I was on a skinny wooden boat recently traveling up river to a remote cluster of villages we had never been to. We’ve only seen these villages in our minds as we prayed for them and on satellite images surrounded by mountain valleys. We were determined to get there despite the fact that we didn’t have a boat, didn’t know how to drive one, didn’t have life jackets and didn’t know the way. So we borrowed a boat, learned how to drive it that morning, trusted God to keep us afloat and mapped the directions on our GPS device.
After five hours of navigating through dead trees and making U-turns we arrived at our first village. The naked kids ran away and the adults stared with suspicion as most had never seen a white face before (my friend) let alone ever heard the name of Jesus. That day we were able to prayer walk in several villages along the river before being questioned and sent away by communist officials. That was our queue to return despite the fact that there were still over a dozen villages we didn’t get to. At dusk we found a clearing along the river, pitched our tents, started a fire and camped in the jungle with the surrounding wildlife.
Risky? Most definitely. Dangerous? Without a doubt. Worth it? The Gospel is worth everything…it costs Jesus His life.
There is a world of difference between taking calculated risks and taking spontaneous action. One is being wise and the other is being stupid. In Matthew chapter 10, Jesus laid out some solid principles for being His witnesses in dark places. As He transitions from instruction to warning He says in verse 16, “I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves…” In a nutshell, Jesus is saying, “There will always be risks in what I ask you to do but don’t be an idiot and not do your homework.”
You’d be surprised at the number of missionaries who leave for the field knowing very little about the places they are going to live and work. They haven’t looked into the historical background, cultural practices or spiritual climate of the people they are hoping to reach. This is what’s called taking uncalculated risks and being unwise about our responsibilities. Whatever it is that God has called us to do, whether we’re engaging homeless people in the slums of L.A., rescuing orphans in Bangladesh, providing vocational skills for trafficked girls in Cambodia, or taking a wooden boat up miles of jungle river, we must do everything we can to learn about the context and minimize unnecessary risks. If the Gospel is really that important to us than we must take the time to understand the people and places we are sent to reach.
Yet at the end of the day Jesus is asking us to step out in faith. He cares less about the knowledge that we acquire and more about the state of our hearts. It’s impossible to know everything. In our journey of obedience there will always be tons of unknown variables with big questions marks (?????). We will never know what will be around the next corner, over the next hill or in the next email. This is a good thing because without an element of risk there is no need for faith. The only thing we can know for sure is that Jesus keeps His promise. He sends us out as Gospel bearers and that is the safest place we can be.