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Missionaries in hostile environments


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A movie that I learned about only recently, and too late to see before it left local theatres, depicts a true story involving Cistercian monks in Algeria who were killed by Muslim extremists in 1996. According to reviews, ''Of Gods and Men,'' a French film, captures the essence of the decisional difficulties faced by those who are advised to abandon hazardous mission work in hostile environments. What does one do when one's message is resisted? When others declare the cause is lost? When even allies question the prudence of heroic forbearance? The monks decided to stay and met their demise. Was that the right decision?

This is a question that confronts any follower of Christ at all levels of challenge. Most of us will not have to choose between forging ahead in the face of mortal danger or giving up, but every one of us has a story or two about the cost of personal witness, whether it be in our homes with our children questioning why the Church believes this or that, within our circle of friends, or in other social, economic and political venues.

We all know what it is like to have to ask ourselves: When and how do I push against the rockslide and when and how do I strategically retreat?

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