Kidnapped!

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When you are a missionary, you deal with a whole new set of challenges that the average pastor in N. American would never have to contend with. Sure there is the usual preaching, teaching, reaching, counseling and leading, that’s just part of the job description of a pastor anywhere in the world. But if you are serving in a foreign field, then you encounter issues, e.g. exorcism or persecution, which you would rarely face in Canada.

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In the Middle East or Central & South America, one particular problem is kidnapping. According to SCR Ltd., a company which specializes in dealing with kidnap and extortion, Panama is not listed among the top kidnap and ransom (K&R) countries in the world generally. But to the local Chinese, K&R is a very real issue because they are often the target. Partly this is attributed to the perception that the Chinese are rich, as they are hard-working and many own their own store. As well, few of them would testify against their abductors for fear of retaliation, making them easy prey.

We visited one lady whose husband was kidnapped, apparently by local gangs. A Spanish-speaking man called and asked for a large sum of money. She wanted assurance that her husband was still alive and well, so they passed the phone to him and allowed him to speak to her in Chinese. He told her to give them the money right away, and that they would release him after they receive the ransom. She raised the money and dropped it off the next day, and waited. But weeks passed without any sign of him, nor further communication from the abductors.

She was superstitious and started consulting idol-worshiping mediums to appease the spirits to find her husband, but to no avail. It was then that we were introduced to her, nearly two months after the kidnap. What can a short-term mission team do under the circumstances?

The Bible has only four verses on kidnaps:
• Joseph was kidnapped from the land of the Hebrews (Gen 40:15);
• Kidnappers shall be put to death (Ex 21:16; Deut 24:7); and
• The Law is made for those who are lawless, including kidnappers (1 Tim 1:10).
The law will punish kidnappers if they are captured, but that is no comfort to her who is waiting anxiously with their three small children, running their store by herself and worrying about his safety.

We decided the best we could do in this situation is to lead her to Christ, so that she could lean on Him. One team member shared the gospel with her while the others prayed. Previously she would have rejected, as she had forbidden church members from taking her kids to Sunday school. But calamity could break down a person’s objections in a way no other means can, and she prayed quietly to receive Jesus as her Lord and Savior, entrusting everything, including her husband’s safety, into His hands. Since we will leave Panama in a few days, we asked her relative to follow her up.

Usually we would rather share more with her over a longer period of time, but these are not normal times. We just do what we can with the appointments the Lord gives us, and leave the results in God’s hands. Success in witnessing is sharing Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit and leaving the results to the Father. All He asked of us is obedience. Nothing more, nothing less. Hope you will do the same.

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Is Panama Safe?

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Sometimes people ask if it’s safe to go to Panama for mission trips. They’ve heard stories of high crime rates and gun violence, and worry about their security. It’s a legitimate concern. Yes there are anecdotal incidents. We even heard some on this trip.

One involved the Y-junction near the church. During the day it is extremely busy with traffic jams, but at night the intersection is quiet with little traffic. Recently a car was waiting at the lights when another car bumped into it. The driver got out to assess the damage, but two people came out of the other car, pointed a gun at him, took his wallet, and drove off with his car.

A second incident happened in the hair salon on the ground floor of our apartment building. Usually there is a watchman on duty, but one night near closing time while the guard was briefly away a robber came in, grabbed the money, and also took the keys to the building. That’s getting close to home.

A third concerned a Chinese man running a convenience store behind a steel cage, handing out merchandize and receiving payment through a small window like old style banks. He kept late hours hoping to do more business, despite the fact that the later it gets, the more dangerous it becomes. One night a man came up asking for a can of pop but had no money to pay. The store owner refused, so the man pulled out a gun and shot him dead.

The last serious case involved a lady we visited in old Chinatown. She and her husband ran a convenience store. One night she received a phone call from Spanish-speaking thugs who claimed that they had kidnapped her husband. She demanded proof that he was safe, and her husband was allowed to speak to her in Chinese. He told her to give them the money so they would release him. She complied, but two months after she paid the ransom there was still no sign of him.

All the Chinese merchants we knew had been robbed at some point. It is not a matter of if they had been robbed, but how many times. It is true that parts of Panama City (e.g. Chorrillo) and Colon has a high crime rate. But if you look up the statistics there are far more violent cities in Latin America, such as Caracas (Venezuela), Rio (Brazil), Acapulco (Mexico) and Guatemala City.

So is it safe? I believe for a Christian, his safety is in God’s hands. He could be safe in dangerous Honduras, or in danger in “safe” Toronto. Nothing will happen to him without the Lord’s permission. I am not saying that God will always protect and preserve His workers, as there are plenty of missionary stories to show that God does allow bad things to happen to His servants. But what I am saying is that for a Christian worker on kingdom mission, God will keep him safe until he has accomplished His purpose. That could be a short or long time, but in the final analysis, that’s the only thing that matters, not our comfort or happiness. I hope we can all learn to trust in the Lord for everything, including our safety and security. That’s basic discipleship.