Evangelical Christians rethinking mission trips amid international turmoil

Saturday, March 15th 2003, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) _ For evangelical Christians, the threat of war with Iraq and global fears of terrorism have sparked a debate about Jesus Christ's command to ``go and make disciples of all nations.''

While saying they're not forsaking that command, some Christian universities and churches are canceling international mission trips out of concern that Americans could become targets.

Missionaries who live full-time overseas are similarly split. Some have come back to the United States, while others have moved to countries in their regions where they would be less at risk. Still others have said they will not leave, whatever the danger.

``The potential for risk outweighed the potential for ministry,'' said the Rev. Ed Rowell, whose People's Church in suburban Franklin abandoned plans for a mission to Krygyzstan, where a radical Islamic group has called for a holy war against Americans.

Likewise, Ouachita Baptist University in Arkadelphia, Ark., cited international uncertainty in halting planned summer missions to Kenya, Russia and Taiwan.

``Whether we like it or not, a lot of people are painting the world situation as Christian vs. Muslim,'' said Kevin Inman, director of campus ministries. ``Even though that's not the case, if you send a bunch of American Christian students out there, they could be targets.''

Others argue fear should not dissuade missionaries.

``We have to continue to do what God has called us to do,'' said Nicku Mordi, missions director for Bethel World Outreach Ministries in Silver Spring, Md.

Earl Lavender, director of missions at Church of Christ-affiliated Lipscomb University in Nashville, left Friday with a group of students headed for Scotland and England.

``I choose to live in a world where God is in control,'' Lavender said. ``If we stop out of fear, then how are we different from people in the world who don't have hope?''

But the risks seem to be discouraging many.

Statistics kept by the Southern Baptist Convention, the nation's largest Protestant denomination, show a steady decline in short-term mission volunteers since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

The number of Southern Baptist volunteers going on international mission trips dropped by more than 20 percent last year, according to the denomination's International Mission Board in Richmond, Va.

However, Bill Cashion, the board's director of volunteers in missions, said the economy is another factor.

``Many of our volunteers are telling us they just do not have the funds,'' he said.

The Rev. Tom Doyle, director of Middle East ministries for Dallas-based EvangeCube Global Ministries, led 15 adults on a mission trip last month to Israel, Jordan and Egypt.

The Colorado Springs, Colo., resident described trying to spread the gospel in the Gaza Strip: ``You walk about 100 yards and there's guns trained on you on both sides, so it is scary.''

But he said souls are in danger. ``We think there really is a heaven and hell and if these people aren't reached, they're going to go there.''

When Ouachita Baptist University canceled its mission effort to Kenya, 21-year-old Matt Elkins made arrangements to go anyway through the International Mission Board.

``I still feel the need to go and help the people,'' he said.


On the Net:

Southern Baptist Convention's International Mission Board: http://www.imb.org

EvangeCube Global Ministries: http://www.evangecube.org

Bethel World Outreach Ministries: http://www.bethelworld.org