For I Was a Stranger, and You . . .
I was a missionary for many years.
Often, missionaries find writing newsletters home to be one of the more difficult parts of their life. It can be hard to find topics that will interest and inspire your supporters.
I never had that problem.
I was raised in a wonderful Conservative Baptist Church in Oregon. I love my childhood church. They were consistently supportive of me, and my church's membership funded a large majority of my ten plus years of missionary service.
They always loved my newsletters home. I worked in several "difficult access" countries: religiously difficult, politically difficult, and economically difficult.
I wrote stories about the risks we took to fulfill our missionary calling. In many locations we had to find creative ways to get in and out of countries just to fulfill our work.
In one country, we were labeled "false believers." The government would never give us a religious visa as missionaries, so we lived as "tourists." To do this, we had to leave the country every couple of months and reenter by another border crossing in order to live as perpetual tourists. If creative, we could keep up this ploy for years.
In another country, missionaries had to invent other reasons for living there. Some took the status of "student." Student visas were not highly scrutinized, and even though we often "forgot" to enroll in classes, we felt justified because we were in fact "students of the culture."
Many times I performed old fashioned smuggling of Christian materials. We found wonderfully creative ways to move large stacks of papers across hostile borders. The spaces behind the paneling of a car door, for instance, can hold a surprising amount of books and materials.
One time, one of my missionary friends lost her documentation while we were traveling. She lost it in a particularly ill-fated location, a forgotten corner of the world where it was nearly impossible to get documents replaced. After much praying and scheming we devised a plan. First we chose a poorly staffed border crossing, over a little used mountain pass. We intentionally crammed our entire party, nearly a dozen people, into a single, fairly small vehicle. Our friend was placed in the back row, in the center. The plan, to hand the bored and power-intoxicated border guards our entire stack of passports and hope that in the process of matching foreigners to documents, they might lose count. (Don't all Americans look alike?) It was a sweat-inducing and prayer-triggering thirty minutes of scrutiny. Then, at the very moment it seemed our ruse would be discovered, there was a sharp shout from the dilapidated security house. When the security force returned, agitated and confused, they simply abandoned the head-count and hastily waved our team through. That was one of our closer calls.
I have stolen across a country at war on a train. This country considered the USA to be a devil. I have endured interrogations, bailed friends out of jail and executed plans to avoid secret police, all to ensure that our missionary work could continue.
Tony Kriz is a writer and church leader from Portland, Oregon, and Author in Residence at Warner Pacific College.