Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Local tragedy illuminates the dangers, challenges Evangelicals face in U.S.

Two 20-Something men sharing their faith with two 19-year-old men on a city street late at night. Afterward, two new graves, two ruined lives in the local jail, a grieving young widow, and two precious little children who will now grow up without ever knowing their father.

Over the years I've grown accustomed to hearing, reading and writing such stories about American missionaries living overseas who were gunned down, knifed to death, or tortured unmercifully while trying to witness to non-Christians in other lands. Those situations, of course, are "over there". 

But right here in America? In my own hometown? Only blocks from where I live and work? I can hardly find the words to describe my shock, my horror and my total disgust over the situation.

The key facts were buried so deep in the Dallas Morning News story the average reader who usually stops by the fifth paragraph probably missed them. Everybody in the Dallas area seems to be talking about how the confessed robber-murderers say they only got a total of $2.00 off the dead men. But I read every word in that news story just as I had all the other news stories about the incident. When I got to those incredible words,  I lingered spellbound for several minutes before I completed the final 12 paragraphs. 

Before they were murdered, "the two victims talked for a half-hour or more about their studio and the fact that they were Christians," Jason Trahan reported that the confessed murderers told him from their jail-house quarters.

"So that's what happened," I blurted to my wife, Kay. "Matt and Stephen were trying to witness to their murderers." Having personally met the effervescent Matt only six weeks ago, I could envision him effusing about his Christian recording studio and his faith.

Like everyone else who lives and works in Historic Downtown Garland, TX, we had been frantically searching for every morsel we could find to explain the inexplainable.

Responding to a frightened bicyclist who fled to a nearby fire station after spotting the bloody bodies lying in the street, Garland police about 1:20 a.m. last Friday morning found Matthew Bulter, 28, and Stephen Swan, 26, near Zion Gate Christian Recording Studio, which Matt owned and where Stephen worked part time for his best friend, Matt. Later, police arrested the two suspects driving Stephen's car, which had been stolen in the incident.

Since reading that Dallas News story, my mind has raced over and over about what might have happened that night and what the implications are for Evangelical Christians. 

Were Matt and Stephen so intent on sharing their faith in Christ with total strangers that they just ignored the late hour, their isolated circumstances, and the strangeness of those night visitors wandering our normally empty streets after midnight?

Or did they think that because they talked about their faith, God somehow was going to put up a special barrier to protect them?

Or did they even realize they were in danger until, according the Dallas News, James Broadnax says he suddenly pulled his gun and started firing repeatedly into the bodies of both men?

International missionaries are taught that such incidents can happen to them--even in broad daylight--while overseas.  No one is ever prepared fully for such a thing, but at least they are warned (or supposed to be warned) that such things can happen. They are also told how to take precautions.

But we don't give such warnings in America. We teach correctly that Jesus says we are to witness to our faith wherever we go, to whomever we meet. We know that Jesus and His disciples all suffered for their faith, but we presume that was then and this is now.  After all, this is America. Right?

Nevertheless, I keep wondering: Has our society deteriorated so much that U.S. churches now must add to their evangelism training such warnings as "don't talk to strangers on dark streets late at night even if you think you live in the safest community in America"? 

And if we have to develop such rules, where do we stop? "Don't witness after sundown", "Don't witness to strangers, period"? How about, "Just don't talk to strangers anywhere, any time, any place"? If we did that, soon we would water down Christ's commands about sharing with others to the point only our children and grandchildren would get to hear the Gospel message, and in some cases not even them.

Are things really that serious?  I pray not. But in my mind I'm afraid this local incident isn't that rare. After all, I had to read deep into the news article to find the real story, something I don't usually do with other murder stories.

The banner headline on this story easily could have been about Christians slain while following Christ's commands to share their faith with others. I'm sure this buried fact wasn't lost on many other believers. Now we must decide what Jesus wants us to do in the aftermath. 

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