WASHINGTON – The looming war against Iraq causes many international missions groups to cancel their trips to Middle East. Missionaries who lived full-time overseas returned to America, and many others moved to a less dangerous region.
"The potential for risk outweighed the potential for ministry," said the Rev. Ed Rowell, whose People's Church in suburban Franklin abandoned plans for a mission to Krygyzstan, where a radical Islamic group has called for a holy war against Americans.
The global fear of terrorism has taken its toll even on campus fellowships.
"Whether we like it or not, a lot of people are painting the world situation as Christian vs. Muslim," said Kevin Inman, director of campus ministries. "Even though that's not the case, if you send a bunch of American Christian students out there, they could be targets."
The Ouachita Baptist University in Arkadelphia, Arkansas, similarly halted their planned summer missions to Kenya, Russia and Taiwan.
Nonetheless, there remains Christian groups who do not fear persecution while partaking in Christ’s command to "go and make disciples of all nations."
"I choose to live in a world where God is in control," said Earl Lavender, director of missions at Church of Christ-affiliated Lipscomb University in Nashville. "If we stop out of fear, then how are we different from people in the world who don't have hope?"
Lavander left for Scotland and England with a group of students on March 14.
Nicku Mordi, missions director for Bethel World Outreach Ministries in Silver Spring, Maryland agreed with Lavander. "We have to continue to do what God has called us to do,"
However, statistics show a steady decline in short-term mission volunteers since the September 11 terrorist attack. Volunteers for the Southern Baptist Church, America’s largest protestant denomination, dropped by more than 20 percent last year.
The Rev. Tom Doyle, director of Middle East ministries for EvangeCube Global Ministries, understands the reason for the decline.
"You walk about 100 yards (meters) and there's guns trained on you on both sides, so it is scary," he said, explaining missions situations in the Gaza Strip. Even so, Doyle continues on missions trips because of the endangered souls. "We think there really is a heaven and hell and if these people aren't reached, they're going to go there."
By Pauline J.