American retirees are embracing a dangerous new vocation with missionary zeal -- distributing Bibles in the world's trouble spots. The foolhardiness of that enterprise was demonstrated last month when Somali pirates shot dead a Californian couple, Jean and Scott Adam, off Oman.
Jean, 66, and Scott, a 70-year-old member of the Fuller Seminary in Pasadena, had been previously married and had children from their previous marriages. The pirates also killed their friends from Seattle, Phyllis Macay, 59, and Bob Riggle, 67, who were on board their 58-foot sailing sloop, Quest.
What they were doing was "light evangelization," a new form of Christian conversion that would appear blasphemous by the standards of your average lapel-grabbing missionary. In the case of the Adams, they were combining exotic travel and missionary activity.
In 2002, they bought hundreds of Bibles and thematic portions from Bibles.com which they loaded on their boat, setting sail on a journey that took them to New Zealand, Mexico, El Salvador, the Philippines, China, Malaysia and Thailand. Their last port of call was Mumbai, India. At each location, they would visit local churches, preaching and looking for ways to supply the Bibles to individuals.
The retired couple might be a reflection of a generation interested in combining their faith with another stage of life, Scott Moreau, professor of missions at Wheaton College, told Christianity Today. "They have a set of personal interests, they've dreamed about retirement but the gospel becomes intertwined with that," he said. "This couple might be a small microcosm of that."
The Adams' distribution of Bibles on a vessel is unusual, Moreau said, but many Christians are finding a retirement outlet in missions. "We see people retiring and ready for second or third careers," he said.
Some of these careers are likely to end tragically. The commander of the European Union anti-piracy force told AP that some of the inflicted horrors used by pirates are: tying hostages upside down and dragging them in the sea, locking them in freezers, beating them and using plastic ties around their genitals.
Were the Adams unaware of the dangers of sailing into this politically unstable environment? It seems they thought Somali pirates were not hardline Islamists but economic opportunists who tend to spend their ransoms on alcohol, drugs, and prostitutes. Perhaps they speculated that if they were captured, their cargo of Bibles would not present an ideological conflict to the Somalis.
They were dead wrong. According to the Christian Broadcasting Network, "The radical Muslim group al-Shabab, which rules much of the country, is known for targeting Christians in the region. Some African missionaries who have been caught working in the area have paid with their lives."
The missionaries may be in a tearing hurry to evangelize the world, but they must realize that in the real world bullets travel faster than the gospel.