I apologize (to all three of my regular readers) for the long delay in posting. The past few weeks may have been the busiest of my life. Life as a graduate student and church planter and husband has left no time for blog updates. And though the pace has not yet slowed, I felt the need to keep my commitment to this site. My heart for this blog has always been to provide a place for my friends to reflect on spiritual issues. With that said, let me share a story I heard this week from Dr. William Payne, professor of Evangelism and Mission at Ashland Seminary.
Dr. Payne, in my opinion, is an impressive man. First, he presently pastors a church and teaches at the seminary. I respect that fact that his work in the academy has not shaken his commitment to leading in the church. He is also very active in world missions. He’s led many international mission projects, planted churches, and, through his service as a military chaplain, worked as a coordinator of humanitarian relief and pastored a church in a Cuban refugee camp. Next month he is leaving his teaching and pastoring roles to return to chaplaincy; he will be in Iraq for a full year.
Here’s where the story gets wild…Dr. Payne is a pacifist. He opposes violence and war. Though he is granted an armed guard to follow his every move when he is in the field, he chooses not to have one. He understands his position as one to meet the needs of the US servicemen and the “enemy.” In fact, most of his work is with the innocent and unarmed people on the enemy side. Why does he do this? His conviction does not rest in a liberal political ideology but in the Gospel of Jesus Christ. His allegiance is to the Kingdom of God first and foremost. So he ministers to and preaches the Gospel to both sides.
This commitment has almost killed him twice. Here is the story of one of those times. He was working with Cubans in a refugee camp, serving as a pastor in the camp. In the middle of a baptismal service, where Cubans who had just made commitments to follow Jesus were to be baptized, a small band of rebel soldiers tried to take Dr. Payne captive in order to gain leverage with the American military. They were going to take him hostage and make demands that, if not met, would result in his death. But just as this group of men came into the camp, the Cubans in his congregation circled around him. They wouldn’t let the rebels in. They chose to defend their brother in Christ over their countrymen. With him in the middle, they moved the circle toward a makeshift jail cell that resembled a cage. They locked him in the cage so that the rebels couldn’t kidnap him. When the bad guys gave up and left, his congregants unlocked him and he finished the baptismal service.
Most likely there were some who surrounded him who had only been Christians for a few hours or even minutes. Here is what strikes me: these Cubans understood the Kingdom of God in a way that I don’t yet.