It was a soul wrenching time for our family-which is not a surprise to anyone as we were working in Somalia at the time. While there were believers in Jesus from Muslim background inside the country, they were often scattered, alone, and afraid. We were seeing many children and older people die of starvation. Often we had to wait for those who died during the night to be buried before we could feed those still left alive. Though we began as a mom-and-pop organization late in 1991, we soon had teams in 3 different countries doing everything from food relief, irrigation, resettling refugees, and tons of mobile medical clinics. Soon a team of 8 were feeding 50,000 people per day.
All of this was done in an environment of famine and civil war. I often wondered which classes from my Christian college or from my degrees in seminary were responsible for preparing us to minister in Jesus name in such a tough environment? It was like this; we didn’t mind being “sheep among wolves” as we understood this to be a biblical command and a constant reality. What I objected to was being a sheep among the wolves where the wolves were in the majority and, can I say honestly, we had been sent out as stupid sheep among the vicious wolves.
It’s challenging when you have civil war and famine as your ministry environment while most of your training has been to prepare you to be a sheep serving the sheep.
After numerous trips into Somalia my wife and I had an intense, heart-to-heart conversation. Coming to a deeply held consensus together, we called our 3 sons to join us so we could unpack what we felt the Holy Spirit was saying to us in regard to our ministry in Somalia. This conversation with our boys may not have represented the most articulate moment of our lives, but it certainly was heart-felt. We began the conversation something like this,
“Boys there was a time, early in our lives, when your mother and I had to decide whether or not we were willing to live for Jesus. As a pastor’s daughter, your mother can hardly remember not knowing Jesus as a young girl. My journey to Jesus was much rougher and you know I did not discover who Jesus was until 18 years of age. But both your mother and I made the conscious, spiritual decision that we would live for Jesus no matter what.
When Shane was around 5 years of age and Timmy a little past 3, we experienced a renewed call on our hearts concerning taking the love of Jesus to those who have little or no chance to know him. We heard God’s command clearly asking us if we were willing to go anywhere in the world for Jesus. Without any doubt your mother and I answered this question; it was God’s prerogative to send us wherever He determined. It was not too difficult to decide to both live for Jesus and to go anywhere in the world with Jesus.
All of this was before Somalia. Now we don’t know if going and living for Jesus is enough.
As a family we know that Somalia is a very dangerous place. Though we as a family are living in Kenya, we and our teams are inside Somalia and near its borders in many places. Your mother and I have talked and we want to share something as a family. You’ve heard us talk about our willingness to live for Jesus, giving our lives to Him, alongside our willingness to go anywhere He commands us to go. For this season of our lives it does not seem to be enough to simply be willing to go for Jesus, living for Him wherever He may plant us. We don’t want to scare or frighten you but we want to look at the cost of following Jesus as a family. There is a new question and reality we need to ask ourselves alongside our willingness to live and to go for Jesus.
The question is, are we, as a family, willing to die for Jesus as well as live and go for Him?”
Though the boys might have a difficult time remembering this conversation, it is etched deep within my soul. You see, my culture had taught me a lie. Even my Christian culture bought into this lie. The lie goes like this; “If you love and serve Jesus you are entitled to live a long life, free from serious injury or illness, and never have problems within your family. You are further entitled to a big house and 2 cars alongside a retirement dividend which will allow you to travel and relax for many years. When you reach old age you are to be free from illness and allowed to die peacefully in your sleep.”
Where is a willingness to die for Jesus in the midst of all this cultural Christianity? Who was supposed to model the trifecta of living for Jesus, going with Jesus, and even be willing to die for Jesus? What class or sermon should have prepared us for such an environment as Somalia?
There was no place in my world for such an environment as Somalia and there was no place for a faith which could sustain and grow in such an environment like Somalia. Most of my classes and the sermons I both heard and gave myself prepared me to serve in a white-collar, Christian environment. The blue-collar camel herders of Somalia were a class or a sermon consistently omitted from my nurturing within the church or in my training within denominational entities.
We still struggle consistently with Christ’s command to live for Him, go with Him and, if necessary, die for Him.
Gal 2:20-21 “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me; and the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. I do not nullify the grace of God; for if justification were through the law, then Christ died to no purpose.” RSV