Washington, D. C.; New York, New York; London, England; Mumbai, India; Nairobi, Kenya; Moscow, Russia; and now Paris, France. What do all of these cities have in common? Well, in the light of the tragedy of last week, the answer is obvious to anyone who pays attention to world events: all of these cities have been sites of international terrorism in the past fifteen years. The threat of terrorism continues to grow. And since September 11, we know it is no longer isolated to “over there.” Those of us old enough to remember know exactly where we were when the airplanes hit the Twin Towers.
However, all of these cities have something else in common for me: I have visited each of them since 9/11. I have toured some of these cities extensively and repeatedly. Now, with the addition of Paris to the list of international cities targeted by terrorists (twice in recent months), the possibility of my being in the middle of an attack is greater than ever. Of course, the United States has an extensive anti-terror team that works diligently to keep these incidents out of our country, but in reality, no one is completely immune from this kind of a threat.
It used to be that most ministry servants had a reasonable expectation of never being in harm’s way. Relatively few western Christians faced any kind of real world trouble. However, in the current situation, all that has changed. Nearly every missionary or Christian worker who travels abroad has to be vigilant. No longer is danger restricted to those who plan to work in closed or restricted access countries. Now ordinary missionaries who simply leave the United States face the very real prospect of being caught up in some international chaos. Terrorism, it seems, is here to stay—until Jesus sets all things right.
How might we process living and serving in this world plagued with random acts of terrorism? Do we need to live in fear and allow these threats to paralyze us from ministry? Should I curtail my international travels lest I leave my wife a widow? Should I avoid London, Paris, New York, Nairobi or Washington? I plan to be back in Nairobi this summer.
Several comforting truths come to mind from Scripture as I ponder this state of affairs. Christians need not fret about living in this world at this time, though they may need to be more vigilant.
God directs our steps. Psalm 37:23 reminds believers that “the steps of a man are established by the Lord, when he delights in his way.” What a comfort to know that God knows and plans our path, even through this sin-cursed world! Does this mean that all believers will be preserved from all evil in every case? Not at all. But what it does mean is that if God chooses to send a believer along a path where evil happens, there is some divine purpose intended in the journey. Our hearts ache for the city of Paris as it recovers from this wanton act of barbarity. Undoubtedly, there are some there who know the Lord who can point others to Christ during this time. We need to pray that the believers caught up in all of the chaos will shine as lights in the midst of darkness.
God walks with us always, even in the valley of the shadow of death. Psalm 23:4 reminds us that like a shepherd, God goes with us through the valley; He does not abandon us to the valley of darkness. Jesus gave a similar promise to His disciples when He sent them into the world: “I am with you always” (Matthew 28:20). As I travel globally in the service of the Lord, I “go with God,” via con Dios. I know that He will be there with me, and in His will, I need not fear. For what it’s worth, this has been part of the reality that many missionaries have clung to down through Christian history, as they have left their homelands to go unto parts unknown bearing the banner of the cross.
As Christians, God has appointed our days from beginning to end. How often have we reminded the lost that they all have an appointment to stand before God? The truth is, we all do—lost and saved. I remember a number of years ago, I was visiting with a brother from India in the aftermath of the death of missionary Graham Starnes at the hands of Hindu radicals. The brother had invited me to India, and I wondered about the safety of this friend in India. He looked at me and said rather soberly, “Don’t worry Jeff. If it’s God’s will for you to come and die in India, then you will die in India!” My immediate response, rather humorously, was, “If it’s God’s will for me to come and die in India, then I’m not coming!” Of course, I was joking. Who am I to think I can “cheat death”? I know that my days are a part of the divine plan. In His time, I have an appointment to stand before Him. This does not give me liberty to act foolishly, to tempt God with wanton disregard of the consequences. It does mean that believers are secure in the will of God until such time as God deems our mission complete and calls us home—be that from my easy chair in Plymouth, Minnesota, or riding a subway in some international city while serving the Lord.
Christians must not be needlessly troubled by the terrorism of our world. Yes, things are getting worse and the dangers are coming closer to home. We should heed the warnings to be vigilant. But we should continue to serve the Lord fearlessly as He provides opportunity, trusting that He will direct our steps as He goes with us through our journey. At the appointed time, we will stand in His presence and not one day earlier!
This essay is by Jeff Straub, Professor of Historical and Systematic Theology at Central Baptist Theological Seminary. It was originally published “In The Nick of Time” on November 20, 2015.