The recent arrest and jailing of David and Fiona Fulton brings to the fore once again that missionaries are not immune to the laws of the land in which they serve. Freedom of press in Scotland would have protected this couple from prosecution for sending emails to friends that were viewed as seditious to the Gambian government. For reasons known only to them the Fultons had been critical of the government in email messages, a media they must have thought secure. Email is not secure at all. Many governments and zealots regularly monitor such messages.
Email is not the only security issue for missionaries today. Security is such a serious concern that many current missionaries do not allow stories to be written about them, especially stories that mention their names, where they are working, or the methods they are employing to share the message of Christ. The number of missionaries working in security conscious settings will continue to increase for the foreseeable future as denominations and agencies begin to place more and more personnel among the remaining unreached people groups.
In past generations, very few missionaries were sent to the ‘closed’ areas of the world. If a government forbade ‘proselytizing’ or denied work permits to Christian workers, denominations and agencies would look elsewhere to plant churches. In many cases nationals in those same countries risk their lives, and some even paid with their lives, to share the Good News, but missionaries from the United States and Europe stayed away. That was the past generation’s response. Currently the unreached people groups in these countries are being penetrated by a bold breed of missionary with a ‘creative access’ approaches that takes many forms.
Mentioning the names and places such missionaries work would place them, and nationals who work alone side them, in danger. These courageous couriers of the Gospel dare not publicly report what they are seeing the Lord doing. If they think of praise at all, it is that the Lord and a small band of prayer warriors alone will laud them.
Recruiting missionaries for these areas is a challenge. Agencies and denominations must target some of these unreached people without the fanfare of promotional materials they use to publicize the more open opportunities in the world. Internships and short-term experience for aspirants are virtually nonexistent in these security conscious areas.
The risk is real for those who do make it to these ‘creative access’ countries and the anonymity is just as real. As Michelle Malkin stated last year in her Real Clear Politics blog article The Martyrs No One Cares About , “The blood of innocent Christian missionaries spills on Afghan sands. The world watches and yawns.”
Denominations and agencies have to reckon with how to respond when their personnel are captured by terrorists. Many agencies have policies against paying ransoms to terrorists. But others do not see it so clear cut. As Ted Olsen points out in his June 2003 Christianity Today article, “Did Martin Die Needlessly?” , New Tribes missionary Martin Burnham’s wife Gracia believes her husband would be alive today if someone had paid the proper ransom. To deal with this sticky question and other security issues many agencies have top notch security firms on retainer ready to advise them in extremely dangerous situations.
Without a doubt we are in a new age of missions, especially a new age of missions to the unreached. With it comes many challenges, security is indeed a major contemporary issue for the world and missions. What do you foresee as security issues missions must face? How should they be dealt with?