Taking the Risk

“Unless there is an element of risk in our exploits for God, there is no need for faith.”

This quotation from Hudson Taylor, pioneer 19th century missionary into the interior of China, is one of my favorites.  It is posted above my desk to remind me that the safest way might not be God’s way.  As a matter of fact, God’s way usually involves risk and a venture into the unknown.

Having just returned from a rigorous travel month that involved ministry in Uganda and Moldova as well as overnight transit in Doha (Qatar) and Istanbul (Turkey), I hear some of the follow-up questions from my Christians colleagues as a reflection of our American fear of risks and love of safety:

Weren’t you afraid? 

Yes… at times… and at these times, I’m reminded that God’s most frequent command in the Bible is “Don’t be afraid” usually accompanied by the promise “I am with you.”

Isn’t Turkey dangerous, the place where there were explosions at the airport just a short while ago?

Yes… but while traveling, there was a terrorist incident in London, and other transit cities like Brussels or Paris or New York have had similar incidents.  And my own departure city, Boston, will pause this month to remember the terrorist incident that rocked our city four years ago.  Every day we face the decision, “What is an acceptable risk?”

How do you adjust to the cultural uncertainties – language, food, customs, etc?  Do you ever feel ill at ease?

Yes… but the learning and the relationships and the stories of faith all make it worth it.  Without this month’s ‘risky’ travel, I would never have heard stories…

  • Of how Christians are working for ongoing reconciliation in Rwanda,
  • Or testimonies of courageous confrontation of the violence in South Sudan
  • Or stories of enduring persecution when Moldova was part of the USSR
  • Or testimonies of students from Central Asia training in Moldova so that they could return to spread the Gospel in places like Kazakhstan, Uygurstan, Azerbajan, and Afghanistan.

Living in Middle Class USA, I see in myself and in my culture (even my Christian culture) our addiction to comfort, convenience, and consumerism (which I’ll address in a future blog), but the Spirit of God is greater than these.  Without risk-taking faith, we may simply drift into Christian mediocrity and even boredom.

By taking risks of faith, we can enter the great story of God at work in our world.  It enriches us to live with energy and vitality.  Take the risk.  Sign up for a short-term mission learning experience.  Start the conversation with your Muslim co-worker.  Invite that Hindu family in your neighborhood into your home for a meal.   Go visit that missionary that you’ve been supporting for a dozen years.  Leave your comfort zone.

Have you ever visited the gloriously beautiful Union Station in Washington, D.C.? It’s constructed with buffed marble, polished brass and dazzling lights. It is shiny and inviting and full of great places to eat.  Upscale shopping and beautiful artwork draw thousands of tourists each year just to see the train station. Like the amazing airports of Singapore and Dubai, these places of transition for travel have been designed in such a way that you wish you never had to leave.

Imagine that this beautiful train station represents life in North America, especially in the North American church. We invest millions in beautiful buildings for corporate worship. We surround ourselves with excellent music, dynamic speakers and programs for all ages. Life for us Christians is like life in that train station, and we wish we never had to leave.

But just as the train station was designed not to keep us there but to send us out to other destinations, so the way forward is on board the global church train that’s leaving the station. The majority of our brothers and sisters live in places which will require travel, tiredness, hardship, risk and discomfort to build together for the future. We are all invited to join the journey on the global church train. Or we can just stay in the shiny station and convince ourselves that comfort is more important than life. The choice is ours.

I’m getting on the train.


Portions of this essay were taken from my book: Western Christians in Global Mission: What’s the Role of the North American Church?  (InterVarsity Press, 2012)