They gain!

17th September 2018 was a highlight for me as I led a service at the Elim International Centre for the families of our 12 Elim missionaries who were killed on the 23rd June 1978 and a further died from the brutalities the day after their funeral. This traumatic event 40 years previously was at the Elim Mission station in the Vumba Mountains, Northern Zimbabwe. The sheer brutality of this massacre shocked the world. It was a privilege to be at the service alongside the families and in particular, the sister of one of the missionaries named Mary Fisher.

I cannot read these next verses of Philippians anymore without thinking of this missionary who had escaped from the macabre scene and was found unconscious. The severe head trauma had caused her heart and lungs to fail and she was buried in a simple quiet ceremony next to her friend Wendy.

(Philippians 1: 18-26)

Paul is in a quandary. What does God want for his life? If he survives the prison then he can see the good for others but if he dies it would be even better for him. That in itself is a challenge for us today.

To live is Christ:

  • To make Him known, this is the most important thing

v18. “The important thing is that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is preached. And because of this I rejoice. Yes, and I will continue to rejoice”

  • To see the purposes of God in the difficult things I go through

v19. “for I know that through your prayers and God’s provision of the Spirit of Jesus Christ what has happened to me will turn out for my deliverance.”

  • To display Christ in my life for others to see

v20. “I eagerly expect and hope that I will in no way be ashamed, but will have sufficient courage so that now as always Christ will be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death.”

  • To be an influence of others for the better,

v25-26 “Convinced of this, I know that I will remain, and I will continue with all of you for your progress and joy in the faith, so that through my being with you again your boasting in Christ Jesus will abound on account of me.”

To die is gain:

  • For people will see Christ in me as this life fades

v20. ““I eagerly expect and hope that I will in no way be ashamed, but will have sufficient courage so that now as always Christ will be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death.”

  • I will depart the struggles of this earth, I will be free

v23. “I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far”

  • I will be with Christ,

v23. “I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far”

  • The next life is far better than this life

v23. “I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far”

This whole passage hangs on these words, “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain” v21.

Alistair Begg, a Scot, who now Pastors in Ohio and a well-known Christian author preached a message in January 2011 and during that sermon was describing his evangelistic endeavours in London as a student and a special friend he knew:

“1974 , I went in the evening with one of my friends and this girl to the Thames Embankment Mission in London. All the street people were more interested in the physical food than they were in the spiritual food that was on offer from my buddy and myself. I won’t take time now to give you the details—many of them humorous—which made perfectly clear to us that there was very little interest on the part of these men and some women that were there. Our preaching was no good, as far as they were concerned. The only time that they listened was when Mary sang. And Mary was a little girl from Wales. She looked a little bit like Mary Hopkin[s], actually—the girl of “Those were the days, my friend, we thought they’d never end.” And she had a lovely, lilting Welsh voice, and when she sang, the people put down their newspapers and began to listen. And it was a very humbling thing for myself and my colleague: this little slip of a girl—fairly plain, friendly eyes, long blonde hair, crystal clear voice. Wasn’t really a performance that she did; it was more of a sacrifice.”

Who was he speaking of? It was Mary Fisher.

An inquest into the deaths of the missionaries and their children was held in Umtali by the Rhodesian authorities on 21 August 1978.

On playing one of the cassette tapes retrieved from the kitbag of a dead guerrilla, Mary Fisher’s fine voice soared hauntingly from the machine, her song of worship momentarily filling the room. She was teaching young children to sing the words of the Apostle Paul:

For me to live is Christ, to die is gain,
To hold his hand and to walk his narrow way.
And there is no peace, no joy, no thrill
Like walking in his will;
For me to live is Christ and to die is gain

Mary Fisher and the other 12 missionaries and every missionary around the world today, the church in Northern Nigeria and the many terrible places in the world to live as a Christian, they all do the same thing: they put their whole life in the ring—and sometimes they pay the ultimate price. 

For everyone who has died in Christ whether in the persecuted fields or a struggling hospital bed, they gain.

They gain!

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