I have never gone on a mission without the fear factor. The recent excursion to Africa, Egypt and India was no exception. It reminded me of 1986, when a trip to the Philippines nearly got scuttled due to the coup d’état of Ferdinand Marcos. Very déjà vu-like, departing to Egypt in the wake of the military coup of President Morsi and his Muslim Brotherhood party, felt like we were heading into a hornet’s nest. U.S. embassies had shut down. I never truly saw the value of their advocacy, until that moment. Visions of Argo ransacked my mind. I couldn’t shake it—an aura of anxiety hung over that leg.
Landing in Nairobi, we learned that the Arrivals section of the airport had burned down, only hours later. Bizarre! Watching news reports, we nervously questioned if we were going to be stuck there. Random comments about our hosting town unnerved me as well, a burgeoning truck stop headlined newspapers as “The Wicked City” for its murders and prostitution. High walls and steel gates were necessary, they informed. Security personnel had actually nocked bow and arrows to fend away perpetrators. What era are we in? Locking my door with a paddle lock, it was hard to sleep with strange sounds wafting in the airways . . . voices from the street . . . dogs barked till waning hours. Waking abruptly to the Muslim call to prayer alarmed my soul to the spiritual battle. Then again, there was the uncertainty of Egypt, and a loving anxious wife wanting her husband to return. “I need you to comeback safely,” she said. Compounded, it felt oppressive.
Before departing I had succeeded in pushing it all back fending off questions from friends, just like we did on our Tijuana missions trip, knowing we wouldn’t be in the crosshairs of the drug-dealing cartels, like the media would have you believe. I told others that we’d be fine. But getting closer, suddenly, the sense of fear, or do I dare say, “dread” seemed to be taking root. Perhaps the lack of sleep and my reorienting body clock was getting to me. Lying on my makeshift bed inside the mosquito netting, I realized something was off. Not off with the circumstances of the trip, something was off—with me! Why was I fearful? Seeing it with sudden clarity, I called foul on myself. I was not right spiritually. I had never identified this type of heart-sin so minutely. But knew that I needed to figure this thing out—right now! The vertical misalignment would render me—paralyzed. And I couldn’t afford for that to happen—so, in that moment of insight, I repented.
This kind of fear has only one antidote: God Almighty! Crying out to the God of heaven, I claimed the name of Jesus, like a full-blown Pentecostal! (No offense meant here). I spoke it aloud: “I will not have the spirit of fear over me for the rest of this trip.” I began perusing the Scriptures, claiming their truth and promise. “The Lord is my Shepherd. Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil. His rod and staff; they comfort me.” I found myself drawn into reflection on all the great people of faith who lived amid constant fear. We take it for granted, but they didn’t have that choice. David, in the Psalms, writes obsessively about God’s protection. And rightly so, for a decade, he was on the run with a mile-wide target on his back! Jesus himself navigated his way through the malicious murderous murmurs from scheming zealots. The realization of this gave me hope. Living abundantly in a fearful climate—is possible!
I knew fair well that the problem was no one’s but mine. Skimming through Exodus, I envisioned the Lord’s reassuring voice: “Gary, son. Think of who I am. I know Egypt. I’ve been there from the beginning. Don’t you remember Abraham, Joseph and Moses? And don’t forget my young vulnerable parents who sought refuge from Herod’s deathly swipe. Do you really think I can’t handle your journey into Egypt during this unstable time? I know unstable. I do ‘unstable’ all the time.” I also recalled God’s words to Joshua, “Be strong and courageous.” Later that night, a Facebook post beeped onto my phone with the single word “courageous.” It popped out-of-the-blue from an old friend, asking if we had watched the movie: “Courageous.” Marveling, I thought, I just got texted from God!
Almost immediately, my heart began to change. The next morning, I felt like a totally new person. Up at five a.m. for a pre-day run, the high-gusting winds had swept clear the African sky. Looking upward prayerfully, Orion gleamed bold and brilliant, making a universal declaration—Your God is a warrior! Sudden acuity had descended from on high. The circumstances remained the same, but I had rediscovered my center. I would trust in the Lord—the Maker of heaven and earth—the One who walks before me, hems in my days, and directs my every step. I stood with vertical strength—God was with me! I never came out of it. Even in Egypt, when my young Muslim seatmate warned me that, “You are coming at the wrong time,” or the reports of deaths and church attacks filtered into the conference, or when we drove through a stirred-up “tire-burning” downtown Cairo, fear had no grip on me.
Friends, I don’t know if you have ever faced the paralyzing properties of fear or dread, like I have. Perhaps, I have much bigger timidity issues than most. I know, that many people have faced things exceedingly harrowing. For some, a thousand-fold! But fear, by its very essence, does not even have to be in the present, only imagined. So I can guess that you, too, know the experience. My question is: Has God backed you deep enough into his corner, that you find your small self before the enormity of his greatness?
Along the mission’s line, do you ever find your heart faulting in his call to reach this world? Feel a hindering hitch, when you get a prompt to speak up for Jesus, or hear a pastor talk about going into the 10/40 window? How does the word Jihad strike you? Do you realize that it’s illegal to try to convert people today in many parts of the world? Ever wonder if you followed Jesus fully—that you would be okay? Do you think about stepping out and doing something great for Jesus, locally or globally, but hear that pestering sinister voice: “Don’t do it. Something might happen.” Friends, let’s talk sense. Your God is bigger than you realize. I just hope that we don’t refrain because of disbelief! I hope that we don’t succumb to the safety-first, security-driven voices from those around us who don’t know God!
I am not saying we should be recklessly foolish, and to be clear, we weren’t being heroes on this journey. If they had told us it was too dangerous in Egypt, we wouldn’t have gone. But when we taught on sharing the gospel in a risky environment, and on obeying God rather than men, we did so with a stature unspoken. The pastors knew we had come despite the conditions. In the lead group, one said, “You knew it was unstable, yet you still came to do this conference. We are strengthened by that.” Those words were a highlight for me! God had many purposes to fulfill by our presence. I was just glad to be on the right side of faith, and not the wrong side of fear.
The sooner we get it—the better. Like David learned, being backed into God’s corner again and again (remember his seeking refuge in the sanctuary, the time he portrayed a fool before the Philistines, and the deep cavernous cave), God was on his side. Looking upward, he knew that when we trust our lives under God’s wing, that the Almighty’s covering is fully sufficient. Is it time to get truly vertical? I call it out declaratively: May fear never hold you back from doing all that God wills for you to do!
Your frail friend standing in Jesus – Gary
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