Despite violence, missions are still a priority with Christians

Saturday, January 18, 2003

Fast Fact:

According to a 2002 survey by Barna Research Ltd., an independent Christian research group, nearly three out of five born-again Christians feel a sense of responsibility to tell others about their faith.

By Laura Johnston ~ Southeast Missourian

The deaths of three Baptist missionaries in Yemen earlier this month and the rising number of attacks and violence against Americans living abroad have only solidified the urgency area Christians feel for spreading the gospel message.

There's always fear but sometimes God calls on people to take risks, said Philip Davidson, pastor of youth and missions at Lynwood Baptist Church.

Many area churches send teams out of the country each summer to participate in mission projects. And still others have relatives serving overseas, or have served overseas themselves.

Lynwood will send a team to Brazil this summer and is already making plans for trips in 2004.

"Whether you're in the middle of the action or away from it, if you're called there God will keep you there until it's time for you to go," Davidson said.

Even from tragedies like the killings in Yemen, "a crisis will bring forth the fruit of truth," he said.

Obviously, congregations aren't about to plan mission trips to Iraq, but missions and evangelism -- both locally and abroad -- are still a priority with Christians.

Personal connection

Knowing missionaries personally makes the connection even greater, said Mary Hitt, who attends Lynwood Baptist Church. Her daughter and son-in-law, Lisa and Eric Laffoon, just returned to the East African nation of Malawi after a furlough spent with relatives in the states. The couple has three children, ages 8, 6 and 3.

Having career missionaries at the church for several months helps the congregation realize they are just normal people, said Hitt. And after having been to Africa herself, Hitt said the people her children talk about seem like family.

Knowing about the Africans makes you more sympathetic to their needs, she said. Many of the people that Eric works with live in remote villages just outside the larger community where the Laffoons live.

While in Cape Girardeau, the Laffoons spoke about their mission experiences during a mission festival at Lynwood, and many people there expressed an interest in working with them in Malawi, said Eric and Lisa Laffoon by e-mail.

Statistics from the Southern Baptist Convention's International Mission Board, which directs the Laffoons' work, show that as more people take part in short-term mission projects they also lend support to international work.

Some churches have always been supportive of mission efforts, others aren't clear about what is happening in mission work, but "as more people get involved personally, though, we do see more support," the Laffoons said.

While the country where they live isn't in the midst of world attention, international events do play a part in the Laffoons' lives.

'In control of every situation'

After the terrorist attacks in 2001 there was some uncertainty, the Laffoons said. Not knowing what the future would hold made the family a bit anxious. "However, we did turn to the Lord for his guidance, knowing that he was and is in control of every situation," they said.

And now the threat of war in the Middle East also presents problems.

"Our return to the field last week presented some anxiety, particularly in light of the looming hostilities with Iraq," the couple said. "However, God is still in control, of course. Our trip went smoothly, and we feel happy and safe being back in Malawi."

Hitt sometimes wishes her children could be closer to home, but knows their work in Malawi is important. "It's difficult for me as a mom," she said. Impending war and hazards with travel can worry her, but that could be problem even if they lived in America, she said.

Teaching in China

Though now back in the states, Jackson residents Ina and Ron Winstead spent 30 years living in China and Taiwan. They worked as missionaries and then taught for 15 years. Never in that time did they feel animosity from the Chinese because they were Americans.

"The Chinese have a saying to leave the politics to the government," said Ina Winstead.

Since missionaries aren't truly welcome in the Asian nation, the Winsteads served as teachers primarily. Their students generally knew they were Christians by their actions and deeds, she said. "They see us and hear us and they watch us."

In many Middle Eastern countries, missionaries serve as aid workers and sometimes that blurs the line between giving assistance and evangelizing.

Even while serving in China, Winstead said, the couple had to be careful about what they said and how they witnessed to others.

But by serving as teachers or hospital workers, "you can be a lot more visible," she said. "With what you do and how you act and the way you treat people you can be a lot more visible and they are more accepting of you."

The Laffoons have been serving in Malawi for eight years. Though concerned about world events, they haven't felt an increased sense of calling to their work because of them.

"We knew our calling was from God in the first place," they wrote in an e-mail message. "Yet we are mindful that many people are dying without having heard the Gospel, whether their deaths be due to terrorism or hunger or AIDS or anything else. In that sense, we consider our ministry to be urgent."

335-6611, extension 126

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