Last night being the first Wednesday in the month, we met in the church rather than in home groups and our visitors this month were Ray and Anne Lee.
Ray and Anne have been missionaries in Africa since 1973 and actually met in Sudan that year. They shared something of the work in Southern Sudan, a little of the ministry of SIM around the world and finally their new role in the UK.
Southern Sudan often features in the news as some areas are unstable and violent. There are a number of people groups with different languages some of which are not written. It’s a region of strategic importance with the presence of oil and it being a gateway south to the rest of Africa. The presidential elections later this year and next a referendum on independence for the south, have a great potential for violence. On top of all this, there are the challenges of very poor roads where for much of the region boats are the only effective means of transport and a lack of the things we in the west take for granted.
It was encouraging to hear of the work that is going on in spite of all these difficulties. Missionaries from Europe, India and other countries in Africa are building relationships and sharing the gospel. Many of these missionaries face great danger in their own countries as well as in Sudan. In some groups there is a hunger to hear the word.
Ray and Anne’s new role is to support missionaries in the UK. Missionaries sometimes have to wait for many months after being accepted by SIM sometimes to raise funds and on other occasions for visas etc. Some missionaries return home on furlough exhausted and in need of support and encouragement. This is Ray and Anne’s ministry, standing with other missionaries in prayer and support. They also encourage churches that support a missionary.
Anne shared with us that on New Year’s Eve she had a sudden urge to pray for the folk that she knew in southern Sudan. It was only later that they heard that one of the compounds had been attacked by rebels and bullets had passed through the rooms where the missionaries and their children were lying on the floor. Some of the men had suffered burns but by a miracle everyone survived. It probably goes without saying that to hear these things is a challenge.
In such a harsh environment faith can never be a game, missionaries place themselves in harm’s way every day and by comparison our struggles can seem trivial. Yet we have a role in the Kingdom of God. We too are part of the Body of Christ. Here are the areas where the Lord is challenging me;
1. Live it. The Christian faith isn’t a Sunday morning hobby; it’s a new way of living. There are things that we don’t do, things that are contrary to the teaching of scripture and are not pleasing to God. There are also things that we do, to be the Lord’s ‘hands and feet’ to share his love in the world.
2. Say it. What we do and what we say are both vital. I don’t think you can practice just one. I remember hearing Jeff Marshall’s testimony some years ago; he said that before he was a Christian he was employed with a lot of people some of whom were Christians. He was desperate at the time but the only thing that marked out the Christians was that they smiled a lot. It’s easy to judge and many could truthfully say far worse things about me but do we want to be known as the people who smile a lot? The gospel has been spread by word of mouth, often by people who were afraid at the time. If believers can share the gospel in the Sudan, surely we can share it here.
3. Pray it. Paul encourages the Romans to be faithful in prayer. Not all of us are called to serve in other countries but we are all called to pray. I know from personal experience that to know even in a difficult situation people are praying is such an encouragement. Missionaries should never be ‘out of sight out of mind’. Anne’s account of praying on New Year’s Eve really challenged me. How often do we feel an urge to pray?
4. Hear it. Is God calling you to a ministry? Some will be called to serve abroad and if God is calling you and you are sure then be obedient. God calls all his people to minister and there is huge need in our own community. It should not escape our notice that many so called developing countries are sending missionaries to the UK. May our response be like that of Samuel when still a child “Speak Lord, for your servant is listening”.