The obvious meaning of the title of Amy Peterson’s memoir, Dangerous Territory, is that she lived in a country where being a Christian was dangerous. Owning a Bible, watching the Jesus film, talking to friends and family about Jesus, going to religious conferences—all of it was dangerous. So dangerous in fact, that Peterson won’t mention the name of the country (which is somewhere in Southeast Asia).
But the under-the-surface meaning is that faith is dangerous, that following God is dangerous. Perhaps, even, that God himself is dangerous. Like Mr. Beaver said about Aslan in C. S. Lewis’s The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, “Safe?...Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn't safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.”
This God—the good, unsafe God—is not the kind of God American Christians talk about often in their churches. But when Amy went abroad, she encountered him with the force of a head-on collision.
Experiencing a Dangerous God
It’s easy to hear Mr. Beaver’s words about Aslan, apply them to God, and quote them as true. Tingles run up and down my arms when I hear the sentence, and I’m inclined to worship this great, complex God. But being inspired and praising a dangerous God is a lot easier than experiencing him, or watching people we love experience him.
I have spent the last 14 years in three different countries in the Horn of Africa. One of the most common questions I get is: Are you safe? This is a hard question to answer. Do I feel safe? Yes. Am I actually, truly, really safe? Well…Yes. No. What do you mean by “safe?”
Do you mean, “Are there bombs going off and guns everywhere and high risk of kidnapping and I can’t leave my house or go out alone?” In that case, I am perfectly safe. But could I get malaria? Could my kids get dengue fever? Could there could be a car accident or a terror attack? Could I die or lose my faith? If you look at things that way, I am absolutely not safe.
Peterson was raised on a steady diet of missionary biographies, all the classics: Amy Carmichael, William Carey, Hudson Taylor, Adoniram Judson. She marinated in what she now calls the “missionary myth,” the notion that the best way to be a Christian, the best way to be a world traveler, and the best way for women to be active in ministry is to be a missionary. Because she loved Jesus and wanted to serve people in his name, she decided to train as an English teacher in order to work abroad.
Contrary to what her director communicated before she left the United States, Peterson found spiritually open, hungry people at the university where she taught English. She spent months investing in one young woman in particular, who then shared the gospel with her family, extended relatives, and close friends. Peterson writes their story as one of the delight and joy of discovery; this woman’s discovery of a loving God and Peterson’s discovery of this same God through fresh eyes.