By Curt Alan, Pastor of Missions, The Summit Church, Raleigh-Durham, NC, and…Hilary’s husband
While our family was in SE Asia, we lived near a mass grave. Actually, to be specific, we lived within a 15-mile radius of more than half a dozen mass graves. Mind you, these were not big cemeteries with headstones and neatly manicured landscaping. These were plots of land where a big pit had been hastily dug and thousands of unclaimed and anonymous bodies were literally dumped and bulldozed over. Eventually, some had stone fences and memorials built around them but others have been left as unmarked mounds.
Periodically, I would visit one of these places for a time of prayer and meditation. This particular grave was said to contain between 10,000 and 12,000 bodies in it. It is hard to describe the feeling of standing beside the remains of so many people whose lives had been extinguished in a terrifying matter of minutes. It was sobering, challenging, devastating, and overwhelming — all at the same time.
At the entrance to this grave is a plaque that reads:
“Here reside the victims of the tsunami natural disaster of 26 December 2004.
May it be that their souls have been received to the side of God.”
As it is, they are likely all separated from God’s side for eternity.
We brought some visitors from the US to this site while they were in town and Hilary happened to say something to that effect to one of them while standing there.
The person stopped for a moment and, with a look of shock and disbelief on her face, said, “Do you really believe that?!”
If I didn’t believe that, how could I reconcile verses like John 3: 16-18, John 14: 6, Romans 10: 9-15 and so many others. If I didn’t believe that with every fiber of who I am, what was I doing there? What had I done with my life? What had I done to my family by moving them away from the familiar and the comfortable?
Prior to the tsunami, there were only a handful of followers of Christ in this place and even fewer who were courageous enough to bear witness to the gospel to others.
For everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved. But how are they to call on him in whim they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? (Romans 10: 13-15a)
I was once one of those that questioned the wisdom of international work. After all, “Why would anyone travel halfway around the world when there is so much need just down the street?”
Looking back, my own selfishness prevented me from asking the question from His perspective – “Ok, then what am I doing for those in need just down the street?”
The Great Commission is not an option. It isn’t reserved for those followers of Christ that go and live and work overseas. Wherever we are, wherever we are planted, we are to proclaim him. To be honest, if we aren’t grateful enough for what has been done for us to the point of wanting to share it (across the room, down the street or across the globe), we haven’t really begun to grasp the awesome beauty of it.
As I reflect on my visits to the mass graves, the memory becomes increasingly personal. It’s highly likely that my family and I now know the relatives of some of those buried in those mounds. We became part of their lives and had the privilege of being among those sent to preach of them.
Charles Spurgeon once said, “Someone asked: will the heathen who have never heard the Gospel be saved? It is more a question with me whether we — who have the Gospel and fail to give it to those who have not — can be saved.”