Despite the exchange of gifts and the seemingly friendly first meeting, Nate Saint, Jim Elliot, Roger Youderian, Pete Fleming, and Ed McCully were speared and hacked to death by the Auca — more appropriately called Huaoroni.*
This tragic loss of their lives was overcome, however, by the courage and grace of their wives. These brave women stayed in Ecuador with their children and several of them later moved in with the tribe that had killed their husbands. Over time, many in the tribe became followers of Christ and most of the Huaoroni gave up their murderous ways because of the influence of these martyred men and their families.
When we talk about GO_fearlessly, we often think of stories like this one or the one in the book of Acts where everyone who was scattered by the persecution that began with the execution of Stephen took the good news of Jesus wherever they went (Acts 8:4; Acts 11:19-21).
But what about us? I'm talking about those of us who never expect to be in such danger or go to such places. I believe that there are several reasons we don't generally consider the mandate to GO_fearlessly to be for us!
The five who died in Ecuador is outside our EEZ — our Expected Experience Zone. And things outside our EEZ become irrelevant to us because we never expect them to happen to us. So while we may admire the heroic risks the five young men took and the incredible courage and grace of their wives, we don't ever expect to experience this kind of situation. We admire them, but we never expect to have to do what they did.
In addition, we are a little embarrassed, because not only do we not have their courage, but we don't even stand up to the push back we receive in our culture. We fear being made fun of, being ostracized, being passed over for a job promotion, or being treated as if we were invisible to everyone else. We shut ourselves off from the call of sharing our faith because we are not good at "witnessing" or "evangelizing" or "being a missionary."
There is simply no place or need for us to GO_fearlessly. So we give ourselves a free pass. This is not for us. Yet there Jesus is with his last words, uttering the Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20). And here we are, not sure what we will do about it!
I'd like to share two simple perspectives with you to help all of us deal with this disconnect from Jesus' command and our hearts.
First, let's look at the words Peter sent early followers of Jesus. His words are sent to them at a time when persecution was on the rise and about to get a lot worse. This is what Peter says:
But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect ... (1 Peter 3:21 NIV).
This is a command for each of us, and if we look at it closely, I believe we can see some clear strategies to help us GO_fearlessly.
- We begin by giving Jesus the honored place in our hearts! Once we remind ourselves who he is and what he has done for us, then we are motivated by the right things!
- We prepare ourselves by being able to easily say what Jesus means to us and how he has blessed us — I often call this telling our story. We can prepare to do this by writing it out until we get it down to what we would really like to share with someone else. Then we find a friend with whom we would to practice our story until we can say and share it easily.
- We share our hope and the reason behind our hope in Jesus. We share what a difference this hope has made in our lives. We share how this hope has changed us and helped us experience the presence of Jesus in our own lives. We share our story of hope that we have prepared!
- We do all this with gentleness and respect. We do it out of love and we do it lovingly. We do it as one who is in love with Jesus, the one who came to demonstrate God's love (John 3:16-17; 1 John 3:16).
Second, let's look at Jesus' words that are often called "The Great Commission."
Then Jesus came to them and said, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age" (Matthew 28:18-20).
- Make Disciples — the key command is "make disciples of all nations" — we are to help people become followers of Jesus! In other words, people like us and not like us are people who need to become followers of Jesus. But how do we do that?
- Go — we move from our EEZ and reach across the distance that separates us from someone else. The distance can be short or far, but we place ourselves in a position to connect with people.
- Baptize — we help folks enter into a saving relationship with Jesus through faith and baptize them in authority and power of God's name — Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
- Teach to obey — we don't just convey information, but we train them to obey. We help them to mature in what they know about Jesus and his will and we help them obey that in the challenges of their life.
The Great Commission is a community challenge — Jesus wants God's family to know that this is a joint effort, something we do together. Some are good at going. Some are good at baptizing. Some are good at teaching to obey. We join our efforts together to help cross the gap between us and others, help them experience salvation in Jesus, and then lovingly train them to live for Jesus. If we are honest with ourselves, we are probably not good at all of those things, but we can certainly be good at one of them and focus on playing a key role in others coming to Christ!
While I am deeply moved by the story of these five men and their families, I know that most of us will probably never face the radical consequences in sharing our faith that they did. But I do know that I can share the reason for my hope when I'm asked. I also know that I can play a part in the going, the baptizing, or the teaching to obey that helps Jesus' family make disciples. So rather than being afraid of sharing my faith, I'm going to anticipate it and be ready to share the hope in my heart with gentleness and respect!
* For more on the story of the five men, please check Wikipedia. A good place to start is the entry "Through the Gates of Splendor" (http://bit.ly/fXMOMI) and "Beyond the Gates of Splendor" (http://bit.ly/ghGEFA) — check the key links in these entries for more information.