*barring further developments!
**Further developments happened. In discussing this with the missionary in Senegal, he thought it best if we postpone.
Go ahead, call me stupid.
That will be one of the nicest things I’ve been called on social media recently!
I am scheduled to leave for Senegal next Saturday, March 21, long before the sun comes up, for my 10th trip to minister to a UUPG – the Essing – in the Casamance. I have been especially excited for the opportunity to speak this time at a regional men’s conference in which as many as 150 men are expected to gather. God has provided the funds and my tickets are purchased. My bags are actually already packed. Through a glitch in Delta’s system, I do not have insurance and may or may not be able to get a refund if I decide not to go.
You may have heard about this little thing called the Wuhan Coronavirus, or COVID-19, which has created a bit of a panic. The press is doing its thing – disregarding truth to stir up hysteria. Sporting events have been canceled. Travel restrictions are being put in place. The stock market is sinking like the Houston Astros’ reputation. Several people have encouraged me not to go.
Yesterday, the IMB itself put out an advisory suggesting that volunteers cancel or delay their mission trips. I am 11 days from the start of mine and I want to be responsible.
- I know that my immune system, especially since my repeated surgeries in 2018 is not exactly stellar.
- I would rather not be patient zero for an outbreak in Sioux City – responsible for bringing this dread disease into our fair city. “Visit Southern Hills, the home of the pastor who brought disease, death, and destruction to our fair city.”
- Frankly, this disease seems to be most dangerous for older folks and I fall squarely into the no-spring-chicken-anymore category.
I have spent the last week or so following this outbreak carefully and trying to make a decision.
- I’ve listened to experts on the disease – ignoring the media talking heads who fan the flames of panic for ratings.
- I have read government advice. They place countries at various levels of danger. China is a level 3 country – no one is traveling there. Senegal is Level 1 – there are fewer cases of COVID-19 in the entire country than there are in Iowa. The government recommends, at this time, that people not cancel their trips to Level 1 countries.
- I spoke at length to my doctor last night, after the IMB recommendations hit the interwebs. My doctor said that much of what people think is formed by fear, by hype, and not by truth.
- I made one significant change last week. I changed my ticket from one that took me home through France to a direct flight from Dakar to the US. It does not seem that going through Europe at this point is a great idea.
- I’ve purchased masks, gloves, and I have hand sanitizer at the ready. I am trying to make appropriate cautionary moves.
- I am going by myself, so I’m not putting anyone else in danger on this trip.
Having said all of that, after prayer, as much study of the disease, consultation with my doctor, this is my plan.
I am going to Africa on March 21st.
I had a discussion with the SBC Voices team this morning and several of them had mission trips planned and have made different decisions. I respect their decisions – what I am doing is what I believe is God’s direction for me. I appreciate the IMB’s cautionary release. They are looking out for us. However, I am an old codger with some old codger ideas. I have no desire to be difficult (well, not always) or obstinate. I am explaining this to my church and I thought I’d put my thoughts out here as well.
1. This ministry is a calling from God and is a passion in my heart.
Five years ago, I went with Bart Barber to Senegal for the first time. It is hot. There is nothing exotic or fun or entertaining about it. The people I work with and live with have no electricity or running water. I stay in their homes and for a week or so I live as an African. I get sick almost every time I go. I continue to go because God has burned this ministry deeply into my heart. When I walked the villages with Bart the first time, I felt an internal conflict. I didn’t really WANT to be there but I sensed a non-visionary Macedonian call. The only thing I love about the Casamance is the people.
At the risk of sounding self-important, the reason I am going there is that no one else is doing it. There is no other gospel ministry seeking to reach the Essing people. My ministry there has been stop and start, interrupted by a period of violence and my year of surgeries, but I take this ministry very seriously.
2. I have trouble with the concept, “There may be some risk, so I shouldn’t go.”
Again, I am not being critical of anyone else. The IMB is looking out for us and if my situation was the same as those described by my friends, I might make a different decision. I have no intention to criticize anyone for their decisions. However, in my best curmudgeonly fashion, I’d like to challenge an assumption.
It seems we’ve come to believe that safety is a prerequisite of ministry, that if there is risk or danger, it is a valid reason to cancel ministry.
I do not see that in the Bible, where Esther said, “If I perish, I perish,” where Jesus set his face toward Jerusalem, where Paul went to Jerusalem knowing he’d be arrested, and where so many of God’s servants died for proclaiming Christ.
Was there a gospel witness in the Book of Acts that did not involve risk? The Sanhedrin warned the Apostles to stop preaching and they kept on. They were beaten and they kept on. They put Stephen to death and the gospel continued. According to 1 Corinthians 11, Paul’s ministry was nothing but pain, risk, danger, and hardship from start to finish. Look at verses 26-28, where Paul summarizes his ministry.
“On frequent journeys, I faced dangers from rivers, dangers from robbers, dangers from my own people, dangers from Gentiles, dangers in the city, dangers in the wilderness, dangers at sea, and dangers among false brothers; toil and hardship, many sleepless nights, hunger and thirst, often without food, cold, and without clothing. Not to mention other things, there is the daily pressure on me: my concern for all the churches.”
He would never make it in American Christianity!
Danger and risk were an essential part of gospel ministry in Acts. Where did we get the idea that a potential risk means that we should not go today? I have no desire to catch COVID-19, though I have heard experts state that it is likely going to be almost universal. I especially have no desire to become a carrier of the disease to the folks in Africa or to the people of Siouxland. I have taken reasonable risk prevention measures.
I could live to regret this decision (or not live to regret it?) but I am not planning to change plans at this point. The CDC seems to be on my side. My doctor says it is a sound decision. If you are willing to pray for a hard-headed old codger, I’d appreciate it.
Barring travel restrictions or new developments in an ever-changing situation, I am going to Africa. Who knows, this could work out for some of you who find me a pain in the…um…uh…neck.