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Young Missionaries From Nyack College Willingly Risk Safety To Aid Others

ICC Note: Soldiers of God’s Kingdom expect no less of a battle than our countries military….life may be the price to pay.

by Christina Jeng

10/06/07, US (THE JOURNAL NEWS) – Holly Nichols has spent nearly every summer since the eighth grade doing missionary work.

The 25-year-old, who is pursuing a master’s degree at Nyack College’s Alliance Theological Seminary in Upper Nyack, has traveled to countries like Mexico, South Africa, Romania and, most recently, Pakistan.

She has worked in orphanages, taught English and AIDS education, and has visited churches in those nations, encouraging their leaders and members through prayer and preaching.

Though the areas she visits are sometimes hostile to foreigners or Christians, she says she will continue to go wherever her faith calls, even if that means putting her life at risk.

“I made a decision a long time ago,” she said recently, “that if whatever I felt God is calling me to do meant that my life would be sacrificed, I was willing to make that sacrifice.”

Missionary work has come under fire since the recent kidnapping and killings of South Korean aid workers by the Taliban in Afghanistan, a predominantly Islamic nation. Nevertheless, Christians in a recent survey said they still strongly support such trips to dangerous regions.

Luis Sanchez, a 23-year-old Nyack College undergraduate, spent about a month of his summer in Ecuador, where he ministered to disabled orphans and children of scavengers at the city dump. He also traveled through the Amazon jungle, conducting vacation Bible school programs, preaching and playing soccer with the people there.

“To give them food, to hug them, to minister to them, to pray with them and just to love on them,” he said of what he and his team tried to do.

Like Nichols, Sanchez said that with proper training, Christians should continue to go to trouble spots in the world – even if in the process it costs them their lives.

“So many people are willing to live for Christ, but not many people are willing to die for him,” he said.

If that sounded radical, he said, “We’re called to live a radical life. We’re not called to live lives of comfort.

“Christianity is called to be a revolution, a revolution of love, and no greater love has a man than for him to die for his friends,” he said, citing Scripture.

On July 19, Taliban militants kidnapped 23 South Koreans in Afghanistan’s Ghazni Province as they traveled by bus on a dangerous road from Kabul to Kandahar in the south. Two hostages, including a pastor, were killed, and the rest were released after six weeks.

Since then, the church that sent the aid workers – Saemmul Church – has been criticized for ignoring travel warnings and allowing the volunteers to go to such a volatile country and for forcing the involvement of the South Korean government. The Taliban won face-to-face talks with government delegates, agreeing to release the hostages after South Korea said it would withdraw troops from Afghanistan and pull out and ban South Korean mission groups from going to the country.

After their release, the aid workers apologized to the government, which had been under intense pressure to bring them home safely and had faced criticism for negotiating with the captors.

Still, the former hostages showed no sign of wanting to give up missionary work, according to a Reuters report.

“We understand the Christian community is debating that,” Lyu Kyung-sik, one of the hostages, told Reuters when asked if they would return to dangerous areas to do missionary work. “We’ll follow the decision.”

According to a recent survey conducted by, American Christians still support missionary work in danger zones, a Christianity Today article said.

In light of the South Korean aid workers’ capture, 53 percent of those surveyed said church members should continue to volunteer for short-term mission trips in dangerous places; 56 percent said mission work should continue even in nations where Christian evangelism is forbidden by law, the article said.

Asked whether missions to dangerous areas were irresponsible, 2 percent said yes and 63 percent said it was irresponsible only if the missionaries were unprepared, the article said.

Matthew Cook, missionary-in-residence at Alliance Theological Seminary, has spent the last eight years in Cote d’Ivoire, formerly known as Ivory Coast, an African nation where he and his family have been evacuated twice due to unrest in the region.

Cook said he plans to go back and would not hinder others from going to risky places.

“If someone decides that they can handle the level of risk themselves, they’re comfortable with that, and there is an opportunity to do good, that, I think, is very acceptable,” he said.

Cook said he was aware of criticism that efforts by Christian missionaries were historically linked to colonialism or that evangelism did away with native cultures.

“Traditionally, colonization came with missionaries, missionaries came with colonizers,” he said. “The two just weren’t separate.”

However, he said, that isn’t the case today. Cook, who teaches Christian theology, said that at his seminary he is under the authority of Africans. The national church has little input from North America, and churches started by Africans are increasing, he said.

“Missionaries have certainly taken much more of a supportive role or a consultant role in order for the church to flourish as it wills,” he said.

As for stripping native people of their cultures, he said globalization via television is the culprit, not Christianity.

“There are some cultural anthropologists who like the idea of isolating people groups,” he said. “Unfortunately, globalization is rapidly changing African culture, and that doesn’t have anything to do with Christianity.

“Television is changing the African culture much more rapidly than missionaries could. And I have to say, it’s not for the good, specifically because values of respect are deteriorating.”

Christianity, he said, offered a religious option among many others.

“If I could protect African traditional ways, I certainly would, but that’s not my right,” he said. “Africans have a right to choose what they will.”

Nichols said providing another option was part of what motivated her to do missions work. She said that in the process of providing humanitarian aid to people, she also hoped they would convert to Christianity. But if they chose not to do so, she said, she would still provide aid.

“Everyone has the freedom to make their own choices, and God left it that way, too,” she said. “I would still love them.”

During the summer, Nichols went to Pakistan despite U.S. travel warnings of suicide bombings and terrorist activity there. She said the trip and the people she met were worth the risks. Her five-member team visited Christian churches there and provided spiritual encouragement by praying for them.

The team, which was in Pakistan during the kidnapping of the South Koreans, also traveled with an armed escort to the border of Afghanistan, where they prayed for the country.

“We read the warning that the U.S. government has about going to Pakistan, and in a sense you could always live your life safely,” she said, “but then you would never risk, and to me it’s not worth living life without risking