Our Greatest Challenge

“Pass me not, O gentle Savior, hear my humble cry…”  Vapor rose from nineteen voices blending together during morning worship.  Although huddling in a circle, rubbing our icy hands together, and trying to tuck our feet beneath ourselves where they might find a refuge from the penetrating cold, we sang with enthusiasm as the words warmed our hearts.

After several grand finale storms, rainy season departed and cold season found us mopping up leftover water from numerous leaks in our roofs and hanging our clothing out to dry a second time.  Long before light each morning, little clusters too cold to sleep gather around a fire on the hillside.  Everyone anticipates our daily work when we can get warmed up enough to endure our laundry and bath time.  Most days we still struggle to find the courage to pour enough icy cold spring water over ourselves to rinse off all the soap and get clean.  Then, teeth chattering, we run shivering back to our rooms, hang up our laundry, get dressed, and find another fire to stand beside.

Yesterday afternoon as the chilly water struck my skin with painful intensity, I remembered a strange fad I discovered when I arrived in America for my visa run a few months ago.  Everyone except me knew about it.  After several days of reading passionate discussions on the ethics of the cause and observing some rather strange behavior, I finally figured it out.  As I watched one young person I knew after another gleefully accept the challenge to pour a bucket of ice water over their heads on a hot summer day, I wondered what compelled them.  Did they truly care about helping other people, or were they motivated by the cheers and applause they’d receive from their friends for enduring a few moments of self-induced “suffering”?

Most Americans don’t know what suffering really is.  I’m learning, but compared to others I know, I hesitate to call my experiences suffering.  Last hot season I could only dream of the luxury of pouring a bucket of ice water over my head – or maybe sitting in it instead.  We laughed about what we’d do if an iceberg floated down the river in front of our school!  Ice was a rare treat – strictly rationed when available.  We’d put one cube in our freshly filled water bottle and watch it melt before we could take our first sip.  But now that cold season has arrived, the ice bucket challenge has become more of a daily routine for us.

Our new bath and laundry area – we have the best water pressure around!

And what about the constant plague of itchy fungal infections, unexplainable rashes, and tropical sores?  What about malaria and dengue fever?  What about when you have four flat tires in one day or when the road is so bad you can’t get to town to buy food for months at a time?  What about the many things we must do that we don’t want to or are even terrified of, like teaching in another school or spending the night alone with complete strangers you just met beside the road a few moments before – because you can’t reach your intended destination?  What about scorpions and deadly snakes slithering through your bed?  What about sixteen-mile, one-way hikes over rugged mountains, through mud and steamy jungle, with leeches crawling toward you from all directions?  What about trails so slick you can’t even stand, so you must carry your motorbike on your shoulders up the uncleared jungle mountainside?  What about running alone after dark from infuriated drug dealers when you meet a tiger the size of a truck on the trail or being shot at as you drive your motorbike to and from town?  Do we even dare call such things suffering?

What about not completing your high school education until you were twenty-seven because you spent the years between 3rd and 9th Standards fleeing from another army?  What about becoming a soldier when you were only ten years old?  What if your first memory was of running from gunmen and seeing your pregnant aunt shot and killed?  What about the scars from bullets in your own leg?  What about walking past corpses on your way to school everyday?  What about being force-marched by enemy soldiers through minefields and watching your father die when he stepped on a land mine?  And what about all that with no access to the gospel, no hope for anything beyond your present reality?

As those around us cry peace and safety, we’ve forgotten our Christian war cry and lost our focus on the reason for our existence in this world.  When I first arrived in S.E. Asia, just under two billion of the people in this world had zero access to the gospel.  In the past three years that number has escalated to over three billion.  3,000,000,000 people with no church, no Bible, no missionary – absolutely nothing – to give them hope for something better than the service of fear and shackles of Satan.  We’re not gaining ground; we’re giving it away!  In America when I drive to the grocery store, I pass seven Christian churches.  Here if I drive the same distance, I pass the same number of pagodas, plus a spirit house in front of nearly every home and business.  I can travel hundreds of miles across the country and see no Christian church or stand on a ridge and look out over fifty villages completely untouched by the gospel.  While the world is on the verge of Christ’s second coming and billions are faced with sudden destruction, why do we fool around dumping buckets of ice water over our heads?

I ask you today: What about our Commander’s challenge to die to self, the greatest challenge we will ever face?  Will we really give up everything in this life – our hopes and dreams, ambitions and even life itself – to gain more than everything in the next?  Will we prove His promises and vindicate His character before men and angels?  Will we obey His command to go into the whole world and rescue those held captive by Satan and his demons?

“Many who profess the name of Christ and claim to be looking for His speedy coming, know not what it is to suffer for Christ’s sake.  Their hearts are not subdued by grace, and they are not dead to self, as is often shown in various ways.  At the same time they are talking of having trials.  But the principal cause of their trials is an unsubdued heart, which makes self so sensitive that it is often crossed.  If such could realize what it is to be a humble follower of Christ, a true Christian, they would begin to work in good earnest and begin right.  They would first die to self, then be instant in prayer, and check every passion of the heart.  Give up your self-confidence and self-sufficiency, brethren, and follow the meek Pattern.  Ever keep Jesus in your mind that He is your Example and you must tread in His footsteps.  Look unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame.  He endured the contradiction of sinners against Himself.  He for our sins was once the meek, slain lamb, wounded, bruised, smitten, and afflicted.”  Early Writings, p. 113.

“Would you enter heaven if you could without suffering, and dwell in the presence of that Jesus, who suffered so much for us, whose loveliness and glory is unspeakable?  Oh, it would be no place for you.  Any other place would be far preferable.  You would feel that you had no right there.”  Review & Herald, February 17, 1853, par. 12.

“Let us, then, cheerfully suffer something for Jesus’ sake, crucify self daily, and be partakers of Christ’s sufferings here, that we may be made partakers with Him of His glory, and be crowned with glory, honor, immortality, and eternal life.”  Early Writings, p. 114.

I stand with Christ to challenge, not just three people by name, but everyone who reads this to a cause more grand, more noble, more worthy than pouring ice water over your head.  We challenge you to give your life to rescue those lost and bound in eternal darkness.  If we only would, we could rapidly end all sickness, wars, suffering, and death.  The three billion now beyond the reach of the gospel would hear and make their decisions, and we could leave Satan and all the misery he’s created behind forever.  Do you accept the challenge?

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