(Photo: Reuters / Chip East)
Missionary groups are asking U.S. Christians to pray for peace and safety as well as the opportunity to spread the Gospel as word of Osama bin Laden's death spreads across the globe.
The International Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention says it has more than 5,000 personnel members serving internationally, several of whom have been calling the Virginia headquarters today with a message for Americans. "They have really pled that Christians here, instead of celebrating, would fall on their knees and pray for an opportunity to share the Gospel," said Wendy Norvelle, IMB associate vice president and spokesperson.
Norvelle noted that in the aftermath of any death, people turn to faith for comfort and answers. In the aftermath of bin Laden's death, she anticipates that many people will be seeking to feel safe and assured.
"When there is a need for a sense of safety and peace, there's an opportunity to spread the message of a peace that surpasses human understanding," she said.
However, there is now a heightened risk for Christians who are trying to spread this message in Middle Eastern countries.
CIA Director Leon Panetta issued a heightened terror alert Monday, asking Americans and U.S. allies to be "vigilant and resolute" after the Sunday (ET) mission that invaded the Pakistan compound of bin Laden. The al-Qaida leader was killed in the resulting fire fight. His body was captured, verified and later buried at sea.
President Barack Obama announced the news late Sunday night on national television, saying "justice has been done." Today, more leaders came forward and heralded the announcement.
U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon responded Monday, saying, "The death of Osama bin Laden, announced by President Obama last night, is a watershed moment in our common global fight against terrorism ... Personally, I am very much relieved by the news that justice has been done to such a mastermind of international terrorism."
Dr. Richard Land of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, praised the U. S. military's actions, saying, "If anyone ever deserved the forfeiture of his life for crimes against humanity, it was Osama bin Laden."
The news also elicited a range of emotional displays and actions from American citizens.
An anonymous celebrant left flowers and a note which reads, "Vengeance is now ours. May peace now be yours. God Bless America" at the Boston, Mass., memorial for 9/11 victims.
Excited crowds of cheering and joyous Americans gathered Sunday night in Washington, D.C., and New York, the locations of the 9/11 attacks, to celebrate the news.
However, some church leaders expressed a more cautious response. Brian McLaren, an emergent church leader who is currently in the U.K., said the images of American students "shouting, chanting 'USA' and spilling beer" by the White House "does not reflect well on my country."
Those actions, by extension, also do not reflect well on Christians, said Norvelle. "Often Americans and Christians are one and the same overseas," she said.
She and others worry that American celebrations may result in retaliatory behavior.
New York City has already beefed up preventative measures for its more than 8 million inhabitants. California is also taking extra precautions at its airport and transit hubs. Neither state has reported any credible threats.
Norvelle said Christians living abroad should continue their interactions with the communities they live and work in. However, she asserted, "All people need to be vigilant and need to avoid situations ... where you are caught up in a crowd."
She warned against joining demonstrations and urged them to be aware of their surroundings.
And rather than engaging in "tit for tat" behavior, Norvelle encouraged Christians to exercise the biblical displays of prayer, forgiveness and peacemaking.