Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Dispatches from the Front, by Tim Keesee

Tim Keesee has one of the coolest jobs ever.  As executive director of Frontline Missions International (FMI), he travels the world supporting church planters and missionaries spreading the gospel in some of the most gospel-hostile environments.  He tells the stories of his travels in the Dispatches from the Front film series, and in his book Dispatches from the Front: Stories of Gospel Advance in the World's Difficult Places.

The travels in the book span Europe, Asia, and Africa, including much of the 10/40 window.  Keesee gets up close and personal with Christians serving in these countries, many under the threat of persecution.  Some of his friends are Westerners, others are indigenous Christians, some are even missionaries to their own people, such as some Chinese who have moved from one part of China to another to share the gospel.

The brief vignettes are almost overwhelming, as we read one story after another of heroic Christians loving their neighbors around the world.  What an honor for Keesee to be a part of all of these works.  I am assuming that the people he visits are affiliated with FMI, but he scarcely mentions his organization or identifies his friends as FMI missionaries.  I am curious about the structure and support of FMI missionaries.

The scattershot nature of Keesee's narrative was a bit of a deterrent to my enjoyment of the book.  It was one visit after another with no narrative thread (save for the obvious story of God's work in the world).  Also, in keeping with the travel journal style, he starts almost every section with a sentence fragment, like "Arrived in Tirana about noon," or "My last day with Aashish."  I know, it's a picky style issue, but it just annoyed me. 

Toward the end, he writes of his experiences in Central Asia, where Islam is militant and Americans are constantly in danger.  He tells of a missionary who works as a physical therapist and who was shot down on her way to work.  Another friend of his was killed shortly after his visit.  I appreciated his stark, yet realistic, conclusion.  In Afghanistan, "Where are the Iranians with their universities and wealth?  Why have they not sent doctors and nurses here?  Where are the Saudis, the Egyptians, or the people of the Emirates awash in oil and designer islands?  These countries are sending fighters and suicide bombers, but not doctors and nurses.  Out here among the poorest and neediest, it is Christians--not Muslims--who are caring for the sick and dying.  It is not because we are better than they are.  It is because our God is better than their God." (221)  This is quite a contrast to the "we worship the same God" crowd.

Yet, he doesn't let Christians off the hook.  In Iraq he was detained by some Iraqi military.  Some American military stationed nearby came to their aid, noting that the Iraqis had likely been preparing to turn them over to some Iranian militants.  Keesee and his party were thankful for the providential intervention.  Yet he asks, "All these businessmen I flew in with four days ago are still here--risking their resources and even their lives in order to make money.  Why can't Christians risk at least as much for the gospel?" (233)  Why, indeed.  Reading Keesee's stories will inspire you to ask exactly that.

Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for the complimentary electronic review copy!

2016 Reading Challenge: A book that won a ECPA Christian book award

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