Serving in hard places

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Those who believed Jesus was the Messiah didn’t have an easy time of it in the land of Israel 2,000 years ago. Still today, Israel isn’t an easy place to be a Christian. Evangelicals are welcome to come as tourists, but they are not so welcome to come as missionaries.

I had the opportunity recently to visit Israel and met some evangelical Christians who live there. The ethnic background of our group’s tour guide is Jewish, but her spiritual beliefs are Christian. One evening we met with another “Messianic Jew.” He also is ethnically a Jew but he believes Jesus is the Messiah. He pastors a church in Israel and told about other Christian churches in the country. He told of how, when he was a young man, he was living in the United States but he felt called to move to Israel and serve the Lord there.

A number of years ago I met a man who had received a similar calling. He was a missionary, showing the Jesus film in Israel. I’ve known missionaries in Africa and India who have shown that film and entire villages have come out to see it. This man in Israel was happy if he could get together a few people in a living room to watch it.

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During our trip we visited Bethlehem, which is under Palestinian authority. Our Jewish tour guide couldn’t go with us there, so after we went through security checkpoints, we were met by a Palestinian guide. He is a Christian who faces serious challenges, living in a Muslim-dominated society. He isn’t interested in leaving the area, however. He believes it is where God has called him to be.

These Christians in the cities where Jesus was born and died have been called to serve the Lord in situations that are certainly not easy. It’s tempting for them to dream of moving to a place where the audience will be more receptive to the gospel and the chances of seeing fruit for their service are far greater. But sometimes God calls us to be His servant in hard situations.

The Lord warned the prophet Ezekiel he was being sent “to a rebellious nation that has rebelled against me …. The people to whom I am sending you are obstinate and stubborn. … the house of Israel is not willing to listen to you because they are not willing to listen to me, for the whole house of Israel is hardened and obstinate” (Ezekiel 2:3-4, 3:7). It was clear Ezekiel couldn’t expect to receive a lot of gifts during prophet appreciation month. The world wasn’t going to be impressed with the numbers he had coming to listen to him. But he needed to fearlessly declare God’s Word. “You must speak my words to them, whether they listen or fail to listen” (Ezekiel 2:7).

The mission God calls you to might not be to an audience that is immediately receptive. He might call you to serve people who don’t seem to be at all interested in the good news of Jesus. We aren’t to look for what place is the easiest and where is the chance of success the greatest. Even when the place is hard and challenging, joy and peace is found when you’re in the place to which God has called you.

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