If the guerrillas attacked, my job was to silence the dog.
I remember lying awake on my top bunk as a terrified thirteen-year-old at the Wycliffe compound in Colombia wondering how I would kill our dog to keep him from giving us away.
Sometimes we heard distant machine gun fire or passed lines of anti-guerrilla troops on the road. We learned to live with it, but fear always lurked in the shadows waiting for the right moment to knock at the door of our consciousness.
Fear, that most powerful of emotions, can control our lives and nullify our ministries if we let it. From the quiet, private fear of speaking the Lord’s name to a stranger to overwhelming panic for the safety of our children in a dangerous city, It is one of Satan’s favorite weapons against us. But it is the antithesis to faith.
Dr. Kefa Sempangi pastored a large church in Kampala, Uganda, during Idi Amin’s eight-year reign of terror.* Every day Ugandans in the mid 1970s wondered if sunglass-clad National Bureau of Investigation agents would suddenly bang on their doors and destroy their lives. Dr. Sempangi tells how he was out walking alone one afternoon when he came upon a group of Amin’s soldiers viciously kicking a man on the ground. When they saw him, one of them waved his gun and told him to go away. He says the world around him seemed to grow silent and almost distant until he was staring down the barrel of the gun. As if in a trance, he turned and walked back to his office, overcome with the helplessness of his situation.
Several weeks later, after a long Sunday of ministry, four or five men barged into his office. They wore the trademark flowered shirts and sunglasses, and they all had big guns. The leader asked him if he had anything to say before he died. Here’s how Kefa tells what happened:
“From far away I heard a voice, and I was astonished to realize that it was my own. ‘I do not need to plead my own cause,’ I heard myself saying. ‘I am a dead man already. My life is dead and hidden in Christ. It is your lives that are in danger, you are dead in your sins. I will pray to God that after you have killed me, He will spare you from eternal destruction.’ ” (A Distant Grief p.119)
I won’t spoil the story, but those men changed through this encounter and so did Dr. Sempangi. He was emboldened by the Holy Spirit to bravely speak the truth and love against his own instinct for self-preservation.
“Give me one hundred preachers who fear nothing but sin, and desire nothing but God, and I care not a straw whether they be clergymen or laymen; such alone will shake the gates of hell and set up the kingdom of heaven on Earth.” – John Wesley
At ACTION we obey the gospel in hard places. Our members spend their lives in slums full of drug traffickers and love on kids with HIV. We visit hospitals full of disease and city streets crawling with criminals. We raise our kids in places where the locals leave as soon as they have the means.
But before we congratulate ourselves too enthusiastically, let’s remember that fear can forfeit our fruit at every turn all the way to our last breath. We must overcome it if we are to live by faith. Here are some things that might help:
- Trust the Lord’s love. “There is no fear in love, but (God’s) perfect love casts out fear (I John 4:18, ESV).” God knows, God cares and God can change our situation any time he chooses. The Psalmist says, “When I am afraid I put my trust in you (Psalm 56:3, ESV).”
- Sing in the face of danger. Worship is a weapon. A step of obedient faith by “rejoicing in hope” can drive away the ghosts, both real and imaginary. Of course wisdom will show you at what volume to sing. Here’s a song from Kristin Getty to sing over your kids when they’re afraid: youtube.com/watch?v=PAq_ktNixzM
- Look at Jesus. Like Stephen when he was being stoned, focusing on Jesus and his victory on the cross and royal position at the right hand of God the Father will put you and your situation in perspective. Satan knows this. That’s why he blinds “the minds of unbelievers so they cannot see the light of the gospel that displays the glory of Christ who is the image of God (2 Corinthians 4:4, NIV).”
- Just obey. Most of my fears confront obedient action. Of all the commands in Scripture, the most common one is “don’t be afraid.” My fear paralysis disobeys that command. Let your heart hear it again now: Do NOT be afraid! This is one of the primary ways we “know God and take action.”
In my 11th grade year, Colombian guerrillas kidnapped and killed one of our missionary friends.** We found his body in an abandoned bus in Bogotá wrapped in the leftist flag. My brother and I helped dig his grave. But somehow that experience debunked much of the fear in my young heart. “Is that all they can do?” I thought. Facing martyrdom head on made it seem almost glorious somehow.
Fear is a political commodity. Politicians and despots not to mention the devil and his demons are brokering it wherever you look. Let’s ruin the market for it by living out confident faith in the good promises of our great God. This is the victory that overcomes the world.
* Read Kefa Sempangi’s story in his excellent books “A Distant Grief” and “From the Dust.”
** Read about Chet Bitterman’s death in the book “Called to Die.”
ACTION currently has six missionaries in Colombia. Here is a picture of one of them – Raquel de Jesus – with her staff in Ciudad Bolivar, one of the most dangerous neighborhoods in Bogotá. Click here to learn about how you can get involved.