Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Foreign Policy and Missions

As we continue through this crazy election season, I want to encourage Christians to be thinking (and then voting*) about how this or that administration will affect the proclamation of the gospel to the nations.

When I was in college I had the chance to "smuggle" some Bibles into a foreign country.  Although carrying Christian literature was constitutionally legal in that country at that time, the anti-Christian religio/political situation was such that you pretty much had to sneak them in.  Ten of us folded a total of 250 thin-line Bibles into our clothing in our backpacks.  We hid the books in such a way that a superficial inspection of our bags would leave them undetected.  We traveled into the country in pairs and proceeded through the various baggage checks and customs stations without making any noticeable contact with our group -in case one of us got caught, we didn't want all the other's to be compromised as well.

After crossing the border we traveled into a city and convened at a restaurant.  At the Restaurant we sat at a table and stealthily transferred all the Bibles from our 10 individual bags into 2 bags under the table cloths. Two guys then boarded a train and traveled deeper into the country to deliver the Bible's to an underground church somewhere and the rest of us occupied ourselves with some sight-seeing for the day.  Especially for a college student, the whole experience was a blast; we felt like missionary James Bonds or something!

The experience was profoundly inspiring in a few different ways.  Not only was it strengthening of our faith and confidence in Christ, but I also took away a significant lesson related to international relations and the accessibility of the gospel.

If any customs officials or police would have found the stash of Bibles in our bags or caught us transferring the goods etc. the consequences for us as American's would probably have been pretty minimal.  This country had (and has) a good relationship with the U.S. and pretty much out of respect they would most likely have confiscated the Bibles and then refused to let us across the border, sending us back the way we came.  Possibly we would have been detained for a few hours for questioning.  Although it was possible that there could have been more dire consequences, that was pretty unlikely at that time.

A local resident or even a citizen of another country might not have been so blessed; they could have been subjected to a more harsh punishment.  But simply because we were from the U.S. we had less to worry about.  Our countries relationship with this foreign nation was so positive and they were so fundamentally appreciative of the United States,  that we as American's would have been given extra mercy for transgressing a serious social norm.

On the way out of that country I had another experience that was interesting.  We were actually leaving on a boat/Ferry and at the port station there were the various different security checkpoints.  If I remember correctly, there were 3 different checkpoints that we had to pass through.   The lines were held up and the boat departure time was drawing nigh.  We weren't sure we were going to make it!  But then, while in line at the last checkpoint, a border guard stood up and held up a Blue U.S. passport and shouted "American's" and began waving his hand in a gesture for any American's to pass on through.  The line was full of international travelers with passports from many different places and we were able to walk right by them to the front of the line and pass expediently through the last checkpoint with virtually no handling.   We simply held up our passport and the guard directed us to the boat!  We were literally given special treatment because we were from the U.S.!

I remember thanking God for such a successful adventure while marveling at the irony of the situation.   And I also remember thinking this: "Wow! Blue American Passport's are very powerful!"  To quote 'uncle Ben' "with great power comes great responsibility"   I remember thinking about how useful American citizenship was for enabling the spread of the gospel!  I remember being grateful and even proud that America had such rapport!  Because of America's role in the world, we were able -as American college students to carry scriptures to people who needed them with incredible expedience and a considerably limited risk to boot!   I remember thinking that this was really cool!

America's role and reputation in the world were actually helpful for the cause of Christ!  Having an American passport was a powerful and precious gift!  I didn't personally earn it, but for the sake of the Gospel, I wanted to steward it well and help other American's to do the same!  And I felt there was an urgency -even as I rejoiced, I remember thinking that such privilege probably wouldn't last forever!   Even then, I speculated that a day would come when our blue passport would gain us nothing positive at a foreign border!

In September of 2002 I was in Spain standing outside one of the University buildings handing out a mini-magazine talking about the events of 9/11 and explaining the gospel.  Most people were respectful, a few were engaging and another few shouted belligerently at us, ridiculing us for being American's.   On that day, in that country, our U.S. citizenship was NOT actually helping us to make the gospel accessible!

I have many concerns about the candidates running for president and the effects their administrations would have on our lives and the world we live in, but one primary grid that I can't not filter things through is what I'll call the "missionary grid."   I look at potential candidates and ask questions like "if this person were president, how would that help or hurt the forth-going of the gospel in the world.   In particular, I ask; "will this person as president make it easier for American's to travel abroad serving as gospel-proclaiming ambassadors for Jesus, or harder?"

Jesus' command (known as the Great Commission) to us in Matthew 28:18-20 factors into pretty much all of my big life decisions, as I actually think it should for every follower of Christ.  I know that the president is not the "pastor in chief", and yet, I think committed Christians should be thinking very much about the spread of the gospel to the nations and how a presidential administration will either impede that or enable it.   There are many important issues in the world, but the ultimate answer and hope for the world is found in the good news of Jesus Christ.

*Yesterday I went to the DMV to get my address changed.  While filling out the forms I also changed my political party affiliation to "none".  I'm planning not to vote in the presidential election in November.  

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