The sad news I received yesterday (Ed note: this post came a few days ago) inspired this post. Here is an excerpt from a letter from David Platt to the IMB missionaries, staff and trustees, sent on Wednesday, March 14:
“It is with a heavy heart that I share this news. This morning (Wednesday, March 14), in the Democratic Republic of Congo, four colleagues in Africa were involved in an automobile accident: Randy and Kathy Arnett and Jeff and Barbara Singerman, along with a national driver named Jean Louis. Kathy Arnett was pronounced dead at the scene, and Randy Arnett was pronounced dead at the hospital in Kinshasa. Jeff Singerman has sustained injuries and is en route, with Barbara, to the hospital in Kinshasa from a clinic near the accident. Leadership on the field and in Richmond have been working on the situation. We wanted to let you know as soon as we could confirm that the families have been properly notified. Please pray for all involved in and affected by this situation….”
I knew Randy and Kathy Arnett well, and I’ve met the Singermans. All of these were/are IMB missionaries, who have served for many years in West Africa. Randy and Kathy Arnett in recent years served as the Theological Education Coordinator for the continent of Africa. Before that they served many years in the Ivory Coast and also as the Regional Leader for West Africa. Their tragic deaths have moved me to write about praying for missionaries. This is nothing new, of course. The Apostle Paul asked the believers in Colossae to pray for him: “meanwhile praying also for us, that God would open to us a door for the word, to speak the mystery of Christ, for which I am also in chains, that I may make it manifest, as I ought to speak” (Col 4:3-4 NKJV). So, what and how should we pray for our foreign missionaries?
First, pray for their safety. Sure, we know that pastors and staff members are involved in auto accidents here in the United States, but driving in many countries overseas is much more dangerous. I taught one semester at the seminary in Ogbomosho, Nigeria. Every Tuesday morning in the seminary chapel service we had prayer for pastors and workers killed or injured in car crashes over the weekend. Whenever I had to make a car trip, the Nigerian professors would say, “I’ll pray for your safe journey.” Besides auto accidents, many of our missionaries serve in places that are rife with terrorists. In recent years we’ve lost missionaries to terrorist attacks in Yemen, Iraq, the Philippines, and Central Asia. We do well to pray a hedge of protection around our missionaries.
Second, we should pray for their health. In the 1800s the average career of a missionary in West Africa was three years. Most died or were sent home as invalids within three years. Dr. Ralph Winter called the missionaries who went to West Africa during that period “a suicidal stream.” They knew they were going to a dangerous place, yet they went out “for the sake of the Name.” Those missionaries shipped their belongings in coffins so a coffin would be readily available when they died of disease. When I taught at the Nigerian Baptist Seminary, I stayed in the Francis Jones Guest House. Francis Jones was a missionary from Kentucky, who died in the yellow fever epidemic of 1935. The Kentucky WMU raised the money to build the guest house in her memory. I walked past her tomb stone every day on my way to the seminary. I remarked about this to a Nigerian professor, and he replied, “Oh, yes, there are missionary cemeteries all around Ogbomosho.” When I went to Nigeria, I had to get eleven different vaccinations for tropical diseases. I was grateful for every injection. Modern vaccines have proved a great blessing for our missionaries, but tropical diseases still affect our workers. I’ve known missionaries who’ve suffered from typhoid, typhus, malaria, hepatitis, tropical sprue, not to mention all manner of digestive diseases.
- We should pray for our missionaries’ health.
- We should pray for their communication skills. This involves both language learning and contextualized communication. Of course, most missionaries must study language. Some languages (like Japanese and Chinese) are quite difficult and require years of study. Others (like Spanish and Indonesian) are not as hard. Some missionaries learn quickly, while others struggle mightily. Whatever the case, we should pray for new missionaries that they will learn to speak the language well. Beyond that, it is important for missionaries to learn to use the right form of communication. Adoniram Judson was the pioneer Baptist missionary to Burma. After he learned to speak the language, he began preaching to the Burmese, but he preached for several years with no response. Then, he studied how the Buddhist monks taught the Burmese. They sat on mats and taught conversationally, answering the people’s questions. So, he built a pavilion (a zayot) in front of his house. He began to sit there for several hours each day. The Burmese passing by found this strange and stopped to talk with him. In the first year that he used this communication form he baptized 19 people. Missionaries need to learn contextualized communication so they can proclaim the gospel in a culturally appropriate way.
- We should pray that the Lord will protect our missionaries from spiritual warfare. In Ephesians 6 the Apostle Paul reminded his readers that he had wrestled against “principalities and powers.” Most of our missionaries now serve in the 10/40 Window, evangelizing Unreached People Groups. These folks live in territory where Satan holds sway, and he does not relinquish territory without a fight. I’ve heard many missionaries testify of oppression and persecution by evil spirits. Just because this is unfamiliar to you does not mean that it is unfamiliar to our missionaries. Again, we must pray a hedge of protection around our missionaries.
I do not have the space to write about praying for the missionaries’ family lives, devotional lives, discouragement, loneliness, and many others. However, our missionaries to struggle with stresses in all these areas of their lives.
How can we pray effectively? If you know a missionary personally, pray for that missionary regularly. I encourage every church to adopt a missionary and pray for that missionary or missionary family regularly. If you need help with this, the Prayer Office at the IMB will be glad to assist you. Of course, in our SBC devotional guide, “Open Window,” we have a list of our IMB and NAMB missionaries, listed by their birthdays. Many missionaries have experienced miracles on their birthdays because Southern Baptists prayed for them on their birthdays. We can’t all go as missionaries, but we can all pray.