Seventeen Christian missionaries, sixteen of whom are Americans, were kidnapped over the weekend in Haiti while visiting an orphanage on the corrupt, poverty stricken Caribbean island.

Police reports suggest a gang known as “400 Mawozo” are behind the ambush.

According to Christian Aid Ministries, the Ohio-based non-profit organization sponsoring those abducted, the missionary group is comprised of seven women, five men and five children.

“Join us in praying for those who are being held hostage, the kidnappers, and the families, friends, and churches of those affected,” the organization stated in a release posted on their website. “Pray for those who are seeking God’s direction and making decisions regarding this matter.”

The American missionary tradition dates back over two-hundred years to 1812, when a small Congregational church in New England sent five men on a cargo ship to India.

Two centuries later, there are over 400,000 Christian missionaries in the world today, with over 125,000 of them from the United States. There’s a very good chance you know and support a missionary – or attend a church which prioritizes mission work.

Oswald J. Smith, a Canadian pastor, once bluntly stated:

“If God wills the evangelization of the world and you refuse to support missions, then you are opposed to the will of God.”

But like anything else, it’s easy to write a support check or hear the occasional update in church from a missionary on furlough – and then quickly move on with your life here in the United States. We know what they’re doing is important. We know they’re following Jesus’ command (Matthew 28:19-12) but we’re preoccupied with our own lives here.

We might even think of missionary work as something of an educational and interesting trip – ten days in a warm climate during cold weather back home. Student missionary trips can be life-transforming, planting seeds for future callings and careers.

My colleague Kirsten Hochstetler at Focus on the Family remembers one such trip to Haiti during college:

On our last night in Haiti our missionary host couple warned us of a depression that might set in when we got home. I remember thinking that sounded odd because, if anything, I should be more thankful when I returned to America. But they were exactly right. Once I had seen the beautiful and heartbreaking realities of a country like Haiti, my perspective was permanently changed. Everyday American abundance was suddenly difficult to process.

I picked up quickly that “Lord willing” wasn’t just a Christian tag line, it was a way of life. The phrase was said dozens of times each day because the work we planned to do would only be possible if God himself saw it through. From car accidents, extreme weather, and volatile relationships with the locals, we never knew exactly what the day would look like. Of course, this is true for each of us every single day, but most of us don’t walk it out the way a missionary in the field does. 

Seventeen Haitian missionaries are living this reality right now – unsure what comes next – or if “next” will ever come.

Here is the reality: countless missionaries around the world are in constant danger, living day to day and protected only by God’s grace and favor. News of a kidnapping startles us and propels us to pray for them – but we should be praying for missionaries every single day.

North Carolina pastor Robert C. Shannon, a strong advocate and champion of international evangelism, once observed:

“Never pity missionaries. Envy them. They are where the real action is – where life and death, sin and grace, Heaven and Hell converge.”

It might seem countercultural or even foolish to envy seventeen missionaries being held captive by a thuggish and violent gang. And it very well may – at least according to our current understanding of “envy.”

But what Pastor Shannon is getting at, I think, is that missionaries enjoy a unique and powerful perspective that those of us (seemingly) safely ensconced in our American churches will never fully appreciate. 

Pursuing the Great Commission remains the world’s most dangerous occupation. And yet it pays very poorly by every earthly means. But there is no greater pursuit that pays as rich and rewarding an eternal dividend.

Let’s pray for these seventeen saints – and for all those around the world sharing the Good News of Jesus Christ to a hurting world.

Photo from Shutterstock.