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Christian Missionaries Torn by War and Terrorism Fears

Trips too risky, some say. Others say 'we have to continue to do what God has called us to do.'

March 16, 2003|From Associated Press

NASHVILLE — For evangelical Christians, the threat of war with Iraq and global fears of terrorism have sparked a debate about Jesus Christ's command to "go and make disciples of all nations."

While saying they're not forsaking that command, some Christian universities and churches are canceling international mission trips out of concern that Americans could become targets.

Missionaries who live full time overseas are similarly split. Some have come back to the United States, while others have moved to countries in their regions where they would be less at risk.

Still others have said they will not leave, whatever the danger.

"The potential for risk outweighed the potential for ministry," said the Rev. Ed Rowell, whose People's Church in suburban Franklin, Tenn., abandoned plans for a mission to Kyrgyzstan, where a radical Islamic group has called for a holy war against Americans.

Likewise, Ouachita Baptist University in Arkadelphia, Ark., cited international uncertainty in halting planned summer missions to Kenya, Russia and Taiwan.

"Whether we like it or not, a lot of people are painting the world situation as Christian versus Muslim," said Kevin Inman, director of campus ministries. "Even though that's not the case, if you send a bunch of American Christian students out there, they could be targets."

Others argue fear should not dissuade missionaries.

"We have to continue to do what God has called us to do," said Nicku Mordi, missions director for Bethel World Outreach Ministries in Silver Spring, Md.

Earl Lavender, director of missions at Church of Christ-affiliated Lipscomb University in Nashville, left Friday with a group of students headed for Scotland and England.

"I choose to live in a world where God is in control," Lavender said. "If we stop out of fear, then how are we different from people in the world who don't have hope?"

But the risks seem to be discouraging many.

Statistics kept by the Southern Baptist Convention, the nation's largest Protestant denomination, show a steady decline in short-term mission volunteers since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

The number of Southern Baptist volunteers going on international mission trips dropped by more than 20% last year, according to the denomination's International Mission Board in Richmond, Va.

However, Bill Cashion, the board's director of volunteers in missions, said the economy is another factor.

"Many of our volunteers are telling us they just do not have the funds," he said.

The Rev. Tom Doyle, director of Middle East ministries for Dallas-based EvangeCube Global Ministries, led 15 adults on a mission last month to Israel, Jordan and Egypt.

When Ouachita Baptist University canceled its mission effort to Kenya, 21-year-old Matt Elkins made arrangements to go anyway through the International Mission Board.

"I still feel the need to go and help the people," he said.

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