IT DOESN’T SEEM FAIR
“. . . he steadfastly set his face to go to Jerusalem” (Luke 9:51, KJV). Jesus knew that the time had come for Him to move toward Jerusalem, and though Gethsemane also lay ahead, He did not hesitate. In this issue of Alliance Life, we honor a few of the dozens of C&MA workers who steadfastly followed the Lord to the most difficult of destinations: death for the sake of the Father’s mission.
For more than a century, Alliance missionaries have taken the gospel of Jesus Christ to the ends of the earth, including the places where disease or political unrest has made ministry difficult at best and downright deadly in a number of cases. A detail about the Swedish missionaries killed in the Boxer Rebellion of 1900 that stands out was their relative youth: most were men and women in their twenties or early thirties, with children and babies in tow (www.cmalliance.org/about/history). But the most striking characteristic of the group is their determination to bring people to saving faith in Christ no matter the cost. “We live and die for the Lord and China,” Carl Lundberg wrote as his attempts to flee the Boxers proved futile (back cover).
Meanwhile, Annie Gowans toured China’s capital with a small band of soldiers, looking for remnants of the national church she had helped the Swedes to establish (p. 6 ). Although a band of missionaries was able to escape across Mongolia and then to Russia, the devastation of the Chinese church in Beijing was evident as Gowans went door to door seeking members of the congregation. Not even children were spared the Boxers’ fury. If anyone deserved the protection of God’s angels, human reasoning would chose the Lord’s workers, His church and the innocent boys and girls who learned about the Savior in the mission school. Any other outcome just doesn’t seem fair.
In Disappointment with God Phillip Yancey writes about the unfairness of life, using the story of Job as a framework. Yancey interviewed a young seminarian who had planned his life in fine detail, only to become cynical when reality turned out to be more creative than his dreams. But Yancey also talked to a believer whose life had been shattered by injury and illness, yet he had developed a remarkable faith in the Lord. When asked how his trust in God had managed to mature through great trials, the man told Yancey, “The cross forever does away with the notion that life should be fair.”
Even as Christians, our tendency often is to try to control our lives or, if that fails, to manipulate adverse circumstances to our favor. In the name of fairness, we would rather turn away from the crosses set before us. Like Yancey’s seminarian, we plan our lives as if God’s will were our will instead of the other way around—forgetting that no one is asked to be godlike, but every follower of Jesus is called to be Christlike. For some, that calling will lead to suffering or even death. And for loved ones who remain behind, it will mean weeping and, in the best outcome, a growing trust in God, in whom there is no darkness (1 John 1:5). For all of us it means living in authenticity through the power of the Holy Spirit. As Bob Griswold, whose sister and father were killed, points out (p. 12), the C&MA workers lived in Christ before they died in Him. “Their character and the way in which they ministered was pretty much a copy, one of the other—giving, focused, a passion for Christ, a focus on the practicality and believability of the Word of God,” he told us.
In “Those Winter Sundays,” poet Robert Hayden speaks of “love’s austere and lonely offices.” Only God can know what it means to exercise love so perfectly it sometimes seems severe to those who experience it. The survivors of the missionaries who died in Vietnam speak of the struggle—often surging and waning over the years—to find peace in the violence that took their loved ones (p. 8). Through many tears and the shock of great grief, Cheryl Phenicie, who lost a “soul mate” to murder in 2002, remembered that the Lord “does all things well” (p. 21).
Some may wonder where God is when tragedy strikes, especially when it takes those who seem to “deserve it” the least. The cross reminds us that He is there, holding out His hand—a wounded, nail-pierced hand—to guide us through.
Melinda Smith Lane