Faith, Risk-taking, and Suffering in Mission

The paper looks at the place of risk facing missionaries who bring good news about Jesus to people who may not want to hear it and to places where risks abound. It examines the context of our risk-taking, the responses to risk in history of CIM-OMF, and lessons and principles from the life of Paul, and finally looks at the risks missionaries may face at present.

Dr. Ian C. H. Prescott has served in Asia for more than thirty years.  He started in the Philippines during the tumultuous years following the People Power Revolution.  He has since been involved in a number of East Asian countries with a particular focus on the development of work in creative access contexts and among under-served peoples.

Faith, Risk-taking, and Suffering in Mission

Mission Round Table Vol. 12 No. 3 (Sep-Dec 2017): 18-24

In 2003, the world was hit by Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, commonly known by its acronym SARS. SARS was a viral disease that quickly infected more than 8,000 people and caused nearly 800 deaths in 37 countries. The majority of cases were in China where there were more than 5,000 cases, resulting in 349 deaths.[1] The largest outbreak struck Beijing in Spring 2003, where more than 2,500 probable cases of SARS occurred.[2] The authorities responded by placing thousands of people in quarantine in a military camp and closing all primary and secondary schools.

At the time, although I was not based in China myself, I was responsible for a small team in Beijing. What should the team members do in these circumstances? One couple’s work was with students but, because of SARS, the students had either been sent back to their homes in the countryside or confined to campus with makeshift brick walls preventing anyone from entering or leaving the campuses or their housing area. As this couple was due to return to their home country in a couple of months anyway, we agreed that it made sense for them to return early.

Another family from another country lived in an apartment with their two small children. Schools were closed and people were afraid to meet. The streets were empty and those daring enough to go outside mostly wore masks and kept their distance from others. This couple, who were largely confined to their apartment with their kids, wrote: “although [our kids] are adorable as ever, we are going crazy at home.”

What should they do? They were gifted mobilizers and, as they did not seem to be able to do much of value in Beijing where they were at the time, I suggested they should return home for a few months and then come back to continue their work after the SARS crisis was over. The wife’s response was, “Ian, I am ready to die for the Lord in Beijing.” Her husband, who was inclined towards leaving, later described this in a prayer-letter as her “irrational martyrdom mentality.” My response was, “I would prefer that you left for a few months and then returned to live and serve the Lord for a further twenty or thirty years in Beijing.”

Who was right? Was she being irrational or faithful? How would we decide? Who should make the final decision? What should they do?

In looking at risk, we need to ask ourselves: Are we overly risk-averse or naively risk-foolish? What risks should we take and what risks should we avoid? How should we decide? Who should make the final decision? And when it goes “wrong,” how should we react? Who is responsible?

1. The context of our risk-taking

Risks are not taken in isolation. Jesus’ words in Luke 21 remind us of the context and nature of our risk taking for the gospel:

10 Then he said to them: “Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. 11 There will be great earthquakes, famines and pestilences in various places, and fearful events and great signs from heaven.” 12 ‘But before all this, they will seize you and persecute you. They will hand you over to synagogues and put you in prison, and you will be brought before kings and governors, and all on account of my name. 13 And so you will bear testimony to me. 14 But make up your mind not to worry beforehand how you will defend yourselves. 15 For I will give you words and wisdom that none of your adversaries will be able to resist or contradict. 16 You will be betrayed even by parents, brothers and sisters, relatives and friends, and they will put some of you to death. 17 Everyone will hate you because of me. 18 But not a hair of your head will perish. 19 Stand firm, and you will win life (Luke 21:10–19, NIV).

1.1. We live in the time between the times: a time of change, uncertainty, and suffering

Jesus’ words remind us what to expect in the times in which we now live. His words are not just about the very end times immediately before his return. They are about the time between the times: the time between Jesus’ presence on earth in human form and the time when he returns to reign. In that time—the time in which we now live—things will be chaotic. They will be chaotic on the political front, and they will be chaotic on the natural front. As much as we may try to predict the times, they will be times of uncertainty. I was amused to receive an email a couple of months ago which said “we have reliable data on what the world will look like in 2030.” Do we? This passage reminds us that until Christ returns, we live in changeable and uncertain times.

We are fortunate to currently live in East Asia in relatively peaceful and prosperous times. It may not feel like that everywhere, but the broader picture across East Asia today is peace and prosperity. This is particularly evident if you compare East Asia to other parts of the world. Consider, for example, Syria, where half a million have died and 11 million have been displaced by war. Or Afghanistan, which is still in chaos following the US-led invasion in 2011. Or a number of countries in Africa which are almost entirely dysfunctional: Southern Sudan, Somalia, Yemen, Congo, etc. The Fund for Peace publishes an annual index of fragile states (previously called “failed states”). In their 2017 index, you have to go to number 30 before you find an East Asian state—North Korea. Myanmar is next at number 35. Many parts of the world are much more fragile than East Asia.[3]

East Asia’s current peace and prosperity is also emphasised if you compare the last forty years with the disruptions that took place earlier in the twentieth century. These include: World War II—when an East Asian country, Japan, was a major aggressor and most of East Asia was affected; the rise of communism, civil war, and the Cultural Revolution in China; the Korean War; and the three Indo-China wars which raged from 1946 until 1989.

However, until Christ returns and reigns, we have no promise that peace and prosperity are inevitable. In East Asia, some of the threats to peace and prosperity are increasingly evident. These include the situation in North Korea with the increasingly strident rhetoric between North Korea and the USA, an increasingly assertive China with the USA playing a much diminished role in the region, more militant Islamization, and ethnic violence—probably ethnic cleansing—in Myanmar resulting in the displacement of more than half a million Rohingya. Are the storm clouds gathering?

1.2. Risk and suffering are unavoidable

In the times in which we live—the times between Jesus’ ascension and return—risk and suffering are unavoidable. As I noticed in a friend’s Skype status at a time when he was being forced to leave China, “Life cannot be made secure.”

John Piper has written an excellent book called Risk is Right: Better to Lose Your Life than to Waste It,[4] in which he reminds us that “Risk is woven into the fabric of our finite lives. We cannot avoid risk even if we want to. Ignorance and uncertainty about tomorrow is our native air.” He says he wants to “explode the myth of safety” and “deliver you from the enchantment of security. Because it’s a mirage. It doesn’t exist.”[5]

1.3. Followers of Jesus will experience additional suffering

Are Christians surprised when they suffer? Nearly always! However, as followers of Christ, we are not promised that we will escape this turmoil and suffering. Rather, in Luke 21:12, we are promised additional suffering that comes to us because of our testimony for Christ.

But before all this, they will seize you and persecute you. They will hand you over to synagogues and put you in prison, and you will be brought before kings and governors, and all on account of my name.

In the first century, Peter had to write to new believers telling them not be surprised “at the fiery ordeal that has come upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you” (1 Pet 4:12). That exhortation is still needed today.

I remember asking a leader of a group in North Africa that had been particularly effective in seeing Muslims come to faith what their key approaches had been. I was expecting a discussion on different approaches to contextualization. His answer was, “teaching them to suffer and being ready to suffer ourselves.”

Our discipleship in Asia needs to include preparing new Christians for suffering. In some of our contexts, the churches seem overrun with imported approaches to discipleship developed in the West. These approaches rarely have very much to say about suffering. In much of East Asia, suffering is a reality that new believers need to be prepared for, not surprised by.

Jesus addresses that preparation here in Luke 21:14, where he says, “Make up your mind not to worry beforehand” (NIV). He wants us to know about the difficulties ahead so that we are not surprised but trusting God, not fretting or worrying about them, nor expecting that we can always make detailed preparation for the unknowns.

It is worth noting that in the bigger picture of church history, prosperity has often been more fatal to the life of the church than persecution.

1.4. In this context, we bear testimony

It is in this context of change, uncertainty, and suffering that we are to bear testimony to Jesus. Thus Luke 21:13 tells us that “This will be your opportunity to bear witness” (ESV).

Situations of risk and uncertainty are also situations of opportunity. When I taught at All Nations Christian College, one of my students was a former officer in the Royal Gurkha Rifles who had also served with a mission in Nepal. He did his MA dissertation on risk.[6] He complained that most documented approaches to risk, including those of the large Christian organizations he studied, viewed risk almost entirely as something negative—“the probability of something negative happening in the future which will cause suffering, harm and loss.”[7] Risk, from their position, was to be removed, reduced, or mitigated.

Godwin analysed Paul’s approach to risk and concluded that “Paul’s understanding of risk includes the traditional concept of risk as threat, but is not limited to it. When facing situations of physical danger, Paul analyses the situation not only in terms of the threats they present but also in terms of opportunities.”[8] Godwin concluded that “risk [is] defined by both threat and opportunity in a relationship of creative tension.”[9] Godwin’s conclusion was that, as Christians, our risk assessment should not be limited to threat assessment but should also include opportunity assessment.[10]

As we face change and uncertainty, we need to ask: “What opportunities is God creating in the turmoil of the 21st century in East Asia?” For example, the Rohingya, an East Asian Muslim people, are being forced out of a country where it was exceedingly difficult to reach them. Is there more opportunity to share the love of Christ with them in Bangladesh than there was in Myanmar?

As the missiologist Max Warren reminded us: “For effective obedience to the great commission the one thing supremely needed in every age is a lively response of Spirit-inspired opportunism, ever alert to the certainty that God will provide different opportunities in different circumstances.”[11]

1.5. Called to take risks for the gospel

What will be the cost and the risks of taking those opportunities to bear witness to Jesus Christ?

One of the most helpful books about risk is Anna Hampton’s recently published Facing Danger: A Guide Through Risk.[12] It is both pastoral and practical, coming out of her and her husband’s experience of serving and being responsible for people in Afghanistan.

Hampton talks about “cross-cultural risk for the sake of the gospel” which she defines as: “risk entered into for the sake of carrying the gospel cross-culturally with a high probability of experiencing great loss.” All Christians are called to suffer for Christ but “only some Christians are chosen to risk their lives for the sake of the gospel.” [13] It is helpful to recognize that this “cross-cultural risk” is part of our calling.

In fact, a number of times in the New Testament, those who took risks are mentioned and honoured. In Antioch, the church chose for leadership those “who had risked their lives for the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Acts 15:25). Paul makes a point of naming Priscilla and Aquila, who “risked their lives” for him as a fellow worker (Acts 16:3) and also Epaphroditus, who “almost died for the work of Christ” (Phil 2:25–30).

2. Our history: CIM, OMF, and risk

What about OMF’s history as a Fellowship?

When Hudson Taylor started the China Inland Mission (CIM) in 1865, China was not a safe place to go. By 1860, of the 214 male missionaries in China since the arrival of Robert Morrison in 1807, forty four had lost their lives and fifty one had lost their wives. The average life expectancy was seven years.[14] Yet Taylor refused to be satisfied with settling in the safer treaty ports but pressed to go inland. He also sent single women, to the horror of many. There were many risks and at times missionaries paid the cost, to the extent that the CIM once published a book titled Martyred Missionaries of the China Inland Mission with a Record of the Perils and Sufferings of Some who Escaped.[15]

​​​​​​Memorial Tablet erected by fellow workers in loving memory of martyred missionaries and their children in 1902. China’s Millions (March 1902): 39.

Taylor was also ready to take organizational risks in the development of the Fellowship. One that initially filled him with fear was allowing North Americans to join OMF: “I had not the remotest idea of our visit to America affecting the China Inland Mission thus. … I was much concerned—I might almost use the word frightened—at the thought. It soon became clear, however, that God was working.”[16]

A favourite quote on risk, often attributed to Taylor, is: “If there is not an element of (extreme) risk in your exploits for God, there is no need for faith.” (Sources vary as to whether or not the word “extreme” is included.)[17]

When I reflect on this quotation, I want to know more. When did Taylor say or write this? What was the context? What risk was he facing? What lack of faith concerned him? However, I have not been able to track down the original statement or any information on the original context.

Is this quote that helpful? The important thing is not to take risks to prove our faith but rather to do what is necessary to be faithful to our calling, even if it involves risk. Pursuing risk is not our calling, reaching East Asians is.

2.2. CIM statement on risk

I am much happier with a CIM statement on risk: “While we do not court danger, we are committed to a life which may involve it.”

When I was introduced to this statement by my student, William Godwin, I thought it expressed a much more balanced approach, but again, I wanted to know who said this and why.

The context was China in 1948. CIM missionaries were scattered throughout inland China. A civil war was raging and advancing communist forces were steadily taking over more and more of the country. A missionary with another mission had just been tried by a People’s Tribunal and executed. This was a shock because “such a thing had never happened before. Missionaries had been killed in riots, murdered by bandits, and died as prisoners of war, but this execution ‘by the will of the people’ was new.” In the face of the threat of communist rule, CIM policy had been to withdraw CIM members when a territory was about to come under clear communist control.[18]

The General Director, Bishop Houghton, proposed a change of policy, that instead of withdrawal in the face of communist advance, “the mission be prepared to remain on in China, even under a Communist government.” Thompson records:

The outcome of the meeting was the unanimous decision to withdraw no more workers from areas in danger of Communist invasion and occupation. Those in the provinces next in line of attack would be advised to remain at their posts. If they wished to withdraw, they could do so, but it would mean resigning from the mission.

All members were informed of the new policy. As they read the message, they came to the words: “If the conditions made it impossible to do effective work, or if the degree of risk to life was high (it is not our business to carelessly throw our lives away) we should think differently.” Then came the challenging reminder that “while we do not court danger, we are committed to a life which may involve it.”[19]

In 1949, forty-nine new missionaries were welcomed to China (the 49ers) at a time when most missions were rapidly downsizing the numbers of their personnel. Only 185 members of the CIM were advised to withdraw. The year 1949 ended with 737 adults and many children still in China, as well as 119 in associate missions.[20]

2.3. Our values

Our OMF values express that we are willing to take risks:

We are passionate to reach the UNREACHED

  • Keeping a sharp focus on the neglected frontiers
  • Evaluating and innovating in line with our vision
  • Taking prayerful risks and persevering with the task God has given us

However, our value is not that we must take risks to prove ourselves or to prove our faith. The statement on risk is an expansion of our value of being passionate to reach the unreached. Our primary value is not that we take risks but that we reach the unreached and we are willing to take risks prayerfully when effectively reaching the unreached requires it.

3. Our example: Paul and risk

How should we respond to risk? The risk management literature typically identifies four ways to respond to risk: risk avoidance, risk transference, risk limitation, and risk acceptance. There is not enough space to look at all the biblical material, so I will concentrate on the example of Paul in Acts.

Hampton is quite negative about people using Paul’s example in discussions on risk because they tend to pick one incident and then generalize from that.[21] I think her caution is justified if we take any one incident on its own and try and generalize. It is important that we look at the variety of ways in which Paul responded to risk. We actually have a number of examples in Acts.

3.1. Paul often avoided danger and took the path of risk avoidance

  • Acts 9:23–25: In Damascus, there was a conspiracy among the Jews who were watching the gates to kill him, so his followers took him by night and lowered him in a basket through an opening in the wall.
  • Acts 9:29–30: In Jerusalem, where Paul was “speaking boldly in the name of the Lord” (v 28), the Jews tried to kill him and so some believers took him to Caesarea and sent him to Tarsus.
  • Acts 14:5–6: In Iconium, there was a plot to mistreat and stone Paul and Barnabas, so they fled to Lystra and Derbe where they continued to preach the gospel.
  • Acts 14:19–20: In Lystra, Paul was stoned and left for dead … so he left for Derbe to preach there. (Paul later returned quietly to Lystra, to encourage the believers, not for public preaching.)
  • Acts 17:5–10: In Thessalonica, his opponents formed a mob, which dragged his companions before the officials. As soon as it was night, Paul and Silas were sent to Berea. On arrival in Berea, they went to the synagogue to preach the gospel.
  • Acts 17:13–15: In Berea, the Jews stirred up the crowds. In response, the believers immediately sent Paul to the coast and on to Athens. In Athens, he was soon debating in the Aeropagus.
  • Acts 19:23–20:1: In Ephesus, there was a riot and he moved on to Macedonia.
  • Acts 23:12–22: In Jerusalem, Paul learned of a Jewish conspiracy and obtained a guard of 470 soldiers (200 soldiers, 70 horsemen, and 200 spearmen) to protect him as he traveled to Caesarea.
  • Acts 27:9: There was a serious risk of shipwreck, so he tried—unsuccessfully—to stop the journey.

3.2. Paul sometimes embraced danger and took the opportunities despite the risks

  • Acts 14:2–3: In Iconium the Jews stirred up some Gentiles and poisoned their minds against Paul and his companions. In the face of this, we might have expected them to leave but instead they “spent considerable time there, speaking boldly for the Lord.”
  • Acts 16:16–40: In Philippi Paul and Silas were mobbed, flogged, and thrown into prison. An earthquake broke open the prison doors but they saw this as an opportunity for evangelism, not for escape. The next day, the magistrates sent officers to release them without charge. But they refused to go quietly and insisted on a public apology and escort before they would leave. This was most likely done to protect the emerging church by clearly establishing that they had done nothing wrong.
  • Acts 20:22–23; 21:11–13: In going to Jerusalem, Paul is repeatedly warned about the dangers ahead but goes anyway.

3.3. Principles

Paul clearly refuses to give up on the overall mission of taking the gospel to the Gentiles while being ready to be flexible about how that is worked out. In the face of danger, he was ready to relocate but not to relent. He moved on and preached the gospel in the next place, while looking for opportunities to continue to support what had been started in the previous place. At times, such as on his journey to Jerusalem, he went ahead despite the clear knowledge that trouble was sure to come.

I notice that for Paul, risk and perseverance went together, as they do in our values: “taking prayerful risks and persevering with the task that God has given us.” His decisions were also motivated by a concern for the impact on fellow believers. His refusal to go quietly in Acts 16:37 was for the sake of others. And his moving on was often to give them peace. Thus, it was only after Paul was sent to Tarsus that “the church throughout Judaea, Galilee and Samaria enjoyed a time of peace” … and church growth! (Acts 9:31).

3.4. Embrace risk or avoid risk?

How do we decide whether to embrace risk or avoid risk? Hampton writes, “Mature courage helps us know whether we need to stand firm, move forward, or retreat to fight another day. There is a difference between courageous retreat and cowardly retreat, between courageously remaining and cowardly remaining.”[22] But how do we discern the Spirit’s speaking to us in a high-risk situation? There is an interesting example in Paul’s journey towards Jerusalem.

In Acts 19:21 Paul decides to go to Jerusalem and then on to Rome. When he hears of a Jewish plot against him, he tries to avoid unnecessary danger by changing his route (Acts 20:3b). However, he knows that going to Jerusalem means possible trouble and tells the Ephesian elders: “I am going to Jerusalem, not knowing what will happen to me there. I only know that in every city the Holy Spirit warns me that prison and hardships are facing me” (Acts 20:22–23).

As he continues his journey and reaches Caesarea, the Lord sends the prophet Agabus to warn of what is ahead for Paul. Agabus is a prophet of proven reliability, having predicted the famine in Judea that prompted a collection from the church in Antioch (Acts 11:28–30). In a graphic warning vividly acted out before Paul and the believers, Agabus delivers the message that, if he goes to Jerusalem, Paul will be arrested and handed over to the Gentiles (Acts 21:10–11).

The people’s response is to plead with Paul not to go to Jerusalem (Acts 21:12). Paul’s traveling companions (see Luke’s “we”) also join in the plea. The people weep as they try to persuade Paul (Acts 21:13a; see 20:37). Paul’s answer that they are breaking his heart shows how hard all this is on him (21:13a). But he explains his stand: he is not only willing to be bound but also to die for the cause (21:13b). Finally, the people give up, resigning themselves to “the Lord’s will” (21:14).

Why were the warnings given? The believers and Paul’s companions clearly believe that they were given so that Paul could change his plans and avoid danger (as he had done in Acts 20:3). Paul believes that the warnings have been given so that he can prepare for the trials ahead but not so that he can avoid them.

Who is right? A big challenge is to understand what God is saying when different believers come to different conclusions. This difference of opinion is very clear here. The believers “through the Spirit urged Paul not to go to Jerusalem” (Acts 21:4b) and again (including Paul’s own team): “We and the people pleaded with Paul not to go up to Jerusalem” (Acts 21:12). In contrast, Paul says “compelled by the Spirit, I am going to Jerusalem” (Acts 20:22).

It is notable that the believers urging Paul not to go to Jerusalem did so “through the Spirit” and Paul’s decision to go to Jerusalem was “compelled by the Spirit.” How do we reconcile the two? Some commentators struggle with the theology of this. For example, Ajith Fernando writes “The Spirit could not possibly have given two contradictory messages in such quick succession.”[23]

It is certainly a theological conundrum but it is also a practical reality. In my experience it is quite common for deeply committed, Spirit-filled Christians to come to different conclusions about what God is saying. The way forward is not usually to try and decide who has the Spirit and who doesn’t. But these are not abstract theological discussions in which we can compare our views and agree to differ. These are real-life situations where a decision has to be made.

There are usually many different parties who are seeking the Lord and have a stake in such decisions and their outcome. In mission that usually includes: the member, their immediate family, the church in the context, field leadership, homeside leadership, the home church, and family at home.

With the certainty that we will face practical situations where Christians differ but a decision has to be made—sometimes urgently—it is important to establish in advance how such decisions will be made and who has the authority to make the final decision.

4. Our present context: OMF, faith, and risk in the 21st century

The risks that we may face in our present context fall into four main areas.

4.1. Risks because we are called to serve in a more dangerous context (health, personal safety, medical care, violence, natural disasters, etc.)

Pursuing our calling often requires us to come alongside people who live in more risky situations than we are privileged to come from, though this is not always the case. A Filipino relocating from Manila to Japan, or an American relocating from Chicago to Singapore is moving to a less dangerous context and reducing many risks. However, often we are asked to serve in more dangerous contexts than those we come from. Those risks are because of our location rather than our testimony; they may include:

  • Higher risks of traffic accident (e.g., Thailand, Malaysia, Vietnam)
  • Higher risks of violent robbery (e.g., Philippines, Cambodia)
  • Higher risks of illness due to air pollution (e.g., China)
  • Higher risks to health because of poorer healthcare
  • Higher risks of arbitrary arrest (e.g., North Korea)

4.2. Risks because of our testimony to Christ and opposition to it (arrest, expulsion, attack, abduction, death, etc.)

There are other risks that are more specific to our ministry. They arise because of opposition to what we are doing. Hampton states that “The trends of the twenty-first century appear to be leading to increasingly severe risk to Christians wherever they are, but especially for those purposefully moving into cultures hostile to those following the teachings of Jesus the Messiah”.[24] One could make a long list of examples; the following are just a few.

  • Risk of trouble, even violence, because we share the gospel.
  • Risk of governments criminalizing our work. For example, Meng Lisi and Li Xinheng, two young Chinese missionaries, were recently killed in Pakistan. They were abducted by armed men masquerading as policemen. Initially, they were assumed to be some of the thousands of Chinese workers. When it was learned that they were missionaries, the Chinese government’s response was to crack down on the churches that sent them.[25]
  • Risk of increased antagonism to our work in previously “Christian” countries.
    For example, in the UK it is increasingly unacceptable to seek to change someone else’s view about God, but it has become a government imperative to change their views about marriage.

4.3. Risks because of the stresses of cross-cultural service (mental health, stress on families, etc.)

Some risks arise mainly from serving in cross-cultural situations.

  • Risks to mental health because of the extra stress of cross-cultural living.
  • Risks to our families because of the stress of separation, limited educational options, etc.

4.4. Organizational risks

There are risks that arise as we become part of a large and complex organization.

  • Risks in the legal and fiscal realms, which get increasingly complicated as we operate in many different legal and fiscal jurisdictions.
  • Risks of legal action because going into a high-risk situation for the reasons we do looks irresponsible and irrational from a secular risk analysis standpoint.[26]
  • Risks of organizational change. If we don’t change, we will die. But the wrong change can also be damaging, even fatal.
  • Risks of unpredictable government action: for example, recent decisions by the US government has severely affected ministries in North Korea.

5. Our vision: Worth the risk

When we look at all the different risks that we face, it is important that we do not only focus on the risks to ourselves, or to our family, or to our organization. The reason that we exist is because of the bigger risk, the risk that: Asians will not hear the good news of Jesus Christ (in all its fullness).

We believe this is a danger with eternal consequences and puts into perspective the other risks that we need to take. We mustn’t make the mistake of making an absolute priority of our personal safety or our organizational security, over and above the needs of the peoples of East Asia who do not have the good news. We need to be willing to take risks for the sake of opportunities for the gospel.

As Ralph Winter often said: “Risks are not to be evaluated in terms of the probability of success, but in terms of the value of the goal.”[27] Our goal is to share the good news of Jesus Christ in all its fullness with the peoples of East Asia. Doing so will not always be safe. We need the courage and the guidance of the Spirit to know what risks to take and which ones to avoid as we seek to be faithful to that. If we are aware that “it is right to risk for the cause of Christ” but do not do so, we may miss God’s purpose for our lives and might even waste them.[28]

The Luke 21 passage that we started with ends with Jesus saying two apparently contradictory things: “You will be betrayed … and they will put some of you to death…. but not a hair of your head will perish. Stand firm, and you will win life” (Luke 21:16–19). This is a reminder that for the Christian, death is not the end. God’s victory in the long-term is assured but what will happen in the short-term is something that we must trust God for. However, the life that really matters is the life lived for God, which is the life lived with God and which will continue with him whether that is during our time of service here on earth or eternally with him in heaven.

As Paul said: “I consider my life worth nothing to me; my only aim is to finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me—the task of testifying to the good news of God’s grace” (Acts 20:24).

Now we are in a new order, a new history. We must assume that our strategy and tactics will, in some respects be very different from those of the past. The commission remains. Our duty is faithfulness. I do not forget the conviction from which I stated that God is uncontrollable. What he may do in our present history, only God knows.[29]

[1] The World Health Organization reported 8,096 cases, resulting in 774 deaths (based on data as of 31 December 2003). World Health Organization, “Summary of Probable SARS Cases with Onset of Illness from 1 November 2002 to 31 July 2003,” (accessed 6 November 2017).

[2] Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported 2,521 probable cases. Wannian Liang, Zonghan Zhu, Jiyong Guo, Zejun Liu, Xiong He, Weigong Zhou, Daniel P. Chin, Anne Schuchat, and for the Beijing Joint SARS Expert Group, “Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, Beijing, 2003,” E merging Infectious Diseases 10, no. 1 (January 2004):25–31, (accessed 6 November 2017).

[3] Fragile States Index, (accessed 6 November 2017).

[4] John Piper, Don’t Waste Your Life (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books: Wheaton, 2007). Available as a free download at: (accessed 6 November 2017). The “Risk is Right: Better to Lose your Life than to Waste it” chapter is also published as a separate book and also available for free download at: (accessed 6 November 2017).

[5] Piper, Don’t Waste Your Life, 81.

[6] William Godwin, “Redeeming Risk” (MA Dissertation, All Nations Christian College, 2013).

[7] Bob Hansford, Reducing Risk of Disaster in our Communities, ROOTS (Resourcing Organisations with Opportunities for Transformation and Sharing) 9, 2nd ed. (Teddington, UK: Tearfund, 2011), 16, quoted in Godwin “Redeeming Risk,” 9.

[8] Godwin, “Redeeming Risk,” 21.

[9] Godwin, “Redeeming Risk,” 43. Emphasis his.

[10] Godwin did find a slightly broader view of risk as “uncertainty” rather than just “threat” in the international standards (ISO 31000:2009) and argues that “the ISO risk management process makes room to accommodate the biblical conception of risk [as opportunity as well as threat], but does not go so far as to advocate its application in terms of the need for opportunity analysis in risk management processes.” Godwin, “Redeeming Risk,” 27–28, 37.

[11] Max A. C. Warren, I Believe in the Great Commission (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1976), 92.

[12] Anna E. Hampton, Facing Danger: A Guide through Risk (New Prague, MO: Zendagi Press, 2016).

[13] Hampton, Facing Danger, x, 29.

[14] A. J. Broomhall, The Shaping of Modern China: Hudson Taylor’s Life and Legacy, Vol. 1 (Carlisle, UK: Piquant Editions and Pasadena: William Carey, 2005), 478. Originally published as Hudson Taylor and China’s Open Century (Sevenoaks, UK: Hodder & Stoughton and OMF, 1981–1989).

[15] Marshall Broomhall, ed., Martyred Missionaries of the China Inland Mission with a Record of the Perils and Sufferings of some who Escaped (London: Morgan & Scott and CIM, 1901), (accessed 6 November 2017). A follow-up volume is: Marshall Broomhall, ed., Last Letters and Further Records of Martyred Missionaries of the China Inland Mission (London: Morgan & Scott and CIM, 1901), (accessed 6 November 2017).

[16] “Hudson Taylor’s mind was at that time definitely set against any international development of the work, but in consequence of this and other invitations, one being from D. L. Moody, he promised to visit North America on his way back to China. This he did in the summer of 1888. At Northfield, at Niagara, and at Chicago, he spoke with power, and great blessing attended his ministry. The result, unexpected and undesired at the time, was that money was contributed for the sending out of a North American contingent.” Marshall Broomhall, By Love Compelled: The Call of the China Inland Mission (London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1936), 44.

[17] E.g., Marvin J. Newell, Expect Great Things: Mission Quotes That Inform and Inspire (Pasadena, CA: William Carey, 2013).

[18] Phyllis Thompson, China: The Reluctant Exodus (Littleton, CO: Overseas Missionary Fellowship/Fort Washington, PA:  CLC Publications, 2000, First published 1979), 10.

[19] Thompson, China, 18.

[20] Broomhall, The Shaping of Modern China, 778.

[21] Hampton, Facing Danger, 68.

[22] Hampton, Facing Danger, xiii.

[23] Ajith Fernando, Acts, The NIV Application Commentary Series (Grand Rapids. Zondervan, 1991), 551.

[24] Hampton, Facing Danger, 4.

[25] BBC News, “Risky Road: China’s Missionaries Follow Beijing West,” (4 September 2017), (accessed 6 November 2017).

[26] For example, a fireman goes into a burning building to rescue someone and we give him a medal. That’s risky but the risk makes sense. We risk ourselves and our families by moving to a more dangerous situation in East Asia and we may be criticized. The risk does not make sense to the world—and “the world” may include our families back home who don’t share our commitment to sharing the gospel with East Asians.

[27] Tim Stafford, “Ralph Winter: An Unlikely Revolutionary,” Mission Frontiers 6 (October–December 1984): 12, (accessed 6 November 2017).

[28] Piper, Don’t Waste Your Life, 81.

[29] Warren, I Believe in the Great Commission, 147.

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