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Should Missionaries Use Guns in Self Defense?

Published Jun 22, 2006
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The world is now celebrating the 50th anniversary of the brutal killing of five American missionaries in the rainforest of Ecuador. I remember where I was when our nation was rocked with headline news of the killings. The event had a profound effect on me and my generation.

Five highly committed and dedicated  young men wanted desperately to reach the savage Aucas (“naked savages”) for Christ. The Aucas were stone-age people and known as “the most dangerous tribe on earth.” Pilot Nate Saint devised an ingenious drop line that was used to exchange gifts with the Aucas without landing the plane. After receiving gifts from the natives, the men decided to land the plane and approach the natives near a river. There the five men were slain although they were armed. Not a shot was fired in self-defense because the men had agreed not to defend themselves! They left behind five widows and nine children.

Within three years of the tragedy, Rachel Saint (sister of Nate) and Jim Elliot’s widow Elisabeth made contact with the tribe and were living among them winning many of them to Christ. Rachel lived among the Aucas until her death in 1994, and Nate’s two children spent their summers with the tribe. His daughter Kathy was baptized by Kimo, one of her father’s killers! The savage who killed Nate became a mentor to Saint’s five-year-old son Steve who, as an adult, traveled with him to tell the amazing story of redemption. As an adult, Steve went back to the tribe and built an airport and hospital to help make the tribe more self-sufficient.

No question, the story is incredible and a testimony to God’s forgiveness and the widows’ courage and dedication. The incident sparked an amazing interest in missions throughout the world as high school and college students were challenged to “reach the heathen” for Christ.  The event influenced such Christian leaders as Chuck Swindoll, Pat Robertson, Nancy DeMoss, and the late Dr. Bill Bright to get involved in ministry.

All well and good, and while I hesitate to broach the subject lest some might think me critical of the devotion, dedication, and determination of five of the most godly and courageous men in the past 100 years, I wonder if their decision to not use guns was the best approach. Is it the only approach? Is their approach a pattern for missionaries today? While it seems that God led them not to defend themselves, He might not always lead others to follow their example. Is it possible that though missionaries may always defend themselves, they don’t always have to do so?

My question: Is it possible that missionaries should use their guns in self-defense? Some will argue that the good result of winning most of the tribe to Christ is proof that these men took the right approach; however, that is not necessarily true. If the men had defended themselves, killing a few of the natives, that show of force might have opened the door to reaching them even quicker. Yes, a few natives would have been killed in their lost condition; however, many of the tribe died un-reached between the time of the killings and their final surrender to Christ. Is it not possible that far more natives might have been saved sooner rather than later if the men had protected themselves and lived to minister to the tribe for many additional years?

Now, I know this is a hallowed subject and I am walking into a buzz saw, but be patient with me. First, we must settle the issue in our own minds whether or not self-defense is ever permitted. I maintain that it is not only permitted but required! Christians are not pacifists. Some will argue that while most people should defend themselves, Christian missionaries should not. I disagree. Such arguments are purely superficial barriers between missionaries and normal people. If normal lay people are permitted to use force then so are missionaries.

Suppose Nate had taken his young son along with him. Would that have made a difference? I suggest that those who say Christians should stand aside and watch brutes (Americans or Ecuadorians) slaughter family members is not only unscriptural (Gen. 14:14-16), it is insane.

I maintain that missionaries should have guns on the mission field and use them when necessary. After all, many primitive people respect the use of force. Furthermore, I suggest that if I were a missionary where guns are illegal, I would break that law since the law of survival trumps any manmade law.

Missionaries should also be aware that if they choose to keep guns around their townhouse in London, their shack in Liberia, their apartment in Lima, or mud hut in Timbuktu, they could have legal problems. Is the protection worth the legal problems? That is the decision each family must make. I believe that not only is it not wrong to have guns for protection, it is the right thing to do.

My basic philosophy is this: if there is a choice of who survives a murderous attack, it should be me and my family not the rapist/killer (black or white; American or otherwise).  Being a missionary makes no difference at all. The five missionaries chose not to protect themselves. In some cases it may be right to recognize what the Bible permits (but does not require) then do the opposite as did the five young heroes.

“Should I shoot to kill?” you ask. No, you should shoot to stay alive.

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5 comment(s) on this page. Add your own comment below.

Mar 22, 2010 8:40am [ 1 ]

Although I agree that the right to defend oneself using deadly force is okay, your argument that more might have been saved quicker does not pan out.

First, it is the Holy Spirit, not we, who save anyone. I have heard the argument that if we fail to witness many will go to hell. I don’t believe that. It is a honor to witness for the Lord but if we do not do it, God will have someone else do it and we will miss the blessing.

Jun 29, 2011 3:59pm [ 2 ]

I ‘googled the question should a missionary use self defense while on a mission trip?’
This was very relevant while on a ‘day trip’ mission here in Atlanta, GA. The area we were in was known for violence. The devil comes in many forms.

My answer to my self was yes. Much like a fireman or EMT comes to a scene of an accident the first rule is to keep yourself safe so you can save others. Because if you can’t keep yourself safe then you can’t render aid to those that need it.

I’m 47yo & new to my faith but learning every day.

Psalm 149
Oct 2, 2015 6:20pm [ 3 ]

This a tough question, if it was up to me I would’ve died fighting, nobody messes with my friends. As it says in the Bible says a person who truly loves you will die for you (forgot the exact text), what use is it to die for your friend if he dies also? I’m referring to simply standing between your friend and the bullet, not pulling out your gun and firing back and dying anyway. If you do the former it’s useless, however if you do the latter then you are actively defending your friend’s life.

Mark leibenguth
Mar 20, 2017 9:22pm [ 4 ]

So what was the point of them even having guns if they wasnt going to use them? Thats kind of like being a ufc fighter and not fighting. Its just stupid

Mark leibenguth
Mar 20, 2017 9:25pm [ 5 ]

So what was the point of them even having guns if they wasnt going to use them? Thats kind of like a soldier carrying a gun to go door to door with but not shoot the guy thats pointing a gun back at you. Its just a waste of a time and effort

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