Missionary faces pandemic without fear after war, genocide, coups and terrorist attacks

Missionary faces pandemic without fear after war, genocide, coups and terrorist attacks

In the 32 years he’s been on the missions field, Cole Elbridge has ministered during a war, a genocide, two attempted coups, a civil war, a political insurrection and terrorist attacks.

He’s stood up to armed bandits, ministered among Christian communities facing religious persecution, chose homelessness in order to minister to the destitute, was evacuated due to increased rebel activity and survived cancer.

Elbridge has lived through famine, floods and cyclones. He’s survived a meningitis epidemic and most recently is navigating new ways of ministering during the global pandemic caused by COVID-19.

Suffice it to say, Elbridge has weathered his share of crises — enough to span multiple lifetimes.

What is largely absent from his retelling of these monumental disasters — fear.

What has kept Elbridge from living in fear?

Deliberate choice

Elbridge shared a story about how he drove into an area in South Asia where a genocide of Christians was occurring. Local leaders had standing orders out for people to kill Christians. Homes of Christians had been marked and gas cylinders were thrown into some of the homes.

Elbridge made the deliberate choice to go to this area, telling his national partner he was renting a car to go into the area to bring supplies for 9,000 families and encourage and train the persecuted Christians.

“Am I going by myself or are you going with me?” he asked. His national partner hopped in the car with him.

Because of Elbridge and his national partner’s courage, they were able to train leaders and 78 house churches started. One of the persecuted Christians, who had hidden in the jungle surviving on leaves and grass, learned how to share his faith, and he shared the gospel with people who had previously attacked Christians.

Elbridge’s life has been threatened on more than one occasion.

He’s told would-be attackers, “I’ve come to help you, what you do is upon you. … You can’t take my life; my life is given.”

Fear was a battle Elbridge already fought before he moved to the missions field. When Elbridge was in the process of moving overseas as a short-term worker, he prayed and told the Lord he’d “go anywhere but Africa.” He was afraid of Africa, and that was the last place he wanted to go.

However, that’s exactly where the Lord led him.

Removing conditions

“God, I said anywhere but Africa,” Elbridge prayed. “I realize I made a condition. I’m removing the conditions. I’ll go anywhere You send me, but give me the assurance that You’re with me wherever I go.”

The Lord answered and honored his prayer of trust.

“From that point forward, I can’t really remember a time when I have been fearful,” Elbridge said.

Elbridge said crises have opened doors into difficult-to-reach areas.

A tsunami in South Asia opened doors into fishing communities who previously had no interest in Jesus.

In the wake of the tsunami, Elbridge drove up and down the coastline, sleeping in his Jeep, providing disaster relief to the communities. During this time, he also was able to train Christians how to plant churches. During the next two and a half years, 1,386 house churches started, 12,000 people committed their lives to Christ and 3,600 people were baptized.

When crises come

Sometimes, God’s plans aren’t evident when crises come.

When Elbridge was diagnosed with cancer and then several of his teammates had to be evacuated because of medical emergencies, he questioned why.

“God was showing us, even when you pull back, the Lord keeps going. It wasn’t our work. You also have to trust God with the seeds that you have sown,” Elbridge said. “In the midst of circumstances and trials, whether something is good or bad, or even how things happened to you, good or bad, ultimately it still falls on us to guard our hearts.”

When his country went under lockdown due to COVID-19, Elbridge recognized this as another time to seek the Lord’s leading on how he could be a witness.

Elbridge said the COVID-19 lockdown made him slow down and evaluate the ways he spent his time. He realized he had been so focused on his ministry projects, he’d been walking right past his neighbors. He’s now spending time getting to know the guards near his residence, at a socially acceptable distance, and brings them biscuits and eggs.

Elbridge offered words of encouragement for Christians during these uncertain times.

“Whatever that is happening … good, bad, ugly. The only way we are able to come out on the other side with our witness and testimony is we have to keep our eyes on the author and finisher of our faith.” (IMB)

EDITOR’S NOTE — Names have been changed for security reasons.