My family left Australia when I was two years old to serve our first term of mission service. We were stationed on the beautiful island of Penang, on the west coast of Malaysia. It was an intensely charming place. When it came to mission postings, it was as sweet as it comes.
That said, it presented challenges. Within a short time of our arrival, race riots broke out. A total curfew was declared and a shoot on sight order for curfew breakers was instituted. Unfortunately, it was right at that time I decided to experiment with my dad’s razor blades. The experiment ended badly. And my family was faced with a dilemma: let me bleed profusely at home or risk being shot to death if we ventured out to the hospital.
. . . where is the respect, the deference, the memory and the honour for those who have laid down their lives in Christ’s cause?
My family chose the latter.
We survived, but one of our family friends, a young Chinese lab technician from the Adventist hospital, was not so fortunate. He was dragged off his motorcycle, beaten to death and then his body was burned. We passed the spot where he died whenever we went to the swimming pool. It was one of the oddest sensations—driving out for a happy swim, but passing by the big black oily mark on the road that memorialised the mindless murder.
It was to be my first of a number of brushes with violence as a missionary kid. When I was 14, a bomb exploded across the street from our home in Bangkok. Six people died from wounds incurred in the explosion and scores were injured. I’ll never forget the sight of the carnage and suffering that horrible night. Then there was all the incidental violence: our home was broken into by armed robbers; my dad was briefly held with an AK47 to his head by communist guerillas; one of our Adventist physicians was murdered by a young guy we knew; our ice-cream man was gunned down (apparently he was dealing drugs on the side—a precarious second job); and there were three murders and one police killing in my vicinity over the years.
Nowhere is perfectly safe, I suppose, but no-one is going to make a hip-hop album about growing up on the mean streets of Wahroonga where I currently live. In truth, I’m currently doing church service for sissies and I know it. But there are many serving our Church in the South Pacific who are very literally putting their lives on the line for God. In some nations they face periodic political instability, widespread violent crime, coups and ethnic violence. Added to this, they brave exposure to severe illnesses like malaria. Church service in much of the world isn’t for cowards.
And yet, as a community, we can be rather nonchalant about the incredible courage shown by our brothers and sisters. Every year we celebrate the bravery and sacrifice of those who serve in the armed forces. But where is the respect, the deference, the memory and the honour for those who have laid down their lives in Christ’s cause? Where is their memorial? When is their remembrance day?
The sad truth is we have no cenotaph, no parade and no day of remembrance.
This is a double tragedy, as not only are we failing to recognise the immense sacrifice of the heroes of our faith and their families, but we are also missing an opportunity to remind ourselves that sacrifice is central to the cause of Christ. Jesus tells us that unless we are willing to give up everything—everything—we aren’t worthy of Him. It’s time to remember the champions of our faith who haven’t just been willing, but actually have, given everything.
We are in the process of building an online memorial to all those from the South Pacific who have died in Christ’s service (that is, those killed in accidents, violent acts or by disease related to the location or conditions in which they served). We want the memorial to honour their sacrifice, remember their service and to inspire all of us to live a courageous life for Jesus. If you know of someone who has died in Christ’s service—whether they were a lay person or church worker—please send a biography of the length of your choosing or a factual summary, and, if you have them, photos, to: <email@example.com>.
Together we can remember the sacrifice of the very best of our community.
James Standish is editor of RECORD.