Many years ago, when I was just a 16 year-old teenager, a Christian minister gave me a verse from Scripture which I had carried with me until today and which I continue embracing as the essence of the humble ministry entrusted to me as a deacon of the Church, a minister of the Gospel.
The words he wrote for me were the words of the very apostle I had come to admire, whose letters I would read over and over again as a teenager, St Paul: "I do not place any value on my own life, provided that I complete the mission the Lord Jesus gave me - to bear witness to the good news of God's grace." (Acts 20.24)
I am constantly (and sometimes painfully) aware that my participation in the mission of the Church is small and probably insignificant compared to that of many missionaries in places whose names I cannot even remember, let alone pronounce. My mission has never taken me to such dangerous places so that my life has had to hang on a string, or so that I was in danger of being shot by terrorists or consuming contaminated water because the amenities were totally unsanitised. I know of people whose lives are perpetually hanging on a string for the sake of the Gospel. The work that I do is probably child's play for them. I frequently pray for these missionaries and think of them with much admiration and respect.
In the past one week though, I caught a very small glimpse of what it might feel like being "entrapped" in a place where my life might have easily been at stake without warning. I have been in Kota Kinabalu, the capital of Sabah state in East Malaysia where an uprising recently began among Sulu insurgents claiming that parts of Borneo belonged to their Sulu Sultanate. Shootings and bombings had begun in surrounding towns a distance away from Kota Kinabalu where I am. There were deep feelings of discomfort among the local citizens despite seemingly empty assurances by the government that the situation was safe.
I was supposed to fly to another city (Sandakan) from here for a conference over the weekend. When the security threat began, I received a telephone call from the organisers of the event asking if I was still intending to go there for the conference. I had about five seconds to think it through before giving my reply to the organiser. The first thought that raced through my mind was the above passage, Acts 20.24, from St Paul. I realised that even in such a situation, wherever there was a gospel to be preached, wherever there was a crowd or community waiting to receive the Good News that saves, St Paul would go to them regardless of the inconvenience of the situation. Many times had he jeopardised his life for this cause, suffering multiple shipwrecks, imprisonments and floggings.
The life of St Paul gave me courage to say "yes" to the anxious people of Sandakan. Of course, later, the Bishop of Sandakan instructed for the event to be cancelled, like a father who cares for the security and safety of his children (as well as for mine). But I know that if this instruction had not been given, I would still have gone there. Because St Paul would have done so.
I am unsure how many "risky situations" I need to face in the course of my duties as a minister of the Gospel, and I am uncertain if I will always have the courage to say "yes" to those from dangerous lands who ask to receive a glimpse of the power of the Gospel. This experience has got me thinking much more about such situations that might arise in the future. I hope and pray I will find enough courage and confidence in Christ to say, "Yes, I will go... because I do not place any value on my own life, provided that I complete the mission the Lord Jesus gave me - to bear witness to the good news of God's grace."