14 December 2015

Why I'm Not Afraid to Live in Niger

One of the questions maiguida and I get asked the most as we travel around speaking and visiting is "Is it safe in Niger?"

"But what about terrorists??" and "Aren't you afraid??" and "Why would you give up the safety of America??" and "If something happened how will you protect yourselves??"

Most of the time I want to respond by pulling out my smarty-pants phone, googling "NEWS" and clobbering the asker with headlines of the violence rampant in the US . . . but instead I play the diplomat and explain that where we live in Galmi is currently peaceful and quiet, but we recognize the risks associated with the region at large and trust the Lord with our lives.

But the reality is, as disciples of Jesus, we gave up our safety/rights/freedom/lives when we "took up our cross and followed."

It's interesting being back in the West at the moment.  The news is full of bombings and shootings, debates over refugees and immigrants . . . social media is a running argument between the left, the right and everyone in between.

I use the word "interesting" but I think I really mean "disappointing".

There is one word that comes to the forefront for me as I hear news reports from around the world and read the slinging of opinions on Facebook and Twitter:
FEAR.
"Keep THOSE people out!!!"

"Don't travel THERE!!!"

"I have the RIGHT to defend myself!!!"

"We can't trust THEM!!"

"Kill THEM before they kill US!!!"

But this isn't a blog about politics or current affairs.

It is, however, about discipleship.  About following Jesus.  About my choice to follow Jesus, as His disciple (who happens to be an Occupational Therapist), to a corner of the world that is populated primarily by those who have never heard the Good News of the hope He came to bring.

We live in a region that has a lot of diseases we don't have in the West . . . malaria, typhoid, cholera.  We know that there are no emergency services coming to our aid in the case of a car accident or fire.  We've had long periods without electricity, times when we've had to ration water, and [worse] days when the internet is down (hey!!  Don't judge . . . how long could you go??).

Maiguida and I serve in a region of the world that is sandwiched between two groups of religious fundamentalists (you can read about them here and here).  We live with contingency and evacuation plans.  We take security measures in our comings and goings.  We use wisdom with the information we share.

We left home knowing the risk.

But the reality is, we accepted that risk long before we moved to Niger.

Jesus said:
If anyone wishes to follow Me [as My disciple], he must deny himself [set aside selfish interests], and take up his cross [expressing a willingness to endure whatever may come] and follow Me [believing in Me, conforming to My example in living and, if need be, suffering or perhaps dying because of faith in Me]. For whoever wishes to save his life [in this world] will [eventually] lose it [through death], but whoever loses his life [in this world] for My sake and the gospel’s will save it [from the consequences of sin and separation from God].                     Mark 8:34-35 AMP
Notice that it doesn't say "unless there are terrorists" or "unless it's your right" or "unless it's self-defense".  Taking up one's cross means being willing to endure whatever may come . . . pain, suffering, death.  Taking up one's cross means surrendering your rights . . . it means dying to yourself.

Jesus promised that life was going to happen to us, sometimes that includes evil.  But He also promised victory:
Do you finally believe? In fact, you’re about to make a run for it—saving your own skins and abandoning me. But I’m not abandoned. The Father is with me. I’ve told you all this so that trusting me, you will be unshakable and assured, deeply at peace. In this godless world you will continue to experience difficulties. But take heart! I’ve conquered the world.       (John 16:31-33, The Message)

We've had a lot of conversations on this subject lately in our house.  Maiguida and I spend time each day discussing highlights from the news.  We are particularly interested in these current affairs and what the internet claims to be the response of different groups of people who call themselves followers of Jesus.  The other day, as I read aloud a series of comments from a Facebook posting by an acquaintance of mine, maiguida reminded me of the time that Jesus rebuked His disciple for using violence to defend Him.

Jesus had been praying in the Garden of Gethsemane.  He had just observed Passover with His posse, and He knew that the cross was waiting for Him around the corner.  He knew that one of His closest friends was about to betray Him in such a way that would lead to His death; He had just pled with His Father that there be another way.

 He was the man who went around healing people, teaching them to be kind to one another, and fraternizing with outcasts.  He was unarmed and innocent.

But as they came for Him, Peter, one of Jesus' most intimate friends, fought back.  He pulled out his sword and swung.  Good thing for Malchus, Peter's aim wasn't the best.  Instead of his whole head, Malchus only lost an ear to Peter's weapon!

And how did Jesus respond?

He yelled at Peter, ordering him to put his sword away . . . but that wasn't enough.  He healed the man that come to arrest Him.  Malchus would have been today's version of the prison guard who shouts down the hall "Dead man walking!"  And Jesus acted with compassion towards him.

Not only is God's Word filled with the command to FEAR NOT, Jesus takes it a step further.  He tells us to love our enemies and to pray for them!  There are no clauses in that sacred commandment.  There's no but or unless or except in the case of.

Jesus didn't qualify that if we feel afraid then it's okay to respond in any other manner except love.

I'm not afraid to live in Niger, as I am not afraid to live in the West.  Both are threatened with all the potentials of this evil, fallen world.  But I follow the Son of Man who has overcome!  Heaven is my home.  I don't need to arm myself with anything other than His Word and prayer (no background checks needed for either of those, just sayin').  There is no law criminalizing a response of love toward my enemies.

Being a disciple of Jesus is about learning to obey . . . all the time.  Not when I want to.  Not when it's easy.  Not when I'm safe.

He taught us that the greatest commandment is to love . . . all the time.  Not when I want to.  Not when it's easy.  Not when I'm safe.

Love, not fear.

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