Dispatches from the Front

In America, it’s easy for our faith to be lulled to sleep. We forget the beauty of grace, the loveliness of Christ, the power of the Spirit. When we’re not called to stand upon the gospel, and often don’t have opportunities to see others converted, we can grow apathetic in our faith. It’s often helpful to be reminded of those lonely corners of the world where believing in Christ is a life or death matter—and where, not coincidentally, the Christian faith is most awake, most vibrant. As founder and executive director of Frontline Missions International, Tim Keesee travels to those forlorn corners and brings back inspiring stories of sisters and brothers who risk all for Christ via the DVD series Dispatches from the Front, and now the new book by the same name. Here in brief, from the book, are simple stories to stir the soul.

Shkodra, Albania
“Early evening—an imam’s long sermon, marking the end of Ramadan, mingled with the city sounds in the darkening streets. David, Fredi, and I drove to a settlement of Shiite gypsies. The gypsies are outcasts, and so are their dwellings. … Recently, ten families were burned out of their homes here, and so the Christians in the Shkodra church gave them wood to rebuild their homes. … The gypsy children quickly adopted us. … We sang “ai me ngazelloi, ai me ngazelloi.” He has made me glad, he has made me glad. I will rejoice, for he has made me glad.” And our joy was added to tonight when one of the gypsy men, Ghazi, who David has patiently and repeatedly explained the gospel to, said he wanted to publicly identify with Christ! The first stars rise above the old castle, and I can say over this day and over all the days here, “He has made me glad!”

A Baptism in Beijing

Somewhere West of Beijing
“Mr. Zhang, our taxi driver, is certainly an animated fellow—at times gesturing with both hands while careening through head-on traffic. We are in search of a “secret” baptismal service of a house church in Beijing. We have vague directions—take the road west, pass the apple orchard, follow bus 727 to a bridge … We get out at the bridge, walking down a dirt road that wound along the Ye Xi River. When we rounded a bend, we heard the singing of “Amazing Grace,” and what we saw was also amazing—hundreds standing beneath the willows along the river bank. About two hundred people were in line to be baptized, and more were arriving! … The old pastor of the church, the venerable Allen Yuan, sat with his wife, and they laid hands on and prayed for each person being baptized. Pastor is ninety years old and has spent twenty-three years in prison for his faith, including torture during the days of Mao.

Cheryl Beckett

Ashtabula, Ohio
I remember when I was no more than five or six. I got up very early one morning. I remember the dew-wet grass on my shoes. I remember Daddy leading the way up a hill. I remember the forms of others there growing clearer in the fleeting darkness. And then, I remember voices as deep as the first line: “Low in the grave he lay … waiting the coming day.” Then there was a little pause, like the disciples lingering at Jesus’s tomb, staring at the death of all of their dreams. Then with voices that from the first word seemed to rise along with Christ, we sang, “Up from the grave he arose! … Hallelujah! Christ arose!” I’ll never forget that first Easter sunrise service and its opening praises, and I can never get away from that pause between the grave and glory. It is the place of unanswered questions and I’ve had a lot of those lately. I got a call from Afghanistan early one morning in August and learned that my friend Cheryl Beckett had been killed along with nine other aid workers. They were ambushed by Islamic militants. … I don’t expect a good answer to why at thirty-two years of age she should be taken. She brought so much strength to the team, and she put Calvary love on display for the Afghan people to see. There are already so few there, so few willing to go there. It still hurts to write about her.”

Tim Keesee is the executive director of the Dispatches from the Front series. For the past 20 years, Tim has reported on the church in the world’s difficult places, from the former Iron Curtain countries to war-torn Bosnia, Afghanistan, and Iraq. His journaling is the basis for the unfolding narrative of the Dispatches series.