Missionaries feel hellish lash of criticism

In 1989 ABC became the first major American TV network to hire a full-time religion correspondent, and that worthy experiment did not spread far -- except for CNN's hiring of Delia Gallagher and then John Allen Jr. as Vatican correspondents. Even so, religion makes cameo appearances in certain corners of network TV, such as ABC's Nightline, which runs a regular feature called Faith Matters.

On Monday night Faith Matters profiled Timothy Scott and Will Decker (video here), two men in their 30s who have combined their passion for evangelism with some of the globetrotting aspects of The Amazing Race. The result is Travel the Road, a series that runs on Trinity Broadcasting Network.

Harris' online story (Karson Yiu shares the byline) bears this Richard J. Daley-style headline: "Missionaries Face Death, Criticism to Preach." (Daley said it more flamboyantly: "They have vilified me! They have crucified me! Yes, they have even criticized me!")

Limited as it is to seven minutes, Harris' report only hits the highlights of this duo's adventures. They are in danger of freezing in the Mongolian desert; they appear to be kidnapped by two vodka-saturated thugs; they eat monkey meat without incident, but they gag on a tropical fruit, durian.

In a studio interview, Harris presses the men on two points -- whether their evangelism endangers indigenous cultures ("You say you value the cultures of the world, but if you change people's religion you're changing their culture") and whether they violated military code by evangelizing while they were embedded as civilians with Army troops in Afghanistan.

The Military Religious Freedom Foundation included a segment from Travel the Road in its regular Violation on Video feature. The YouTube video at the top of this post shows an extended segment from that episode.

CNN covered some of this same ground several months ago (video here), including a longer interview with Michael Scott, who produces Travel the Road.

Reporters don't seem to know quite what to make of this pair. The footage they shoot on a Sony camcorder makes for good TV. They're candid about feeling fear during some of their more adventurous moments, and Tim Scott cites a remark attributed to John Wesley: "I am immortal on this earth until God decides to take me."

Their commitment to persuade other people to become Christians attracts that ubiquitous and mostly meaningless word that TV reporters love so much: controversial. As my friend Nat Belz pointed out a few decades ago, he has heard TV reporters apply that word to everything from politicians to serial killers.

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