When former President Jimmy Carter recently addressed the Christian Booksellers Association meeting in Atlanta, he was asked how Christians should respond to the non-Christian culture in which we live today. The questioner seemed to suggest that, though America was once a Christian country, it has now become not only secular but is hostile toward Christian faith.

In response, Carter told a story from his tenure in the White House. Idi Amin, the tyrant then in power in Uganda, took 52 American missionaries hostage, threatening to kill them, one by one. With anguish, Carter appealed to other African leaders to lean on Amin in order to get the missionaries freed. The strategy worked: Amin backed down and released those American expatriates.

Carter then informed the missionaries that he would immediately send a plane to transport them to their homeland. But to Carter's surprise, everyone said, "We aren't leaving Uganda. Even though our lives have been threatened, this is where God has called us, these are the people we are to serve, and here is where we are staying."

Carter never did answer his CBA questioner directly. Perhaps he didn't agree with the interrogator's assumptions. Or he might have been trying to put the concern in a different perspective, just as Jesus did by telling parables. Was Carter saying that the opposition Christians experience in this country pales in relation to the persecution so many Christians face around the world? Or was he saying that we have to rethink our stance in relation to our cultural context, seeing ourselves as missionaries in service to it, rather than power brokers who try to control it?

A missionary strategy Whatever Carter was trying to convey, the person asking the question was right ...

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