, medical emergency, or firefight between the police and local criminals.

If you live in the developing world as a missionary or NGO worker, you likely do all of this and more for every trip into town. Are there some missionaries and NGO workers who become complacent and fail to take all these precautions? Yes, there absolutely are, but even in their complacency they are more alert than most Americans who have never lived overseas.

This is understandable since the United States has good roads, well-trained police, fire, and emergency medical service professionals, trauma centers, available tow trucks and mechanics, solid communications infrastructure, and a stable power grid. So thank God and count your blessings if you live in suburban America, but remember that, to the majority world, the stability you experience in the U.S. is unheard of.

As a career security professional, I have always run scenarios in my head and made plans for a whole host of contingencies, but it wasn’t until the I lived overseas that I began to fully understand the quote from General Dwight D. Eisenhower, who famously said, “Plans are nothing, but planning is everything.”

No matter how good my plan is, it is unlikely to match the exact situation I find myself in, but having gone through the act of planning, I can more easily adapt. Now, as practical as that statement is, my time overseas has also taught me a corollary: “No matter how much I plan or how adaptable I am, I am still totally reliant on the One who knows the end from the beginning.”

God stands outside of time, knows all things, and works all things together for His glory. As a servant of God, I fall short when I only rely on my ability to plan and adapt. My faith must be in Him, who not only gave me the skills and intellect I have, but who knows far more than I ever could.

Proverbs 21:31 says, “The horse is prepared against the day of battle: But safety is of the Lord” (KJV). Notice that the horse is prepared. We are not to shirk our duties or ignore our talents and abilities, but in the end, it is God who gives safety.

As a missionary with 10 years of overseas experience and a security professional with 34 years of experience, I can give this advice: Learn everything you can, plan to the best of your ability, and prepare for foreseeable events, but most of all, rely on the One who holds all people and all history in His hands.

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Robert Buchanan is a career security professional who answered God’s call to use his skills in overseas missions. He currently serves as a security advisor for a mission organization in the South Pacific. His wife, Heather, serves as a teacher in the local international school, and together they have found that true joy comes from doing God’s will – even when conditions are challenging.

Can God Save Your Life?

cgsyl

By Liz Campbell

“We run the place ya know” said the gunman, casually revealing his semi-automatic weapon with extended magazine. The midnight air, pregnant with tension and the smell of weed, wrapped darkness around both him and my husband on the deserted road leading down into Majesty Gardens.[1]

David drew a breathe, “Actually, God runs the place,” he said calmly, his eyes carefully reading every flicker on the gunman’s face.  As he spoke, two more men emerged from the shadows, one close, one farther off.

“So can God save your life?” the gunman glared menacingly, drawing closer.

“Yes” David said, meeting his gaze, “He can.”

Did he believe those words in that moment? He said he did, but did I, soon after when he arrived home to tell me what had happened?

As the words left his mouth, another car turned into the alleyway further ahead, its headlights draping light over the darkness. The bright light seemed to confuse the gunman. He didn’t know where to look, and he and his friends grew visibly agitated.

“Squeeze it now man, squeeze it,” urged one of his friends. But the gunman, confused by the lights like an animal in a headlight glare, had already moved his pistol from my husband to the oncoming car.

Seeing his opportunity, my husband calmly put the engine into gear and drove off past the oncoming car. It was only after he was around the corner and on the open stretch that he began to shake all over. When he returned home to our one room flat in Trenchtown and told me his news, calm had almost returned to his body.

But in me the storms were just beginning.

I had left my family half a planet away and come here to work alongside my new husband in Trenchtown, Jamaica. What if Jesus didn’t have our backs? That night led me on a long journey with God, trying to find reassurance against a backdrop of violence, crime and fear.

Ten years later we are still here, and I am still on this journey.

Violence has a long history and a short fuse here in Jamaica, especially in the inner city communities where we work. Despite a population of just 2.9 million people, Jamaica has one of the highest (per capita) homicide rates in the world. In 2015 alone there were 1,205 murders (that’s more than three each day), 1069 shootings, 589 aggravated assaults, 577 rapes, 1,904 robberies and 1,777 break-ins[2]. In 2013 there were ten thousand cases of reported child abuse[3].

My husband David has been caught in crossfire twice (once with an armoured vehicle), held up at gunpoint twice, witnessed a beheading, carried victims of abduction and rape to counsellors, lost friends to violence, spoken at the funerals of the youth he was working with, and counselled gunmen against retaliation in heated situations. “Can God save your life?” is a very real question for us as a family and one that I have faced again and again over the last ten years.

I recently asked my husband this question again, and without hesitation his emphatic answer was “Yes!” He can say this so confidently because his experience so far has proven God’s faithfulness in this area. God can save his life because He already has. We work alongside missionaries who have reported bullets “pinging” away from them as they were caught in gun fire, as though an invisible shield was protecting them. After my husband was caught in cross fire between an armoured police vehicle and gunmen one evening, a friend overheard some young men in the community saying “Bwoy, ‘dat white man must really a’serve God, because so many bullets a’fly and not even one catch ‘im!”

So, if we work for God does that mean we are invincible to human violence?

I wish I could tell you that I could confidently say that God will always protect us from everything we fear, from all pain and violence. But I can’t. It is true that He has. I and my husband and many other missionaries we know can retell many stories of Gods protection: bullets missing their target, gunmen avoided, lives saved. But it doesn’t always end this way.

In April of this year two American missionaries, Randy Wentzel and Harold Nichols, were violently murdered here in Jamaica. Despite the fact that Jamaica is in the top five nations for homicide rates in the world, their deaths shocked Jamaicans. Last year in Haiti another missionary, Roberta Edwards was shot and killed as she sat behind the wheel of her car. July this year, trainee missionaries Jamison and Kathryn Pals and their three very young children were killed in a car accident on their way to language school in preparation for the mission field.

Does this mean that somehow God let them down? Did Jesus not have their backs just as my deepest fears suspect?

The truth is actually much larger than either of these answers tell us.

God doesn’t promise to save our life. He can save our life. But the Bible does not promise safety, comfort or stressless living. What it does promise is God’s presence with us.

Daniel walked through the lions den, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego went through the furnace. God was with them, walking closely alongside them, strengthening them and encouraging them. In these cases God did save their lives; yet the prophet Isaiah was cut in two, and James was killed while Peter miraculously walked out of Jail. There were many cases of lives miraculously spared among the early Christians, but all but one of the disciples would eventually suffer a violent death.  In the first 200 years of Christianity four million Christians were killed under the Roman empire.

Had God saved just a few, only to neglect four million others?

No. In all these cases God kept his promise, the promise of His presence with us. Jesus knows what pain and suffering feels like, intimately from inside the frail shell of human existence. He has done it and when each one of us walks through white waters of any kind, he is walking with us, walking in us, walking us through, out into either every day life or eternal life.

Randy Wentzel, Harold Nichols, Roberta Edwards and the Pals family were not alone when they were taken violently from this world. Jesus was with them, there, in their last moments, walking closely alongside them, strengthening them and encouraging them just as he had been throughout every other day of their entire life and ministry. They were never alone.

The gunman’s question ‘Can God Save Your life?’ holds within it an assumption. His question assumes that life is all we have to lose and that he and his gun ultimately have power over this. This gunman and his friends lived in the reality of the darkness of this world, a choice which ultimately led to their demise less than a year after their interaction with my husband. But we live in another reality.

In that moment, when the gunman asked that question, gun in hand, David had to choose which reality he would live in. He had to choose where his eyes fell and what his heart believed. Which was more real in that moment, the barrel of a gun or the face of Jesus?

Where does real power lie? We often live, as the gunman’s words imply, feeling that our lives are the most important thing we have to lose. We feel that suffering is wrong, like Jesus somehow should prevent us ever experiencing pain or loss. Fear has a power that can easily drown out God’s voice. It is our enemy’s greatest weapon against us.

This year we have seen as never before that we are in a world rocked by violence, a world torn apart by war, pain and fear. An estimated 115-250 people a day have lost their lives in the Syrian conflict, 80 died in France under the wheels of a terrorists truck, 49 shot dead in Orlando. Teenage gunmen, terrorist rampages, racial violence, police shootings: our world is bracing for the next suicide bomber to blow themselves up for religious extremism, for someone to mow down victims in the name of prejudice and hate.

Theologian Tom Wright writes,

“The Christian Vocation is to be in prayer, in the Spirit, at the place where the world is in pain, and as we embrace that vocation, we discover it to be the way of following Christ, shaped according to his messianic vocation to the cross, with arms outstretched, holding on simultaneously to the pain of the world and the love of God.”

Jesus is no stranger to suffering. What can we say to a suffering world if we flee from suffering ourselves? Like Jesus, we are called to give our lives for love. Not in comfortable Christendom, reading books about faith, but in the gritty, messy, sometimes violent battleground of human life, living in the reality where God is King, no matter what the outcome of the battle in front of us may be. The war is already won.

Can God save your life? He has. Jesus is with us; The Son of God who laid the foundation of the universe. A gunman with a pistol looks pretty small from that perspective. No bullet will take you without God already having prepared that moment from the beginning of time to be your home-coming to Him, with Him, and in Him. Jesus is with us. He can save our life, and He can walk alongside us as we live and as we die (as He did) for love.

If we are brave, we are not brave because we presume we are invincible. We are brave because we live in a reality where God is King and Jesus is walking with us all the way.

 

For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline. So do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord or of me his prisoner. Rather, join with me in suffering for the gospel, by the power of God.

2 Timothy 1:7-8 New International Version – UK

 

[1] An Inner City Community of Kingston Jamaica

[2] Jamaica crime and safety report by the U.S. Overseas Security Advisory Council.

[3] Karyl Walker, Jamaica Observer, June 17th 2014

 

lizcampbellLiz Campbell is an Australian, married to a Brit, and living in Jamaica. Together Liz and her husband David have been working with vulnerable inner-city Jamaican children, families, and communities for the past ten years (through the mission organisation ‘Fusion’) while also homeschooling their two beautiful children. Liz’s passion is for human beings, particularly restoring hope and wholeness to broken lives and broken communities. She writes monthly about life as a human being at: seeingbreathingliving.comFurther stories, photos and information about David and Liz’s work is available at: fusionjamaica.org

But Are You Safe?

but are you safe

ISIS, Al-Qaeda, Al-Shabaab

Civil war

Typhoid, malaria, Ebola, cholera, tuberculosis

Airplane crashes, car accidents

Pirates

Floods, earthquakes, tsunamis

Theft

Human trafficking, kidnapping

Murder

Rape

I’m not trying to scare you, I’m simply listing the things that go on around the world that we could be afraid of and this is only a miniscule portion of all that could go wrong. And, this is simply the dramatic. What about cancer, mental health struggles, addiction…?

The other day a group of Americans asked me if I feel safe. I said, “The country where I live is pretty safe, there is very little crime. We’ve been robbed a few times but, yeah, its safe.”

They laughed and laughed, as they should have. My answer didn’t make much sense. It was also true. There is very little crime, compared to other capital cities. And, we have been robbed 18 times in 12 years, though one of those times was in Minnesota and another was in Turkey and another was in Kenya and another was in Somalia. Meaning, crime happens everywhere.

I should have said, “We’ve been robbed a few times but, yeah, I feel safe.”

Or, “I feel safe enough.”

Safe enough to live and breathe and work and buy groceries and send my daughter to school on her bike, alone. Safe enough to make friendships and settle in a home and be alone while my husband travels. Safe enough.

Until we’re not safe anymore.

Something could happen at any moment. Something could happen in the US at any moment. None of us are ever, truly, safe if by safe we mean free from the risk of anything interrupting life as we know it. On the other hand, anyone who has confidence in their eternal destination is utterly, perfectly, always safe.

So what is it? Safe or not safe?

Was Jonah safe in the belly of the whale? Was Daniel safe in the lion’s den? Was Paul safe as he faced the arena? Was Jesus safe as he carried the cross to Golgotha?

Absolutely not.

Jonah was being digested, his skin burned, eyes blinded by acid and utter darkness. Daniel was about to be devoured by beasts, and Paul too, torn limb from limb. Jesus was marching toward certain torture and death.

But were they safe?

Absolutely.

Jonah was right where God wanted him to be. Daniel was right where God wanted him to be. Paul was right where God wanted him to be. Jesus was right where God wanted him to be. They were all surrounded completely by the tender hands of a loving Father who had a plan. The plan would end in miraculous survival for Jonah and Daniel, in death for Paul, and in death and resurrection for Jesus. And all of them were safe. If safe means being where God wanted them to be. And if, when we say safe, we mean filled with the hope of eternity and resurrection no matter what happens in this life.

We are never promised freedom from pain, danger, or suffering. But we are promised that we will be held when walking through the valley of the shadow of death. And that is what safe means. This isn’t easy. So many times I wish it meant something else – no grief, no tears, no loss or heartbreak. But I don’t get to decide and so I will lean into those strong, wise hands and cry and pray and trust that He knows what is safe for me and the people I love.

Do you feel safe? Do people ask this about your life abroad? How do you respond?