Great exhortation from missionary pioneer David Sitton!
The summer siege on Tiananmen Square in 1989 was temporarily halted by one man who dared to face-down a Chinese tank. It’s an image that captured a century-defining moment of reckless defiance against the tyranny of communism.
One lone rebel walked calmly through the frenzied, fleeing mob toward the enemy. He then stood unarmed, directly in the path of the advancing tanks. The lead tank tried to swerve around him, but he repeatedly side-stepped into its path with defiant, yet non-violent hand gestures. Rather than crush the young man, the tank eventually stopped its engine.
The peaceful protester climbed onto the hull of the lead tank, crawled under the tank gun to the driver’s hatch and, on live television, was seen talking to the driver. It is reported that he demanded that the tank commander, “Leave my city. You have no right to kill my people!”
The captain restarted the engine to carry on with his mission. But the man jumped off the tank and quickly re-established his bold stance, again blocking the forward progress of the tanks.
Moments later, three by-standers ran in to pull the man away, and they all disappeared into the crowd. It is believed that the gutsy young man was a 19-year-old student, who was abruptly arrested by secret police and became one of many that were brutally executed during the military crackdown in Beijing. He was never heard from again.
What are we to think of an incident such as this? Why would he be so reckless, knowing he would surely be executed for such foolhardy insubordination? Evidently, the atrocities of a communistic dictatorship were so oppressive that he was compelled to forfeit his life in an effort to stop it or at least to delay the inevitable, if only for those few moments he could control.
The “tank man” is to be admired. However, such risky heroism is not as rare as you might think. American soldiers overseas and firemen on the home-front often display similar “tank man” recklessness in their vocations. Lives are frequently sacrificed in order to establish a military beachhead or to rescue people from burning buildings. Somehow they muster the courage to endanger their own lives for others, convinced the cause is worth it. They risk their lives with reckless abandon. The dictionary defines the individual words this way:
reckless /ré-kləs/ adj: marked by lack of proper caution: utterly unconcerned about the consequences of some action.
abandon /ə-bán-dən/ n: to give (oneself) over unrestrainedly.
reckless abandon /ré-kləs ə-bán-dən/: to give oneself unrestrainedly to the cause of Jesus and the promotion of His kingdom without concern for danger and the consequences of that action.
In mission, then, are we to be recklessly abandoned for Christ and the gospel among the nations? Or should we only go into the world with the gospel where we can safely do so? What do we do when we find that it’s impossible to manage the risks or to minimize the dangers to reasonable levels? Do we go—no matter what? Or do we wait until red carpets are rolled out for us?
It seems as though many in the West believe we should attempt to engage only those people groups that present “reasonable risks” to our missionaries. The not-so-subtle assumption is that missionaries should be routinely evacuated out of danger zones.
Why is it presumed that American missionaries have the “right” to require safe living conditions? Believers in the rest of the world assume that following Christ is naturally hazardous to their health! They live as lambs among wolves, expecting to be mistreated because wolves mistreat lambs (Matt. 10:16-25). Why do we think we should be exempt from what Jesus said would be the normal experience of His followers?
If it is admirable for our military men to die on foreign soil for American freedom and laudable for firemen to risk their lives for citizens in peril, why are missionaries dubbed as irresponsible fools when they choose to remain in hazardous situations with their families, “risking their necks” (Rom. 16:4) for the gospel of Christ?
Here is my rationale for sending missionaries with the gospel into hostile surroundings: Risk assumes the possibility of loss and is always determined by the value of the mission. The gospel is so valuable that no risk is unreasonable. Life is gained by laying it down for the gospel. If I live, I win and get to keep on preaching Christ. If I die, I win bigger by going directly to be with Christ (Phil. 1:22-24) and I get to take a few tribes with me.
I conclude that “losing my life” for the gospel is literally impossible because my years on this earth are worth far less than the value of the eternal gospel. This is what Paul means when he declares: “I consider my life worth nothing to me, if only I may finish the race and complete the task of testifying to the gospel of God’s grace” (Acts 20:24).
If this is true, there is no meaningful risk for me as a carrier of the gospel of Christ. If some tribal chief chops my head off, he’s doing me a favor. Think about it. If I get to (not have to) lay down my life in some remote jungle swamp, but God uses my death as an object lesson to turn their eyes to Christ and the gospel gets established among them, that isn’t a bad “risk” for me. I didn’t lose; I won! It was the bargain of a lifetime because Jesus is worth a lot more than my little life.
If we, as gospel ambassadors, are unwilling to suffer even as much as soldiers and firemen, could the reason be that we don’t treasure Christ enough or value the gospel enough to sacrifice significantly for its advancement into unreached regions? Is Jesus simply not worth the risk to many of us? Where is the line, over which, it is no longer worth it to go with the gospel?
David Sitton served as a church planting missionary in some of the remotest regions of Papua New Guinea during the 1970’s and 80’s. The Lord enabled him to make first contact with several previously unreached tribes and the establishing of 34 churches. In 1994, David founded To Every Tribe and, the following year, The Center for Pioneer Church Planting on the south Texas / Mexico border where he lives with his wife Tommi. David serves to train and launch church planting teams to those still without access to the gospel of Christ. David is the author of two books, To Every Tribe With Jesus and Reckless Abandon.