But if Not…
Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego answered and said to the king, “O Nebuchadnezzar, we have no need to answer you in this matter. If this be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of your hand, O king. But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up. Daniel 3:16-18 (ESV)
Three young Jewish exiles spoke these three small words to powerful King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon who held their very lives in his hands. They refused to bow to his nine-story tall golden statue and knew this would result in death by fire, a terrible way to leave this earthly life.
Can We Say the Same Words?
These young men were so rooted in trusting God that no matter what happened to them in this dire situation. They felt secure and ready to face any negative consequences, caring less about their comfort and safety than remaining steadfast in dedication to their heavenly Father. God was able to save them, but they decided their lives were totally His to do with as He pleased.
When I said yes to leave my pleasant, productive life in Mid-America and become principal at the International School of Kabul (ISK) in Afghanistan in 2005, I wondered if I would be repeating the words, but if not at some time in my journey overseas. The security situation in Afghanistan was not great in 2005 and even worse today.
Family members and devoted Christians questioned the decision. Casual acquaintances outside the church and faith community thought I was completely wrong to go. How could I leave my semi-launched three children and private school counselor position for such an unknown, potentially harmful environment? Even the U.S. State Department website basically said, don’t go there.
The U.S. Afghanistan Travel Advisory comments in 2005 were the same as now in 2018:
Do not travel to Afghanistan due to crime, terrorism, civil unrest, and armed conflict.
Travel to all areas of Afghanistan is unsafe because of high levels of kidnappings, hostage taking, suicide bombings, widespread military combat operations, landmines, terrorist and insurgent attacks, including attacks using vehicle-borne or other improvised explosive devices (IEDs). Attacks have targeted official Afghan and U.S. government convoys and compounds, foreign embassies, military installations, commercial entities, non-governmental organization (NGO) offices, hospitals, places of worship, restaurants, hotels, airports, and education centers.
I said I believed God would see to my safety, but if not, then as He wisely determined. In truth, I had no idea what craziness, chaos and violence I was stepping into in Kabul.
Are Western Christian Wimps?
During my seven years in Afghanistan many international Workers from the faith community were kidnapped and killed. Taliban, criminals, Islamist extremists, OAG (Other Armed Groups for unidentified terrorists) or even revenge-seeking locals could be the attackers. Doctors, teachers, guest house hosts, engineers, videographers, pastors, and students…the list of victims was varied and often unexplainable.
One Western female aid worker with my same first name was shot at 8:00 in the morning in October 2008 by two armed motorcyclists. She was walking the neighborhood streets to her non-governmental organization’s office as she did daily. Many families and students rushed to ISK to check on me. Other deaths close to my sphere of Kabul life involved ISK Afghan students, their families, and an American staff member’s son.
Our campus security supervised the school and staff housing. The vetted expatriate managers and Afghan guards were well-trained and loyal to the ISK team. Like all females in Afghanistan, national or international, I never drove or traveled anywhere alone. Sometimes I went to dangerous areas of the city or remote countryside with an armed guard in an armored vehicle. Because my husband was also living and working in Kabul, I could walk to a café, weekly international church services or the corner store with him IF permitted, a daily determination by our security specialist.
Afghans were quite familiar with war and danger, having endured conflict for over 40 years if remaining in the country. They sometimes made snide comments about expats who would quickly get on a plane and leave when trouble hit. ISK closed in January 2015 after months of escalating violence against internationals in Kabul city. The Afghan remarks then ranged from dramatic pleas to ugly criticisms that we would not bravely continue quality education for national students.
If Death Is Conquered by the Cross, What are We Afraid Of?
Most of us in the Western world are not facing death daily for our Christian faith.
Our challenges to trust God are more about job security, health issues, children and family crises, financial worries, immigrant invasion, political instability, and cultural behavior choices. Or about acquiring larger televisions and experiencing exotic vacations and owning the newest iPhone.
Should we settle for such limited priorities and definitions of our lives? And be rattled by material considerations? Should safety and pain-free living be our primary prayer requests?
On Facebook recently, I watched (more than once) a video interview by actor Jim Caviezel. Passionately he comments on the willingness of non-Western Christians to accept suffering and martyrdom as they stand for their faith. He refers to the killing of Coptic Christians in Egypt and slaughtered Believers in Syria and Iraq. Finally, he says, “I would say the United States, we’ve got to, as Christians, start not being afraid.”
In his current movie Paul, Apostle of Christ Caviezel plays the role of Luke. He is writing the last words of imprisoned Paul to encourage persecuted Christians in Rome and around the world. Today the situation is similar for global Believers. Caviezel challenges American Christians to think more about how we live, not how we might die since in truth, everyone dies one day. The focus must be our life’s meaning and legacy. In the interview, Caviezel refers to the importance of Paul’s declaration in Philippians 1:21 (NIV): For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.
With my cross-cultural experiences continuing today and my later-in-life season, I confess I think less about dying and more about how I am living. This is my time to make a difference, however small. God might protect me from suffering, but if not, I plan to live my years to the fullest and gain an eternal inheritance that cannot be taken from me.
Gail Goolsby, MA, MEd is a lifelong educator, including past leadership at an international school in Afghanistan. Gail and her pastor husband of 39 years live where the wind blows over the prairie in south Kansas. She counsels and coaches using God’s Word to help others learn to live well.