THE SOURCE OF PERSECUTION
Then Haman said to King Xerxes, “There is a certain people dispersed among the peoples in all the provinces of your kingdom who keep themselves separate. Their customs are different from those of all other people, and they do not obey the king’s laws; it is not in the king’s best interest to tolerate them. Esther 3:8
Today we feature the first in a series from a house church pastor’s sermon in China:
The Bible is written to persecuted communities, and we must learn from each community the peculiar blessings and dangers of persecution. I would like to draw your attention to some lessons from the persecuted community in the time of Esther.
Esther was Queen of Persia sometime after 483 BC. She was a beautiful woman with a secret—no one except her adopted father knew it. It was her racial origin. She was a Jew.
There came a great persecution. In Esther 3:8, we read that the king of Persia’s advisor says he should not tolerate a certain group of people. The king agrees, and issues a decree calling for the extermination of all Jews.
The Jews are devastated, including Esther. How they got into this situation, how they get out of it, and what happened afterwards all reveal great truths about suffering churches—of which we are one.
Where does persecution come from? What is its source? The text shows us clearly. Persecution is the result of pride. Pride on the part of the persecutor.
Haman is the culprit. He is humiliated because a Jew called Mordecai refuses to bow low enough to him. We are not given the reason why Mordecai would deliver such a calculated snub, but it makes Haman see red. Instead of just trying to get rid of Mordecai, though, he has to project his personal humiliation into something grand. He won’t admit it’s all just a personal grudge, but concocts an elaborate plan to get rid of all Jews because they are in breach of the king’s laws.
His plan is a good one. The Jews are different, he says. True. They are so different, they are not good citizens, he adds. False, but the king is right to be suspicious of any group that seems to have other loyalties than just to him. It’s the same in China. Our government persecutes us because we are different. We are honest, separate, and we have greater loyalties than just to the state. That makes us an object of suspicion.
But the root of it all is pride. The cause of the persecution was simply that Haman was angry. I have read that in Russia, the terrible persecutions that were visited upon the churches there came from the fact that Lenin’s brother was shot by the Tsar’s forces, and what galled him in particular was that a Russian Orthodox priest blessed the proceedings. He carried his personal hatred with him…It’s a pride matter. It always is. The source of suffering is always found in human pride.
Today I will check my pride at the door and realize that God is still in control!
Pray that prideful leaders will humble themselves to acknowledge the God of the universe.
SOLUTION TO PERSECUTION
“I will go to the king, even though it is against the law. And if I perish, I perish.” Esther 4:16b
Today we have the second in the series from a house church pastor’s sermon in China:
How is suffering overcome? Or if you like, what is the solution to persecution? A church father answered this way: “Pray as if everything depends on God. Work as if God were going to do his work through you.” So when resisting persecution, we do everything humanly possible to lessen it. But then we also beseech God to put a stop to it. In the two comes deliverance.
You can see both sides involved here. On the human level, we see two characteristics coming to the fore especially—courage and cunning. Esther is the one who displays courage, by taking her life in her hands to enter the king’s presence without an appointment. She says, “If I perish, I perish.” What a brave woman! She’s also the one who displays cunning, hatching a plan to entrap Haman. She throws a banquet, reveals her racial identity, and then exposes Haman as the man who wants to kill her.
Would it have worked? Who knows? Perhaps not. Haman did have great clout with the king as a trusted advisor, and Esther was merely a queen, and queens—as made clear here—are easily replaceable.
But it did work out, thanks to God. And this is the other side. We pray and pray that God will intervene. There is so much that is beyond our control. Our planning, our cunning, our bravery, is never enough. We need God’s help. So the Jews have a time of weeping and repentance (Esther 4:1-3), and then God intervenes in an astonishing way.
An old pastor used to say to me, “I find that coincidences stop happening when I stop praying.” The resolution of the book of Esther hinges on a massive coincidence, namely, that at the precise moment Haman expects to kill Mordecai, the king decides to honor Mordecai. Both men reach each situation independently. Take the king, for instance:
- The king just happens to have a sleepless night before Haman will pitch his plan.
- He just happens to read the annals to get to sleep, and just happens to find the part that tells of a good deed of Mordecai.
- He just happens to decide to honor Mordecai the following morning at the very moment Haman comes into the room.
- He just happens to select the first person who walks into his room at that time to carry out his plan.
- That person is Haman, who just happens to be ready to ask for the head of Mordecai.
And through a misunderstanding, the king decides to put Haman to death, as he thinks Haman is molesting Esther when in fact he’s only pleading. The point is, all this is outside human control. It’s God’s doing. But He worked within Esther’s plan. And so the plan to persecute the Jews is foiled.
Today I acknowledge that there are no coincidences, just God-incidences!
Help me, Lord, to be faithful and see evidences of Your control over my circumstances.
THE STRENGTH OF PERSECUTION
Indeed, we felt we had received the sentence of death. But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead. He has delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us again. On him we have set our hope that he will continue to deliver us, as you help us by your prayers. Then many will give thanks on our behalf for the gracious favor granted us in answer to the prayers of many. 2 Corinthians 1:9-11
The conclusion of the message on the book of Esther from a house church pastor in China:
I wish the book of Esther ended before chapter nine, but it does not. The book ends with the Jews taking revenge on all their enemies everywhere. They arranged a kind of amnesty for terrorism. For a day, they were allowed to kill anyone who had oppressed them and not be prosecuted for it. Thousands probably died. It was a kind of rough justice, but what does rough justice solve? It just makes the relatives of those slain burn with hatred, and they train their children to seek more revenge, and the weary cycle of bloodletting is accelerated.
I would apply this to the suffering church this way. Surviving a persecution situation involves desperation, but that desperation can turn into harshness and heresy if one is not careful. The terrible superstitions that came into the church in venerating the bones of martyrs were a response to persecution. Persecution brings martyrs. To revere martyrs is one thing. But to worship their relics as if they are a special lever to move the hand of God with—that is terrible.
Why is the book of Esther in the Bible? Because it tells us that God helps His people. If this decree had gone through, then a holocaust would have taken place and the will of God for the world would have been lost. We would have had no Bible otherwise. God was not going to let that happen, and He stretched forth His mighty arm to prevent it. The good news of His gospel must be spread. So reading about how God intervened must have given great increase to a Jew’s faith, as it increases ours too. God intervenes to save and get His will done. And His will is that all come to know Him and love Him.
So persecution can strengthen our faith, as we see God delivering His people powerfully and getting His will done.
I stand before you now, a living witness to the strength of suffering. We come out stronger, not because of our faith, but because we see God deliver us in mighty ways. We have to; otherwise we would be dead and gone. Praise God for persecution, for building His church no matter what the opposition.
Let us have the courage of Esther, and say, “If I perish, I perish.” But let us remember that our courage is decisive only because God is mighty, and stretches out His arm to deliver us when we cry.
Today I will focus on God’s deliverance and stand strong trusting Him for the future.
Pray today for the Persecuted Church. Pray they will find their strength only in the Lord.
For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through endurance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope. Romans 15:4
In Eritrea, Helen Berhane, with more than twenty other young women, was imprisoned in a shipping container that held only eighteen people. In her book, Song of the Nightingale, she shares what happened:
When [the guard] had locked us in and left, many of the women were furious and upset, and began to complain and cry. I tried to find ways to encourage them, and to make our situation more bearable. I encouraged everyone to sit on the floor in a circle and I began to speak to them.
“Remember that the walls of Jericho came down because of praises. If we keep complaining, we cannot win. Instead we must continue to pray, praise and sing. Satan wants to use discouraging words as a weapon against us, so we must continue to praise God in all circumstances.”
I could see some of the women nodding.
I continued, “When the Israelites were approaching the Promised Land they sent spies ahead. Many of them returned saying that the people were so huge the Israelites could not hope to beat them, and so they cried all night. But crying and complaining cannot solve our problems. Let us be like Caleb and Joshua. The larger our enemies are, the more of a feast they will make for us! Just think about the woman who suffered from bleeding and who believed that if she only touched the hem of Jesus’ robe she would be healed. In the crowd she was the one who had faith and it was rewarded. We should not be like these people endlessly fighting amongst themselves. We should just reach out to Jesus and have faith.”
This helped us to feel more accepting of our situation, and so we got into the habit of talking about the Bible, praying and singing in the container every day.
Today I will pray, sing, and talk about the Bible rather than focus on my discouraging situations and relationships.
Lord, may I use Your Word as an encouragement to endure with hope in You.
Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others. Philippians 2:3-4
Brother Andrew loves to tell this parable from the Middle East:
A certain man had two sons. One was rich and the other was poor. The rich son had no children while the poor son was blessed with many sons and many daughters. In time, the father fell ill. He was sure he would not live through the week, so on Saturday he called his sons to his side and gave each of them half of his land for their inheritance. Then he died. Before sundown the sons buried their father with respect.
That night the rich son could not sleep. He said to himself, “What my father did was not just. I am rich and my brother is poor. I have plenty of bread while my brother’s children eat one day and trust God for the next. I must move the landmark which our father has set in the middle of the land so that my brother will have the greater share. Ah – but he must not see me; if he sees me, he will be shamed. I must arise early in the morning before it is dawn and move the landmark!” With this he fell asleep and his sleep was secure and peaceful.
Meanwhile, the poor brother could not sleep. As he lay restless on his bed, he said to himself, “What my father did was not just. Here I am surrounded by the joy of many sons and daughters while my brother daily faces the shame of having no sons to carry on his name and no daughters to comfort him in his old age. He should have the land of our fathers. Perhaps this will in part compensate him for his indescribable poverty. Ah – but if I give it to him, he will be shamed. I must awake early in the morning before it is dawn and move the landmark which our father has set!” With this he went to sleep and his sleep was secure and peaceful.
On the first day of the week – very early in the morning, a long time before it was day, the two brothers met at the ancient land marker.
They fell with tears into each other’s arms. And on that spot was built the New Jerusalem.
Today I will focus on the needs and interests of others rather than on my own.
Pray that this biblical attitude of love, humility and selflessness will pervade the church of Jesus Christ in the Middle East today and around the world.
LOVE YOUR ENEMIES
But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you… Matthew 5:44
Perhaps the most difficult of Jesus’ commands is to love even our enemies. A true Christian always seeks another person’s highest good—even when mistreated. Brother Andrew says “The Christian’s only method of destroying his enemies is to ‘love’ them into being his friends.”
Romanian pastor, Dr. Paul Negrut, was visiting an old friend in Romania named Trian Dors in his humble home. As Paul entered, he realized that Trian was bleeding from open wounds. He asked, “What happened?”
Trian replied, “The secret police just left my home. They came and confiscated my manuscripts. Then they beat me.”
Pastor Paul says, “I began to complain about the heavy tactics of the secret police. But Trian stopped me saying, ‘Brother Paul, it is so sweet to suffer for Jesus. God didn’t bring us together tonight to complain but to praise him. Let’s kneel down and pray.”
“He knelt and began praying for the secret police. He asked God to bless them and save them. He told God how much he loved them. He said, ‘God, if they will come back in the next few days, I pray that you will prepare me to minister to them.’”
Paul continued, “By this time I was ashamed. I thought I had been living the most difficult life in Romania for the Lord. And I was bitter about that.”
Trian Dors then shared with Paul how the secret police had been coming to his home regularly for several years. They beat him twice every week. They confiscated all his papers. After the beating he would talk to the officer in charge. Trian would look into his eyes and say, “Mister, I love you. And I want you to know that if our next meeting is before the judgement throne of God, you will not go to hell because I hate you but because you rejected love.” Trian would repeat these words after every beating.
Years later that officer came alone to his home one night. Trian prepared himself for another beating. But the officer spoke kindly and said, “Mr. Dors, the next time we meet will be before the judgement throne of God. I came tonight to apologize for what I did to you and to tell you that your love moved my heart. I have asked Christ to save me. But two days ago the doctor discovered that I have a very severe case of cancer and I have only a few weeks to live before I go to be with God. I came tonight to tell you that we will be together on the other side.”
Today I will destroy my enemies only with love.
God give me Your kind of love for my enemies—so they too will love You.
IDENTIFYING WITH CHRISTIAN PRISONERS
Continue to remember those in prison as if you were together with them in prison, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering. Hebrews 13:3
The letter to the Hebrews was written to first century Jewish believers in Jesus who were being persecuted. Some were so discouraged they were considering returning to Judaism. The writer encourages them to persevere because of the superiority of Jesus over everything and everyone else. And He will return to establish the ultimate kingdom.
Chapter 13 begins the author’s final instructions. First we are to continue (repeated action) loving one another as brothers and sisters. This love is to be practical and reach out even to strangers who we are to entertain as we may not realize when one might be an angel. Then in our verse for today, our love is to extend to those who are in prison for their faith, even to the point of assuming we are in there with them. That makes a huge difference as to how we show practical love.
Russian Christian prisoner, Aleksandr Ogorodnikov, shares, “One night I was thrown into a cell with a broken window. The KGB was determined to do an experiment and freeze me. Later they would say, ‘He broke the window in his cell and died of cold.’ I felt despair. I thought to myself, ‘Has God really left me? Am I really forgotten and neglected? Have my years of suffering been in vain?’
“And in my despair I began to pray. I usually pray silently, but this time I started to appeal to God out loud. ‘God, have You left me?’ My cries were bursting from a heart literally in utter despair.
“And right then, I suddenly felt a palpable physical warmth. Not the kind that comes from a heater, but like when a mother draws her freezing child to her breast, and warms him with her tearful breath of compassion. It was a very living, human warmth. It penetrates you, as if piercing you to the heart. And inside your heart a spring opens up, out of which flows peace—a wonderful, magnificent, soothing peace.
“I felt a very loving, brotherly touch—someone’s caring hand touching my shoulder. I actually felt it. In the morning, it was a shock to my executioners. They couldn’t understand. I wasn’t simply alive, but my temperature was the same as that of a normal person. I heard a doctor explaining to my executioners in the corridor, ‘This is impossible! We can’t explain it.’
“It so happened that many people began praying for me. And that was exactly when they released me.”
I will continue to remember my brothers and sisters around the world who are in prison for their faith.
Lord, give the sense and touch of Your presence to those suffering for You in prison today.
SINGING TO THE LORD
One thing I ask of the Lord, this is what I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord and to seek him in his temple…Then my head will be exalted above the enemies who surround me; at his tabernacle will I sacrifice with shouts of joy; I will sing and make music to the Lord.
Brother Zhang, a young medical doctor and preacher in Zhejiang, China, refused to join the government Three Self Patriotic Church. He was arrested and spent eighteen years in prison eating poor food, being beaten and drowning in the stench of cellmates. He shares this testimony:
“The eighteen years were a tremendous spiritual challenge, which brought great blessings I never before thought possible in my life. Prison officials ordered me to empty the camp night-soil pit, the prison’s cesspool. While I had little experience of physical labor, its hardship and suffering did not frighten me. Although most of the other prisoners dreaded night-soil pit duty as the most difficult task in prison, I accepted this assignment without complaint. The pit stored all the human excrement, both liquid and solid, from the entire camp. Once the pit was full, its human waste steeped until its foul contents were ripe enough to be used as fertilizer. Not only did I walk into this disease-ridden mess to remove it, but I had to breathe its stench as I scooped away each successive layer and dropped hundreds of shovel loads into collection buckets for others to carry to the fields.
“The night-soil pit’s pungent odors lingered with the digger at least three days, literally surrounding him with an almost maddening stench. All the guards and other prisoners avoided the night-soil pit digger to escape being overcome by the lingering odor. One reason I could enjoy working in the night-soil pit was the solitude. Surrounded only by foul air and human waste, I could sing music of praise to God as loudly as I wanted. And the guards were never close enough to protest this otherwise objectionable behavior!
“One of my favorite songs during those days was ‘In the Garden.’ My Chinese night-soil pit was hardly the garden that the composer of that hymn had in mind! But God delivered great happiness to me to be able to sing His praises in such earthly misery.”
Today I will sing praises to God no matter how terrible my circumstances turn out to be.
Lord, may all Christian prisoners experience the joy of praising You in their trials this day.
You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what he has promised. For, “In just a little while, he who is coming will come and will not delay.” Hebrews 10:36-37
The greatest example of Christian perseverance for me is Sister Alice Yuan from China. Her pastor husband, Allen Yuan, was imprisoned for almost twenty-two years for refusing to join the government controlled church in the middle 1950’s. She says:
“When my husband Allen was sent to prison in April 1958, I was told that I would never see him again. I felt completely miserable and continually blamed God. The future looked so terribly bleak. I had the care of six children and my mother-in-law. I was only earning 80 cents a day. How could I keep my family alive on that?
“When it all became too much for me, one night I heard a voice: ‘My child, I have everything in My hands. These things come from Me.’ I replied, ‘If these things come from You, please protect me and my family. Do not allow me to dishonor Your name. I want to serve You and glorify Your name’
“Then I received peace in my heart. I was encouraged by Psalm 68:19, Praise be to the Lord, to God our Savior, who daily bears our burdens. In those difficult years, people let me down, but God never abandoned me. But he did put me through trials.
“The first trialwas the struggle to survive. I was only earning 80 cents a day. How could we get by on that? But God took care of us, in the same way that he took care of Elijah. He promised to be my shepherd and provider.
“One evening, my mother-in-law said that there was no food anymore in the house. The next morning, at five to six there was a knock on the door. ‘Are you sister Alice?’ asked a woman in her sixties, whom I didn’t know. ‘God wanted me to give you this.’ She put a package in my hand and disappeared. When I opened the parcel I found there was rice in it and some other food and a banknote to the value of about four month’s salary of a professor! Praise the Lord. Where man comes to an end, God begins! This was only one of the many miracles which kept us alive all those years.”
Tomorrow we’ll conclude her story of faithfulness and perseverance as well as God’s miraculous care for His own.
Today I will not complain about discomforts but thank God for all His blessings!
Lord, You desire faithfulness and perseverance. Help me develop these qualities in my life.
“But my righteous one will live by faith. And I take no pleasure in the one who shrinks back.” But we do not belong to those who shrink back and are destroyed, but to those who have faith and are saved. Hebrews 10:38-39
Alice Yuan continues her testimony we began yesterday:
“The second trial came from the Communist party. Every day for nineteen years, I had to report to the police station, where for six hours, they put pressure on me. They said that I would never see my husband again, that I should divorce him and that I should give up my faith. With God’s help I kept going. Praying with my eyes closed, I endured the interrogations every day.
“The third trial consisted of the hard work. After I had been pressured by the security police for six hours, I still had to work for eight hours to earn a living. I had to push handcarts filled with building materials. The carts were much too heavy. I was completely exhausted and was already tired before I started. In the winter, it was even worse. Sometimes I had to shovel cement up onto a floor above my head. The work was dirty, hard and cold, but I achieved my quota. The others were surprised and wondered where I got the energy from.
“The fourth trial had to do with my natural desires. I was thirty-nine-years-old when my husband was taken away. The authorities put me under pressure to marry someone else. All my papers would be changed, so that I could start a new life without all the difficulties. I was offered money and clothing. God loved me so much that He gave me the strength to resist all these temptations. When I prayed to God, He gave me everything I needed, and even more than that.
“My favorite text is Psalm 68:6, God sets the lonely in families, he leads forth the prisoners with singing.”
It is a miracle that her husband, Allen Yuan, got out of the labour camp alive. In December 1979, he was released after twenty-one years and eight months. He was then sixty-five years old, thin but still healthy. At an age when many people are enjoying retirement, Allan again took up his vocation as a pastor. He died on August 16th 2005 at the age of ninety-one. Alice joined him in heaven in early August 2010 to hear her own “Well done!”
I resolve to persevere, with faith in a good God, through all the trials that come my way.
Lord, may all Your children experiencing severe persecution today be filled with faith and refuse to shrink back. Help me to emulate these great examples of faithful perseverance.
ENDURANCE AND ENCOURAGEMENT
May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you the same attitude of mind toward each other that Christ Jesus had…Romans 15:5
Zinaida Vilchinskaya was a grandmother at the time she was arrested in the Soviet Union while carrying Christian literature. She shares a poignant episode of how one believer can encourage another in endurance during difficult circumstances:
When the police first took me to the police station, I was put in a very cold cell with bare iron bunks. The guards took my scarf and my coat, and I lay on the bunk in just a dress. I was shivering, and I started to pray. When my cellmate saw me pray, she, too, got on her knees and said, “Oh, I can’t stand it. I’m freezing too.” She started to cry softly.
“Lord,” I prayed, “if You want me to be frozen here, may Your will be done; just enable me to endure this with love, submission, and meekness. But You can help me. You can even take me out of here if that’s Your will.”
I lay back down and felt such warmth. I told the other woman, “Here, let me put my arm around you, and you’ll get warmer.” We warmed up together. Later when they transferred us to different cells, she told everyone in hers, “God warmed up Aunt Zhenya (as they called me) in our cell, and she warmed me up.”
When a local pastor from South Sudan had the vision of starting a Bible School in an isolated area, he soon realized that the school needed help in feeding the hard working students. Each local congregation chose a number of young ladies to assist as kitchen workers. They fed at least seventy people daily and started a heartfelt tradition of singing Christian songs while serving the students.
Women from other congregations would also come to visit the students bearing gifts in the form of woven baskets, buckets filled with food and bundles of wood on their heads. The main purpose is encouragement and practical assistance. Their arrival is also identifiable with joyful singing. The humble services, gifts, encouragements and prayers of all these women have an uplifting effect on the students. It gives them the freedom to focus completely on their theological studies and become equipped for God’s calling on their lives. Encouragement is a powerful gift!
Today I will seek to find ways to encourage others going through the same challenges I have faced.
Lord, give me the mind of Jesus toward others in order that Your endurance and encouragement may flow through me.
LIVE EACH DAY AS YOUR LAST
[God] comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.
2 Corinthians 1:4
On that fateful Sunday morning in January 1996, Joy Dimerin’s beloved fiancé, Severino Bagtasos, was killed when a lone gunman stormed into the church that he pastored and shot him twice. Severino was killed on the first day of the Islamic holy month of Ramadan, in the predominantly Muslim town of Alat on Jolo island, in southern Philippines. He had a zeal in reaching Muslims for Christ. Joy and Severino were supposed to get married in May 1997.
“By the grace of God, I am doing well and still enjoying the ministry,” testifies Joy. She admits that feelings of loneliness and emptiness were the most difficult things she faced after her beloved Severino died. “I was afraid that I wouldn’t find a godly man like him again,” confides Joy. “I learned to see God’s purpose in my life,” Joy added. “I learned to accept whatever circumstances come my way and look at them as God’s instruments in molding me and in making me a better person. Through [Severino’s] life I learned commitment to the ministry and to prayer. Through his death, I learned to always be prepared to face the Author and Finisher of my faith. Through this tragedy, I learned to live each day as though it were my last.”
Severino’s killer was a Tausug. “God had intended it to be so,” she says. As a Tausug she feels compassion for her people because they are blinded by their beliefs. She now serves the Lord by reaching out to them and the Sama Muslims of southern Philippines. “I have forgiven the one who killed Junie. It’s hard to live with the hurt, the pain, and an unforgiving spirit, especially as I work with Muslims. I have learned to look at them the way God does. It’s only through the gospel that they will change,” said Joy with no trace of bitterness in her voice. The people who wanted Severino dead had the opportunity to hear the gospel during Severino’s funeral service, perhaps the only time they would hear the love of Christ preached openly.
Joy received thousands of letters from all over the world through Open Doors, giving her words of comfort and assuring her of prayers being said for her. In a letter to her encouragers, she wrote, “Two years of being broken-hearted led me to spiritual wholeness.” This was one of the paradoxes in her life. “I learned to be independent but dependent upon God, especially with regards to my daily walk with Him. I learned to be courageous and tough, but soft-hearted to the needy and suffering Christians.” Perhaps, only those who have suffered can truly understand those who are suffering. And those who have experienced healing can truly empathize with those who are hurting.
Four years later, God brought Joy on staff with Open Doors. “I never thought that God would call me to minister to the Persecuted Church through Open Doors. God had allowed the great pain in my life for me to understand those who are in pain. He allowed me to suffer that I may best minister to the suffering.”
I will live today as though it were my last: loving, forgiving, serving!
Pray for Joy in her important ministry in the Muslim areas of the southern Philippines.
SINGING IN THE STORM
But I trust in your unfailing love; my heart rejoices in your salvation.
I will sing the LORD’s praise, for he has been good to me.
The Psalmist expresses his praise in the context of asking God for deliverance from his enemies. His trust results in rejoicing which then results in singing God’s praises.
A simple peasant girl from the countryside in China has used her musical creativity to encourage the house church movement all across China and touch the lives of millions of believers.
Xiao Min was born in a village in Henan Province in central China and has experienced much persecution. Though only receiving a junior high level education, she has been able to compose over 1,270 different hymns—both music and lyrics—that are sung by the Chinese churches in China and now throughout the world. They are known as the Canaan Hymns. Amazing creativity for a young lady with no musical training!
Xiao Min shares that twenty years ago many believers were arrested by the Chinese government. At that time, she prayed to the Lord asking if she could also be arrested and suffer together with these fellow believers. Soon after, she was indeed arrested and sent to prison. She says that she wasn’t scared at all.
One summer day in prison when it was extremely hot she requested the guard to let everyone wash their hair. But she received a rude response telling her to ask the Lord Jesus to wash their hair for them. She used this discouraging response as an inspiration to write hymn number 56, “Lord, We Know Deeply” in the Canaan Hymns series.
In this hymn, Xiao Min sings:
Lord we know deeply that in every moment Your love never, never diminishes.
Lord we know deeply that in every moment, our only friend is You.
Our hearts long for You, our hearts long for You,
Because You’re the first in millions, no one can be compared with You,
No one can be compared with you.”
Not only was Xiao Min arrested because of her faith, she was also persecuted by her family members. But she still testified to them that God healed her sinusitis and that He is her Savior. She concludes, “Even though we experience suffering, the Lord Jesus gives us strength.” Her strength enables her to sing to the Lord in the face of all difficulties.
Today I will sing praises to the Lord no matter how difficult the journey.
I ask, Lord, for the grace to be able to vocalize my trust and joy and praise of You!
JOY IN THE MORNING
Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world. James 1:27
God’s love compels us to feed the hungry, empower the poor, defend the weak and help those who are suffering. When we do these things, it includes encouraging and strengthening those persecuted for their faith in Christ. The church has often led the way in education and medical services in developing countries until governments or other local agencies take over.
Brother Andrew says that giving humanitarian aid is a picture of Jesus knocking at the door of our hearts (our lives) in Revelation Chapter Three. The doors of many hearts in the church are closed to acts of mercy and love in action. Therefore, Jesus stands knocking at the door of our hearts asking that we open that door and let Him in. His coming into our lives enables us to do acts of love.
“They killed my husband before my very own eyes. As if that wasn’t enough, they destroyed everything by burning down our house including my dear husband’s workshop.” These were the words of Esther, the widow whose husband was killed by jihadists in Nigeria in January 2010.
For the mother of seven, life became unbearable. The house that her children called home no longer existed and the daunting absence of an income was an inevitable reality. To worsen their circumstances, the in-laws abandoned Esther and her children. Surrounded by walls of a room too small for eight people, depression threatened to overshadow her and Esther cried night and day, asking God for a way out.
She truly needed a shoulder to lean on. A friend told us her story and from there Open Doors provided financial support for this family. As a result the family was able to move into an apartment in a Christian area, with enough room for everyone. The new home lent enough space for Esther to even start working from home. She is a tailor by profession and hopes to rent a shop in the near future.
Esther thought it wise to take some of the money and start a vegetable garden on a small scale. The idea is to feed her family and at the same time generate an income from it. She is confident that her vegetable business will grow to the point where she will be able to send the children to school.
“If Open Doors had not come to my aid,” Esther concluded with tears, “what would have become of me and my children? For all I know, we all would have been dead, either by the hands of Jihadists or hunger. As for my husband’s killers—though it’s been difficult—through your prayers and encouragement I’ve been able to forgive them.”
Today I will live in awareness of those around me needing help and respond appropriately.
Lord, give me Your compassion for people in need. May I be an agent of Your love today.
BE A GOOD STEWARD OF YOUR TRIALS
Therefore, among God’s churches we boast about your perseverance and faith in all the persecutions and trials you are enduring. 2 Thessalonians 1:4
The Apostle Paul praises the church in Thessalonica for their faith and love in the face of persecutions and trials. In essence he is telling them that they are good stewards of their trials, not letting them impact their faith negatively.
I recently heard gospel singer Lynda Randall express this same thought of “being a good steward of the trials I face,” as she introduced her next solo “It is Well With My Soul.”
The lyrics of this hymn were written by Horatio Spafford, a lawyer of some prominence in Chicago. He and his wife Anna had one son and four daughters, and were good friends of D.L. Moody and Ira Sankey for many years. Mr. Spafford’s children had come to Christ through the influence of Ira Sankey’s music. When the Spafford’s son died, the family went into deep mourning.
After two years of ministering to the homeless and needy people of Chicago, Mr. Spafford thought his family needed a vacation. D. L. Moody and Ira Sankey were in England holding evangelistic meetings so Mr. Spafford decided to take his family to England, where they could vacation and also be a help to his friends Moody and Sankey.
He booked passage for his family on the ship SS Ville de Havre, but at the last minute was unable to go with his family due to business. He promised to follow them within a few weeks and they would all be reunited in England.
As the ship sailed across the Atlantic Ocean, it collided with the English ship Lochearn, and sank within 12 minutes. 226 lives were lost, including the four Spafford daughters. Mrs. Spafford was rescued from a floating piece of debris. When she arrived in Wales 10 days later she cabled a message to her husband, “Saved Alone…”
Mr. Spafford booked passage on the next ship heading to England. As the ship crossed the area where the SS Ville de Havre sank, taking his daughters to the ocean’s depths, Mr. Spafford felt the Holy Spirit fill him with a comforting peace. Leaving the ship’s railing he went into his cabin where he penned the hymn that has soothed so many souls who have been broken-hearted…and one which I often hear sung in the meetings of the Persecuted Church:
When peace, like a river, attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea billows roll;
Whatever my lot, Thou has taught me to say,
It is well, it is well, with my soul.
Today I will be a good steward of the trials I face…with faith, love and perseverance.
Thank you Lord for Your faithfulness in all the trials I face. Help me not waste them.
NO TURNING BACK
Jesus replied, “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God.” Luke 9:62
One of the blessings of teaching Standing Strong Through The Storm (SSTS) is the opportunity to meet special people in ministry who, though unassuming at first glance, have experienced deep riches in relationship with Jesus. Such a person I met in a jungle camp seminar in central Sri Lanka.
His English name was Samuel and he was a seasoned church planter. From Samuel I learned that church planting in a Buddhist country is no easier than anywhere else religious intolerance raises its head. I always thought Buddhism was a pacifist religion and philosophically it is. But try and plant a church in a dominant Buddhist community and you will see something different.
One day Samuel began to share with me about his ministry. He had been dedicated to the Buddhist temple as a young child by his mother just like his biblical namesake. As a young monk he was impressed by the witness of a Christian youth who led him to faith in Christ. He left temple life and felt called to be a Christian church planter. With his wife and two small children he moved to a new community and began to share Jesus. The villagers stoned his residence and when he would not desist, they burned it down.
He moved to another community and was attacked physically with severe wounds. In the next location the villagers schemed against him and his family. They cut the main posts of his home and worship center. At night they tied rope to the posts and pulled them out while the family was asleep. He knew God was with him. Two large structural beams fell down parallel to where the children were sleeping and neither of them was touched.
He continued on and I finally interrupted with the question, “How many times did this happen and you had to move on?”
Samuel smiled and answered, “Thirteen times!”
Of course, in my Western way of thinking I asked, “How could you continue on and persevere through so many attacks?”
He replied, “It’s like the song we sang this morning at the SSTS seminar, I have decided to follow Jesus, no turning back!” And he quickly went on to say with a bigger smile, “Last month twenty-five people in my new community were baptized and I currently have another twenty-five in a baptismal preparation class.”
Jesus gives strength to carry on and not turn back.
Today I resolve to not allow petty challenges dampen my commitment to follow Jesus.
Thank You, Lord, for Samuel’s testimony of Your faithfulness. Help me never to turn back from following and serving You.
“…I will refine them like silver and test them like gold. They will call on my name and I will answer them; I will say, ‘They are my people,’ and they will say, ‘The LORD is our God.’” Zechariah 13:9
In 2004, my colleague and friend Dr. Jim Cunningham was in Ethiopia teaching Standing Strong Through The Storm (SSTS). His teaching assignments took him to the far western province of Gambella where many Christians of the Anuak tribe had been killed in recent fighting. The believers there told him about one of their pastors, Okok Ojula, who was in prison in the capital, Addis Ababa.
Okok had been head of the Bureau of Social Rehabilitation in Gambella. He was falsely accused of corruption and taking three million Ethiopian Birr. No evidence was presented so the trial was moved to Addis—three days away by bus—to a federal court. He had been sitting in jail for two years waiting for a trial date to be set! His wife Nuno and their six children were patiently waiting back in Gambella. They asked Jim to visit Pastor Okok in prison.
Jim went to the Administrator’s Office of the main federal prison back in Addis to try and see Pastor Okok. “Why do you want to see him?” the administrator asked. Jim responded, “Because I was in Gambella, met his wife Nuno and their six children and I told them I would come and give him greetings from them.”
He replied rather directly, “Why do YOU want to see him?” Jim looked him in the eye and said, “Okuk is a Christian and a pastor in Gambella, I am a Christian and a pastor in Canada. I want to meet him and pray with him!” At that moment the administrator’s countenance changed. He turned to Jim and said, “You may meet him next door in the Deputy Administrator’s office.”
Okuk was brought in for forty-five minutes—with coffee provided—and they shared and prayed together! It was a great time of blessing for both men.
After three and a half years, Okuk was released from prison as a free man completely exonerated. He then shared with Jim by mail that he had earlier conformed his life around serving the Lord, resuming his education at the highest level, doing research work, and other valuable good things to help people. But he had never thought of imprisonment at any time. Time was very precious to him and he never thought of wasting it in prison sitting under a hostile situation. But having been in prison he learned many lessons.
Commenting about Moses’ burning bush, he said, “Prison to me, is a place where the Lord can appear to us in flames of fire to refine us—but never ‘burn us up.’ I see that the Lord is more concerned with our perfection obtained through walks in all levels of patience, endurance, character, and hope in order to expel fear and self-centeredness in our lives—and prepare us to see and believe that He is God Almighty as He appeared to Moses. He intends for us not to put Him in our little box to use Him as an instrument to suit our release from the prison. [Rather] patience, endurance, character, and hope have to finish their work to perfection.”
Today I will accept that God may have to put me through the refiner’s fire to perfect me.
Lord, build patience, endurance, character and hope into my life in Your way and purpose.
GOD’S ETERNAL LOVE
“I have loved you with an everlasting love; I have drawn you with unfailing kindness.” Jeremiah 31:3
Yesterday we learned the first prison lesson from Pastor Okuk Ojula who was incarcerated on false charges for three and a half years in a federal prison in Addis Ababa in Ethiopia.
When Jim Cunningham was able to visit him in the prison, he told Jim that before the prison experience, he had centered his life on serving the Lord, pursuing his education to the highest level (he has an MA in economics from the University of Reading-UK), doing research work and other good things to help people. But he had never thought of imprisonment as having any spiritual or practical value. He commented, “Time was very precious to me and I never thought of wasting it in prison sitting for nothing under a hostile situation.”
But God taught Pastor Okuk several lessons. The second one is that the depth of God’s love for us is eternal. He says, “I was in prison for my protection. God put me in prison beforehand to escape the massacre of the elites and the educated people of my tribe in the Gambella region—the incident of December 2003 that shook the media world.”
Genocide Watch reported that at least 416 Anuak people were massacred in December 2003 in Gambella led by Ethiopian government troops in uniform, but they were joined by other local tribal people from highland areas. Between 3000 and 5000 additional Anuak refugees fled into Sudan as refugees.
The pretext for these massacres was the ambush of a van on December 13th by an unidentified gang who murdered its eight occupants, who were U.N. and Ethiopian government refugee camp officials. There is no evidence that the killers were Anuak. The Ethiopian troops responded by murdering hundreds of Anuak civilians in Gambella and surrounding areas. They also burned their homes and raped the women.
Sources indicated that those targeted particularly were educated Anuak men, a tactic often intended to render a group leaderless and defenseless. To this day hundreds of Anuak Christians are still listed as “missing.”
Pastor Okok is convinced that his imprisonment in Addis was God’s love and protection because if he had been at home, he would have been a prime target because of his education.
Today I will walk in the assurance of God’s love and His positive actions on my behalf even when they do not seem to be favourable.
Pray for those brothers and sisters experiencing injustice without the understanding of God’s purposes.
THE WORK OF MINISTRY TO OTHERS
Last night an angel of the God to whom I belong and whom I serve stood beside me and said, ‘Do not be afraid, Paul. You must stand trial before Caesar; and God has graciously given you the lives of all who sail with you.’ Acts 27:23-24
We’ve been learning personal lessons from prison from Pastor Okuk Ojulu in Ethiopia as he shared them with Jim Cunningham.
He says, “The third lesson I learned is that imprisonment is for ministry to people in need. The thirty-six people who were imprisoned with me from Gambella in the Addis Ababa prison–777 kilometers (483 miles) away from our families–had no strong faith in the Lord.
“I began to realize that the Lord put me there to minister to these people, to feed them with the Word of God in the prison. I ended up baptizing some of them in the prison although I was not an officially recognized pastor, for no pastor was allowed to do this work in the prison.”
I am always amazed at the positive lessons from reading prison memoirs of followers of Jesus. And so many times they come to this similar conclusion. They were there to serve others.
Mama Kwang of Project Pearl in China is a wonderful example. Carl Lawrence tells her story in his award-winning book, The Church in China:
As she sat quietly in prison singing a hymn, the Lord gave her a message: “This is to be your ministry.”
“But,” she objected, “I am all alone. Whom can I minister to?” She continued to pray that her ministry would be fulfilled. Suddenly an idea came to her. She stood up and called for the guard.
“Sir, can I do some hard labor for you?” The guard looked at her with contempt, mingled with surprise. No one had ever made that kind of request before.
“Look!” she exclaimed, “this prison is so dirty, there is human waste everywhere. Let me go into the cells and clean up this filthy place. All you have to do is give me some water and a brush.”
Not to her surprise, she soon found herself on her hands and knees cleaning and preaching. She was looking into the faces of people no longer recognizable as human beings. Through continuous torture, they had lost all hope of ever seeing another human being who did not come to beat them.
“Oh, when they realized that they could have eternal life, they would get so excited. They would fall down on the dirty floor and repent of their sins, and do you know that very soon all the prisoners believed in Jesus Christ.”
Today I acknowledge that God can enable me to minister anywhere for Him—even prison.
Thank You Lord that even in a filthy prison dungeon you give ministry opportunities.
REJOICE IN THE LORD
Further, my brothers and sisters, rejoice in the Lord! Philippians 3:1a
We’ve been learning personal lessons from prison from Pastor Okuk Ojulu in Ethiopia as he shared them with Jim Cunningham.
He says, “The fourth lesson is to Rejoice in the Lord always in the prison.
“Prison means cutting off almost all your freedoms from the previous life. The devil is more pressing in the prison than anywhere in life, preaching negatives things to us. The most powerful tool for victory in our Christian lives in the midst of negatives is to preach positives to defeat the devil of negatives. In other words, it is to develop a positive attitude in a hostile situation like in the prison.
“In Philippians 3:1, it says, Rejoice in the Lord! Rejoicing in the Lord always enables us to approach the burning bush for a release from the prison. Let our prayer contain: “Yet not as I will, but as You will.”
“I hope this kind of prayer can discipline us, and help make us approach the Lord very closely in the burning bush—the very place where we can hear a distilled voice from Him for the deliverance of many in their misery. The burning bush does not burn us up, but it makes us remove our sandals when we approach it.”
Pastor Okok was released after three and a half years and God has rewarded his ministry, even his family. One of his daughters was chosen as Miss Ethiopia which paid for her education.
He continues to minister in freedom but with new perspectives based on his prison life.
Prison experiences are very personal and very impacting. I think that must be why I enjoy reading memoirs of Christians who have been in prison. They are so positive and uplifting compared to those of non-Christians.
I especially remember the prayer of a Christian brother who was in prison for years in Romania during the difficult years of the cold war. He prayed:
“Lord, I look forward to the great day I see you and your family in heaven. I look forward to seeing the great evangelists standing before you. I look forward to the day I see all the missionaries coming home rejoicing with their sheaves. I look forward to hearing all the great singers of the world praising you. I look forward to seeing the great preachers of the ages standing before you.
“But Lord, I have one special request. When that day comes, allow me to be there in the clothing of a prisoner. I want to praise you throughout eternity in my prisoner’s clothes to always remind me that I was a prisoner for you.”
Today I will rejoice in the Lord in the face of all the negatives that Satan tries to throw at me.
Lord, You are worthy of my praise and joyfulness no matter what circumstances I am in.
THE WITNESSING POWER OF THE HOLY SPIRIT
“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses…” Acts 1:8a
Prior to her Christian husband being released from prison in Iran, Maheen, feared that she might be arrested too. So she seriously prayed, “Dear Lord, I am not ready to go to a solitary confinement because of my Christian faith. It is such a closed and dirty environment. As you know I was born and brought up in a wealthy family and had a comfortable life. Please don’t test me beyond my ability.” She told God she would not be able to handle being arrested and mentioned her fear that she might give the names of all believers in the house churches to the police or even deny Jesus.
Three days later, the secret police knocked at her door. She said to God, “I have already asked you not to put me in this temptation. So whatever happens, it is not my fault. Because I had already told you that I am not a strong person and can’t stand against these security people and can’t tolerate persecution.”
She said, “The police blindfolded me and took me to the solitary confinement. I was scared to death and felt sick as the place was very smelly.” They put her in a cell and a few hours later brought her in for interrogation. She added, “I sensed the presence of the Holy Spirit very strongly. And I felt that God’s peace came down on me and my fear went away.”
When Maheen stood before the high official, she courageously testified of her Christian faith.
“It is an honor for me to talk to people about Jesus. I will be very happy to talk to you about Jesus and salvation too. Like all other people and Muslims, you also need Jesus in your life. Without Jesus a person does not have any peace and life is hopeless and without any purpose. Jesus laid his life down for you too so that you can have salvation and will not perish.”
The official responded in anger, “Do you know what the consequence of all this will be for you? You can’t evangelize me. It will cost you a heavy price.”
On the third night the official came to her cell. Maheen was frightened fearing that he came to abuse her sexually or to beat her up. But the official told her, “Don’t be afraid of me. I need your prayers. When you shared about Jesus with me, it had such a powerful impact on my life. I need to be saved. I need Jesus in my life. I believe God has sent you to come to this prison so that you can share about salvation with me. I am now completely aware of the fact that without Jesus I will be a miserable and hopeless person and I will perish. Please pray for me that I can be set free from this hell I live in.”
Maheen had the chance to share about Jesus for three hours with him and at the end he repented of his sins and committed his life to Jesus. The official testified that for the first time he experienced the real peace and love of God in his life.
Maheen and her husband were both released from prison and are in touch with this official and his wife secretly. The wife of the official has committed her life to the Lord too.
Today I will walk and talk in the power of the Holy Spirit and trust God to use me as a witness wherever He places me.
Thank God for the power of His Holy Spirit among committed brothers and sisters in Iran.
Be faithful, even to the point of death, and I will give you the crown of life. Revelation 2:10
In Ambon, Indonesia, a Christian youth camp was held in early 1999 with the theme “Soldiers of the Cross!” The camp was attacked by an angry group of Muslim extremists and a 15-year-old boy named Roy Pontoh was singled out for carrying his Bible and interrogated.
When asked, “Who are you?” he replied, “I am a soldier of Jesus Christ.” The angry mob chopped at his left arm with a machete. The questioning continued, “Who are you?” And again Roy answered, “I am a soldier of Jesus Christ.” Then they chopped at his right arm.
When they tried to force him to say, “Allahu Akbar,” he replied, “As far as I know, Jesus Christ is the only Lord.” Now the seething angry crowd cut open his stomach and demanded again, “Who are you?” With his last breath, Roy gasped, “I am a soldier of Jesus Christ.” The mob cut off his head and threw his body in a ditch.
Martyrdom may be the end result of those who endure. In addition to Jesus, three martyrs are named in the New Testament—John the Baptist, Stephen and James. Some of the unnamed heroes of the faith mentioned in Hebrews 11:37 were also martyred.
Martyrdom is described as a legitimate response to persecution. This is not easily understood in our day and in our culture that specializes in personal “rights” and the avoidance of suffering. But a special crown is awaiting those who lay down their lives for their faith.
The appropriate response to persecution that one chooses depends on that person’s intimate relationship with God the Holy Spirit and openness to His direction.
No doubt if you and I had talked to Roy Pontoh before his death, we may not have detected such bravery and loyalty to Jesus. Roy passed the hot water test with flying colors. He graduated to a special place with his Lord as a victorious overcomer.
Overcomers are like tea bags. You have to put them in hot water to know how strong they are!
Today I will live in faith and assurance that even in the test and threat of death I can be a victorious overcomer.
Pray that all those who may face physical death today for the cause of Christ will walk in faith and realize they will never die.
 Helen Berhane, Song of the Nightingale (Colorado Springs: Authentic Media, 2009), pp. 38-39.
 Carl Lawrence, The Church in China (Minneapolis, MN: Bethany House Publishers, 1985), p.149.
RECONCILIATION IN THE MIDST OF PAIN
All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation.
2 Corinthians 5:18-19
The first of September is a memorial day for the people of Beslan in North Ossetia as they remember the awful events of September first 2004. More than one thousand children and adults were taken hostage in School Number One and two days later more than three hundred and thirty of them were killed in the violence.
Memorial services are held and memories of the nightmare overwhelm everyone in town. Beslan’s cemetery is unique; it has the youngest average age in the world (7-12 years old). The sight of so many graves of children deeply affects any visitor. One said, “People who do not live in Beslan have often forgotten the tragedy already, but as soon as you enter the city, you cannot escape the atmosphere of grief and deep mourning that is still enveloping the city.”
When the tragedy occurred at School Number One, almost every family in Beslan was affected. A peculiarity in Ossetia is that nearly everybody is related to one another, so the catastrophe has affected many people in a personal way. Even those who were watching television during the event suffered diseases, heart attacks and strokes.
Pastor Taimuraz Totiev and his wife Ria had their five children at school; only the eldest daughter, Madina, survived the attack. Their four other children, Larissa, Luba, Albina and Boris, were buried on September 7, 2004.
The pastor’s brother, Sergey Totiev, also had children at the school. Sergey and his wife Bela buried two of their children on the same day: Dzerassa (15) and Anna (9). Their son Azamat lost his sight in one of his eyes and is having surgery to save his other eye.
Both men are pastors of the Beslan Baptist Church. At the children’s funeral Sergey spoke of forgiveness and advised people not to seek revenge, but to serve as peacemakers. His exact words were: “Yes, we have an irreplaceable loss, but we cannot take revenge. As Christians, the Bible teaches us that we must forgive. Vengeance is in God’s hands.” According to a Christian worker in the area, a demonic plan was broken when those words were spoken!
Since that time they have been doing everything they can think of to minister to families of the victims. Other churches and ministries have also taken up the enormous task of counseling and helping the survivors and the bereaved. Others decided to reach out to Chechen people (nationality of the neighboring terrorists) and are finding ways to minister God’s love to them.
Today I commit to being a messenger of God’s reconciliation through Christ—even to those who may cause harm to me or my family.
Pray for the church to be an instrument of reconciliation and restoration in this volatile area of Central Asia.
THE PRIVILEGE OF CORPORATE WORSHIP
Sing his praises in the assembly of the faithful. Psalm 149:1b
Open Doors colleague, Ron Boyd-MacMillan, shares the following insight from his teaching, “Why I Need to Encounter the Persecuted Church.”
It’s so easy to get fed up with church. For years I got very little out of church. The sermons were boring. The music was embarrassing. The fellowship was non-existent. The whole experience of worshipping with other people felt stale and pointless…Going to church in my country was an endurance test. Until I visited a Persecuted Church!
There were fifty of us squeezed into an upstairs room. The singing was hushed. The neighbors were hostile to the fellowship. Then a preacher stood up. An old man, with a wiry frame and wisps of hair springing from a mole on his chin. No sooner had he spoken a sentence than he broke down in tears. He kept saying, “I never thought I would have the privilege of preaching again.” Then he would laugh, then cry again, great wails and sobs. Soon everyone was weeping with him. Except me. This went on for about half an hour, and I began to get very fed up with it all. He kept speaking a line, and my translator kept saying, “It’s the same verse, it’s the same verse.” All this man did was repeat the same Scripture phrase, burst into tears, laugh, and then speak the very same phrase again. I thought, “What kind of hopeless service is this.”
But afterwards I met the old man, and when I heard his story I repented of my attitude. He was a preacher, ordained in the late 1950’s in China. He pastored a church for only six months before it was closed down. He was jailed, spending twenty years in prison. After he got out, he was very ill for a long time, but finally, at age 77, had the strength to speak again. I had witnessed his first sermon in 31 years! No wonder he broke down. I tried to imagine what it must have been like, holding the Word of God inside for 31 years, not knowing whether you would ever again preach. Then suddenly being allowed to do so. How do you preach a sermon after a silence of 31 years? No wonder he was overcome.
He said, “I never thought I would get the privilege of speaking the Word to a gathered group of Christians with their Bibles open ever again. Through the long years of prison I thought that experience would never return. And when it came, as you saw, all I could do was choke out the verse that kept me going: Sing his praises in the assembly of the faithful (Ps149:1b).
I returned home with a transformed attitude. I began to walk to church with my Bible, praising Him for the opportunity. I went to the church early, walking the aisles and praying, thanking God for the building and the freedom to hold our service. When the preacher spoke, I thanked God that he had no fear. When the Bible was read, I thanked God for the men who took grave risks in the past to print and distribute this word in my language. When we sang a hymn, I sang out loudly, thanking God that I did not have to whisper in hushed tones.
Truly, what a privilege is corporate worship. The Persecuted Church rescued me from bitterness, and taught me to count my blessings I had taken for granted.
Today I will thank God for the privilege and freedom of corporate worship in my church.
Thank You Lord for the freedom and blessing of praising You in my faith community.
HELP IN INTERPRETING THE BIBLE
Remember those earlier days after you had received the light, when you endured in a great conflict full of suffering. Hebrews 10:32
Open Doors colleague, Ron Boyd-MacMillan, shares the following insight from his teaching, “Why I Need to Encounter the Persecuted Church.”
Every pastor and Bible teacher works hard to understand the meaning of the Scriptures. They learn biblical languages, look up concordances, and consult commentaries, all in the hope of shedding more light on the key questions of interpretation:
1. who wrote this text and what did they mean by it?
2. who initially read this text and what did they make of it?
All good interpretation begins with the tools that answer these two primary questions. We are taught that these tools lie in the realm of scholarship, and most pastors take to their studies and their libraries accordingly. But there is another vitally overlooked tool that gives a key to the meaning of the Scriptures. The Persecuted Church of today represents the closest we can come to the original writers and readers of the Scriptures. You see, most of the Bible was written by persecuted people for persecuted people. By interacting with them, we gain unique insights into the original meaning of the Scriptures. We really need their help because what is obvious to a persecuted, biblical Christian, is no longer obvious to us. We inhabit a completely different universe. We need the persecuted to remind us of what life was like for the original New Testament community. The persecuted enable us in some small way to recover the “original eyes” of the first writers and readers of Scripture, and that can impact interpretation.
I remember a dear pastor from the West preaching about Jesus stilling the storm (Mark 4:35-41). His whole talk was on how Jesus could still the storms raging in our lives. He named storms like loneliness, misunderstanding, humiliation, persecution even. And he said, “Jesus can deliver you from every one of these storms, just like he did the disciples of old.”
He was about to go on when an old man stood up. He was from a Middle Eastern country and had seen much suffering. He said gently and respectfully, “My dear brother, if you had been persecuted you would know the primary meaning of this passage. The point of this story is not that Jesus takes the storm away, but that there is no need to fear the storm if Jesus is in the boat.” Everyone stared at him in silence. He added, “This passage is given to us for our comfort in the face of terrible storms, to know that Jesus is in the boat with us so that the storm will do us no harm.” So that persecuted Christian—because he was persecuted—knew the meaning of the passage better than the preacher, because he was one for whom the passage was written.
Today I will read my Bible through the eyes and perspective of the persecuted.
Lord, may Your Word come alive as I interpret it with the help of the Persecuted Church.
For just as we share abundantly in the sufferings of Christ, so also our comfort abounds through Christ. 2 Corinthians 1:5
Reg Reimer, a veteran missionary in Vietnam and with the World Evangelical Alliance counters the idea that some people express which glamorizes persecution and conclude it is therefore good. He says that deprivation, cruelty and dehumanization suffered by victims of persecution are NOT good but from the enemy! He writes in the book Suffering, Persecution and Martyrdom: Theological Reflections:
In Vietnam, for example, it is well documented that in the past 30 years Christians have been harassed, discriminated against, arrested without cause, starved, beaten, imprisoned, raped, dispossessed and chased from home and fields, and even killed for Christ’s sake. Only the Evil One takes pleasure in inflicting these injustices on those made in the image of God!
In September 2005, a Vietnamese pastor was released from a terrifying 15-month imprisonment. He had been rotated to five different prisons, was sometimes in rooms with 100 criminals and other times in a solitary cell. He had been attacked by prisoners with HIV/AIDS. He confessed to feeling alienated from his family and his church after his release. The feeling worsened. Six months after release he uttered the words, “I only discovered real loneliness when I got out of prison. My colleagues, my own brother and even my wife don’t understand and won’t believe what I tell them.” Persecution is not good!
People much prefer the more positive reports of those who seem to flourish in persecution. It is truly amazing that for many, the persecution they suffer becomes a means of receiving grace! They testify of God’s strengthening presence in the harshest conditions. They report on God’s miraculous provisions in times of extreme need. And so persecution and suffering become an occasion for God’s comfort, often through others.
Today I will resist the temptation to glamorize persecution and the persecuted. Instead I will pray unceasingly for those being traumatized.
Lord please bring Your comfort to our brothers and sisters who are hurting from persecution today. And bless those who provide much needed trauma counselling for the Persecuted Church.
REAL LIFE FORGIVENESS
“Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven. Luke 6:37
Alexander Puerta has seen more than his share of tragedy. Raised on a small farm in Urabá region of northern Colombia, he was 17 when his father was murdered by an angry neighbour.
At 19, Alex nearly died of malaria. He called on a Christian evangelist to pray for him and experienced a miraculous recovery. That convinced him to accept Christ. He soon became a fervent evangelist himself and took a job at the Rancho Amelia banana plantation in Urabá.
A guerrilla army operating in the area mistakenly believed Rancho Amelia harbored a paramilitary squad. One morning in September 1995, they ambushed a bus carrying plantation employees, tied them up and threw them face down into a gully. The guerrillas then opened fire with machine guns on the helpless workers.
In the midst of the shooting, a bullet struck Alex Puerta at the base of his left eye, fractured his skull from the inside and exited, destroying his right eye and cheekbone. Amazingly, Alex did not lose consciousness, despite the excruciating pain and nearly suffocating in his own blood.
“The guerrillas came down the rows to find those who were still moving, finishing them off with a machete blow to the neck,” he recalls. “They reached me and I told them that Christ loved them. ‘This one’s alive!’ they said, and hit me twice very hard. They broke two teeth and cut off an ear lobe, but the machete did not penetrate my neck. Then they left.
“At that moment I heard a voice say, ‘Fight for your life.’ I felt such a strength and vitality that I succeeded in breaking my bonds. It hurt, but God gave me strength. When help arrived, they found me sitting up.” Alex was the only victim to survive the massacre. Twenty-five of his Rancho Amelia co-workers, including several women, lay dead in the gully.
Survival has been difficult. Alex underwent five surgeries to rebuild his shattered face. Doctors told him that he would never see again. He remembers the long months of convalescence with nothing to do but sit at home with only the family dog.
Today Alex serves as a voluntary chaplain of Prison Fellowship, preaching in chapel services at the Bellavista National Penitentiary and counseling inmates. Some of the prisoners with whom he has shared the gospel are former guerrillas. At least one, he has learned, was involved in the massacre at Rancho Amelia.
Alex let it be known that he has forgiven each of the assailants who blinded him and killed his friends. “If one decides to follow Jesus, the foundation is forgiveness,” he says. “Without it, there is no real Christian life.”
Alex accepted an invitation from Open Doors to become a regular trainer for Standing Strong Through the Storm seminars offered throughout Colombia. Feedback from seminar participants indicates that Alex is particularly effective in teaching about forgiveness.
Today I will obey the Lord and forgive everyone who has hurt me.
Pray for Alex as he teaches SSTS seminars in Colombia. Pray his students will also forgive.
FORGIVENESS IS NOT AN OPTION
And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive them, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins.” Mark 11:25
Our founder, Brother Andrew, says, “Forgiveness is the very core of the gospel message. I am a Christian only because God forgave me everything. There is no other ground on which to stand…not my repentance, not my praying the sinner’s prayer. Nothing made me a child of God except God forgave. And He did it two thousand years ago through Jesus on the cross. Jesus took all that sin and nailed it to the cross and He says, ‘Now, go, and put it into practice.’”
Poso, Indonesia is a beautiful place on a central island of the country. There we meet an elderly, physically weak, Christian mother who shares through her tears the tragedy that befell her seventeen-year-old daughter Alfita in 2005.
“My daughter Alfita was so beautiful. She loved Jesus, and she loved to sing. She loved spending time with her friends. One day, Alfita and three of her friends were walking to school. They always took a path that went deep into the jungle, far away from our village. Along the path grew beautiful flowers and my daughter loved flowers. That day, she and her friends, Theresia, Yarni, and Noviana stopped to pick flowers for their hair…”
The girls were all from Christian families. Three young Muslim men were waiting on the jungle path and savagely beheaded three of the girls including Alfita. The fourth girl, Noviana, survived her machete wounds.
The three men were tried for murder in the capital, Jakarta. Noviana and the families in question had to make witness statements. However, they first shook the hands of the murderers as a sign of forgiveness. Two years later, the suspects were sentenced to long terms of imprisonment.
The request for forgivenesscame from one of the murderers. “It was very difficult to comply with this request,” said the older brother of Noviana. “But we wanted to keep to Jesus’ teaching and because of this, we are able to forgive. We hope that our step will also restore the peace in our town of Poso in Central Sulawesi.”
The family members prefer not to talk about the day itself. During the hearing, Noviana again had to see pictures of her beheaded friends and answer questions by the prosecutors and lawyers.
Alfita’s mother was severely traumatized by the murder of her daughter. She concludes, “All I could do was ask God for His peace, the peace that cannot be explained, that comes from trusting in Him. At the funeral He gave me that peace. Even though Alfita was brutally killed, I knew that she was safe in God’s arms in heaven…After that, when I knew God’s comfort in my heart, I was finally able to do as God commanded…so I let go of my right for revenge. I’m not bitter. I’ve forgiven the murderers and asked God to forgive them. I’ve prayed that they will realize what they’ve done.”
Today I will confront my own trials and forgive those against whom I am holding anything.
PRAYER: Pray for complete healing of the trauma in the lives of these four families in Indonesia.
FORGIVENESS CAN BRING HEALING AND RESTORATION
“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.” Matthew 5:43-45
The literal meaning of the word “forgiveness” in the New Testament is “to release; to hurl away; to free yourself.” The only way to break the chain or cycle of hurtfulness is to stop and ask forgiveness. This allows a relationship to start over and begin anew. The Russian writer, Solzhenitsyn, believed forgiveness is what truly makes us different from animals. Only humans can perform the most unnatural act of forgiveness that transcends the relentless law of nature.
A young Iranian lady, we’ll call Fatima, was full of hatred towards her mother-in-law. For fifteen years her mother-in law was her enemy and there was a great deal of enmity in the family.
Several times Fatima had even tried to kill her mother-in-law. Once she put poison in her soup hoping to kill her. The mother-in-law felt very sick after that and was taken to the hospital. The doctors took the poison out of her stomach and were able to save her life. On another occasion she had beaten her mother-in-law so badly that the ambulance took her to the hospital and again her life was saved. Other times she tried to kill her mother-in-law, but every time her life was saved miraculously.
The main reason for the hatred between Fatima and her mother-in-law was Fatima’s marriage to her son. The mother-in-law had even gone so far as to contact different witches in order to bring a curse on the life of Fatima.
One-day Fatima got hold of the JESUS DVD and watched it. The love of Jesus had a great impact on her life. When she heard one of Jesus’ teachings that says: “Love your enemies and bless those who curse you,” she was deeply moved. She was especially touched by the fact that Jesus died on the cross for the sake of His enemies and even asked God to forgive them. At that moment Fatima fell on her knees and asked Jesus to come into her heart and change her. She turned over her entire life to Jesus. After that she sensed this deep love in her heart towards her mother-in-law.
After that experience, Fatima visited her mother-in-law taking flowers and sweets for her. She fell on her knees in front of her and asked for her forgiveness for all the bad things she had done against her. Fatima told her that her life was changed and Jesus had created a new love in her heart towards her. The mother-in-law in turn asked Fatima to forgive her for all the curses she had tried to bring into her life. She also gave her life to Jesus as the result of her daughter-in-law’s evangelism. They entered into a beautiful relationship with one another from that moment onwards.
Today I will ask forgiveness—as Jesus said—of people I have hated and treated poorly.
Thank You Father for Your example in loving the just and the unjust. Help me to practice this as Your son or daughter.
Out of his fullness we have all received grace in place of grace already given. John 1:16
We now consider the most important characteristic in the training of the disciple of Jesus Christ. That is the quality of living the Christian life with grace.
We use the word “grace” to describe many things in life:
- A well-coordinated athlete or dancer
- Good manners and being considerate of others
- Beautiful, well-chosen words
- Consideration and care of other people
- Various expressions of kindness and mercy
To show grace is to extend favor or kindness to one who doesn’t deserve it and can never earn it. Receiving God’s acceptance by grace always stands in sharp contrast to earning it on the basis of works. Every time the thought of grace appears, there is the idea of its being undeserved. In no way is the recipient getting what he or she deserves. Favor is being extended simply out of the goodness of the heart of the giver.
Also, grace is absolutely and totally free. You will never be asked to pay it back. You couldn’t even if you tried. Grace comes to us free and clear with no strings attached. It is the act of unmerited favor—most often to the down and out.
Christ came down from heaven and he reminds us that the greatest in the kingdom is the one who serves. The ladder of power reaches up, the ladder of grace reaches down.
Dr. Donald Barnhouse said it best: “Love that goes upward is worship; love that goes outward is affection; love that stoops is grace.”
Jesus never used the word itself. He just taught it and lived it. And it was written as a description of how He lived His life. The Apostle John describes Jesus’ glory as “full of grace and truth” (John 1:14). In a world of darkness and demands, rules and regulations, requirements and expectations demanded by the hypocritical religious leaders, Jesus came and ministered in a new and different way.
After commenting on His glory, John goes on to add, “From the fullness of his grace we have all received one blessing after another” (John 1:16). John and the other disciples became marked men. His style became theirs. They absorbed his tolerance, acceptance, love, warmth and compassion so that it ultimately transformed their lives. They too lived their lives demonstrating grace!
Thus grace is Christianity’s best gift to the world. It’s a force stronger than vengeance, stronger than racism, stronger than hate.
Today I desire to be a person like Jesus – full of grace and truth.
Pray that God would fill your life with the ability to live with the grace of our Lord Jesus.
The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. John 1:14
Yesterday we concluded that “grace” is Christianity’s best gift to the world! It’s a force stronger than vengeance, stronger than racism, stronger than hate. But sadly to a world desperate for this grace, the church sometimes presents one more form of what Philip Yancey calls “ungrace.”
Charles Swindoll in his book, The Grace Awakening, powerfully lists these enemies of grace as:
- From without: legalism, expectations, traditionalism, manipulation, demands, negativism, control, comparison, perfectionism, competition, criticism, pettiness and a host of others.
- From within: pride, fear, resentment, bitterness, an unforgiving spirit, insecurity, fleshly effort, guilt, shame, gossip, hypocrisy, and many more.
Nothing has the power to change us from within like the freedom that comes through grace. And grace has very practical outworking in our lives.
Those who claim the freedom God offers gain an appreciation for the gifts that come with life: the free gift of salvation, life, laughter, music, beauty, friendship and forgiveness.
When you begin to operate in the context of grace and freedom, you become increasingly less petty. You will allow others room to make their own decisions in life, even though you may choose otherwise. A grace-full Christian is one who looks at the world and others through “grace-tinted lenses.”
- More tolerant and less judgmental
When you are so involved in your own pursuit of grace, you’ll no longer lay guilt trips on those with whom you disagree.
- A giant step toward maturity
As your world expands, thanks to an awakening of your understanding of grace, your maturity will enlarge. You will become more like Jesus and you will never be the same!
Today I will determine to avoid those things that prompt “ungrace” in my life.
Lord, I don’t want to live any longer in the same old ways. Help me to become more like Jesus.
And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love. 1 Corinthians 13:13
How can Christians dispense grace in a society that is or seems to be veering away from God? As we noted in earlier devotionals, Elijah hid out in caves. On the other hand, his contemporary Obadiah worked within the system running Ahab’s palace while sheltering God’s prophets on the side. Esther and Daniel were employed by heathen empires. Jesus submitted to the judgment of a Roman governor. Paul appealed his case all the way to Caesar. In his book, What’s So Amazing About Grace, Philip Yancey shares:
- Dispensing God’s grace is the Christian’s main contribution
The one big thing the church has over the world is showing grace. Jesus did not let any institution interfere with His love for individuals. Here is where the fruit of the Spirit are so important in our lives. Jesus said we are to have one distinguishing mark—neither political correctness nor moral superiority, but—love.
- Commitment to grace does not mean Christians will always live in perfect harmony with the government
Kenneth Kaunda, the former President of Zambia has written, “…what a nation needs more than anything else is not a Christian ruler in the palace but a Christian prophet within earshot.” Jesus warned that the world who hated him would hate us also. As the early church spread throughout the Roman Empire, the slogan “Jesus is Lord” was a direct affront to the Romans. When conflict came, brave Christians stood up against the state, appealing to a higher authority. Through the years, this same energy continued. In all of this, we are to be wise as serpents and harmless as doves. All our actions—and even counteractions—are to be seasoned with grace. When we show just the opposite, then we must consider the wisdom of our choices.
- Coziness between church and state is good for the state and bad for the church
Herein lies the chief danger to grace. The state, which runs by rules of ungrace—the entire “world” does—gradually drowns out the church’s sublime message of grace.
The church works best as a force of resistance, a counterbalance to the consuming power of the state. The cozier it gets with government, the more watered-down its message becomes. Can you imagine any government enacting a set of laws based on Jesus’ “Sermon on the Mount?” A state government can shut down stores and theatres on Sunday, but it cannot compel worship. It can arrest and punish murderers, but cannot cure their hatred much less teach them love…It can give subsidies to the poor, but cannot force the rich to show them compassion and justice. It can ban adultery but not lust, theft but not covetousness, cheating but not pride. It can encourage virtue but not holiness.
Today I will operate in the world I encounter and in my church dispensing grace.
Help me, Lord, to be a person who is known for my ability to live like Jesus—with grace.
GOD IS OFTEN MOST VISIBLE WHEN THINGS ARE MOST AWFUL
They plot injustice and say, “We have devised a perfect plan!” Surely the human mind and heart are cunning. But God will shoot them with his arrows; they will suddenly be struck down. Psalm 64:6-7
During the tenth anniversary of the World Trade Center attacks of 9/11, many of the people who survived that fateful day were interviewed by the press. One was a man who lost his father to a heart attack as a young boy and outlived an IRA bomb blast in Britain as well as survived violent San Francisco earthquakes. Steve Gill was executive vice-president at Standard Chartered Bank and had just left his office in the World Trade Center for a breakfast meeting when he had to dodge the glass shards raining down from the North Tower after the plane had hit it. He successfully fled the scene on a ferry bound for Staten Island.
As a Christian, he has been repeatedly asked why God spared him but not thousands of innocent mothers, fathers, husbands, wives, brothers, sisters. He has no definitive answer. But when reflecting on lessons learned he says, “I saw that God is often most visible when things are most awful, whether it’s Christ on the Cross or the World Trade Center attack killing three thousand people…I don’t know why bad things happen. But I see that God is most present when things are at their worst.”
There are a number of biblical examples. Perhaps Joseph’s situation stands out most. Languishing in a jail on unjust charges, he is even forgotten by those he befriends and helps. At his lowest point, he is brought to Pharaoh to interpret a dream and becomes the second in command of the nation and saves his people and the Egyptian nation from starvation.
The Persecuted Church also testifies that God is most present in the worst of times. Pastor Wang Ming Dao spent over twenty-three years in prison in China for his faith. On his release at eighty years of age he said of his imprisonment, “That was my honeymoon with Jesus!”
Muslim background pastor Medhi Dibaj in Iran spent seven years in prison with the last few years isolated in a small cramped cell. On his release he said, “The past few years have been the sweetest years I’ve ever spent with Jesus.”
Liviu Georgescu was a teenager when his father, Costel, was distributing Bibles in Romania during the communist regime. Open Doors asked him what he thought of the time when his father was in prison for his faith. Liviu said, “It was a very good time, because then we had more time and opportunities to give Bibles to people and to talk about the faith. Now there is more freedom, but we have to work harder and put in longer hours in order to get by. This means that we have little time or energy for the faith. There is less interest as well.”
God seems to be most visible when things are at their worst.
Today I will thank God for the difficult times and ask for help to see Him as visible in the good times.
Thank You God for obviously being there in the darkest hours before the dawn of a new day or era.
THE REAL ENEMY
Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that the family of believers throughout the world is undergoing the same kind of sufferings.
1 Peter 5:8-9
Joshua Sauñe had not planned to speak at his brothers’ funeral. Had he planned a speech, it certainly would not have been the one he delivered on that remarkable September day in 1992.
“Shining Path is not my enemy, Satan is my enemy,” he told the mourners who packed the Presbyterian Church in Ayacucho, Peru. “The people who killed my brothers need Christ just as you and I do.”
The funeral of Quechua evangelist and Bible translator Rómulo Sauñe, his brother Ruben and their cousins Josué and Marco Antonio, was one of the largest Ayacucho witnessed during the decade that the communist guerrilla army known as Shining Path terrorized the city. Nearly 5,000 people, the vast majority of them Quechua-speaking native Americans like the Sauñes, turned out to grieve the fallen Christians, murdered September 5.
God was there that day, too, performing silent miracles in the lives of several of the mourners.
Joshua was Rómulo’s only surviving brother and had come immediately from his home in the United States when he heard of the murders. All during the long flight to Peru, Joshua seethed with anger. He later told a friend that, in the very moment he rose to address the crowd, God took away the hatred he felt for the Shining Path terrorists that had caused his family so much suffering. In its place, God gave Joshua a burning desire to carry on the evangelistic work that his brothers, parents and grandparents had faithfully performed.
“I suddenly saw (that) if I was going to fight Shining Path, I should fight with the Bible,” Joshua said. “It was the first time I understood that.”
Not long afterward, Joshua abandoned his successful art career in Arizona and moved back to Peru with his family to work with Runa Simi, the indigenous ministry founded by Rómulo and his wife, the former Donna Jackson. Between evangelistic campaigns in the Andes, Joshua and Missy Sauñe have worked to establish community self-help projects and schools for the widows and orphans of Shining Path violence.
Today I will publicly affirm that my only enemy is Satan and I will be alert to his tactics.
Thank You, Lord, for the work you are doing in Peru as a result of Romulo’s martyrdom and in the face of opposition from the enemy.
LOVE YOUR ENEMIES
“For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will save it.” Luke 9:24
One of the Anabaptists of the 16th Century who died in flames as a “heretic” was Dirk Willem. His story is particularly touching, because he forfeited a real chance to escape prison and death when he turned back to help one of his pursuers.
Dirk was captured and imprisoned in his home town of Asperen in the Netherlands. Knowing that his fate would be death if he remained in prison, Dirk made a rope of strips of cloth and slipped down it over the prison wall. An alert guard began to chase him.
Frost had covered a nearby pond with a thin layer of ice. Dirk risked a dash across it. He made it to safety, but the ice broke under his pursuer who cried for help. Dirk believed the Scripture that a man should help his enemies. He immediately turned back and pulled the floundering prison guard from the frigid water.
In gratitude for his life, the man would have let Dirk escape, but a Burgomaster (chief magistrate) standing on the shore sternly ordered him to arrest Dirk and bring him back, reminding him of the oath he had sworn as an officer of the peace.
Back to prison went Dirk. He was condemned to death for being re-baptized, allowing secret church services in his home and letting others be baptized as adults there.
The record of his sentencing concludes: “all of which is contrary to our holy Christian faith, and to the decrees of his royal majesty, and ought not to be tolerated, but severely punished, for an example to others; therefore, we the aforesaid judges, having, with mature deliberation of council, examined and considered all that was to be considered in this matter, have condemned and do condemn by these presents in the name; and in the behalf, of his royal majesty, as Count of Holland, the aforesaid Dirk Willems, prisoner, persisting obstinately in his opinion, that he shall be executed with fire, until death ensues; and declare all his property confiscated, for the benefit of his royal majesty.”
Dirk was burned to death onMay 16, 1569. He showed love to his enemy and “saved” his life.
Love for our enemies even surpasses the love of our own lives. This is the Jesus way of the cross!
Help me, Lord, to show love to those who are my enemies—even giving up my life.
LOVE FOR THE BRETHREN
Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity. Colossians 3:12-14
Salim Manayer who heads a significant reconciliation ministry in Israel between Israeli believers and Palestinian believers tells this story in his newsletter of learning about true love for others in the body of Christ during a visit to Denmark:
I experienced something so beautiful. The love and acceptance of the Messiah through the lives of the people who took me around, opened up their homes, took me shopping, took care of me when I was sick and took time out of their busy lives to drive me from one end of the country to the other. I was so moved by their kindness, their hospitality, their compassion, their honesty and their love. Through long country drives they shared and explained to me their reasoning for various traditions and teachings.
And who were these people? Well, if you want to get technical they were Lutherans. Lutherans who belong to the state church – many of them pastors. Yes, we are different – I am an Israeli believer who does not hold to these traditions, but we are called to love each other in spite of our differences. Put all of these labels aside, these amazing people were my brothers and sisters, they are my family because we belong to the family of God and they embraced me as their family.
I was moved as I sat around the kitchen table drinking coffee after confirmation class with one pastor and while eating apple crisp on Rosh Hashanah with another pastor, attentively listening to them as they shared their passion to see the lost people in their communities and parishes find God and believe in him. It left an impression on my heart and encouraged and inspired me to reach the people in my own community.
Sometimes stereotypes and prejudices are there in the back of your head and you don’t realize it until God places those same people you held stereotypes about in your face and they begin to show you the love God requires of his children…
Maybe I was sent to Denmark to impress upon, encourage, challenge and impart to the Danish believers to become reconcilers in their local communities; to bless them and show them that it is possible to break down the walls of bitterness and hatred, demolish their stereotypes and prejudices and to love their brothers and sisters. And yet, that is exactly what they taught me.
I commit this day to show true love to my brothers and sisters breaking down prejudices.
Lord, I need Your help today to follow Your command to love all my brothers and sisters.
Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends. John 15:13
Jesus says the ultimate test of true love is the willingness to die for others—especially your friends. Of course, He personally demonstrated this Himself in giving His life on the cross for you and me. And today He continues to call those who follow Him to make this sacrifice as well. This classic war zone missionary story illustrates the point:
The mortar rounds landed in an orphanage run by missionaries. The missionaries and one or two children were killed outright and several more children were wounded including one girl about eight years old.
The medical staff who arrived to help soon realized that the young girl was the most critically injured. Without quick action she would die from shock and loss of blood.
When explained to the other children that a blood transfusion was imperative, the request for a blood donor met with wide-eyed silence.
Then one small hand went up and a young boy volunteered. He was quickly laid on a pallet, his arm swabbed with alcohol, and the needle inserted into his vein.
Through the ordeal, he lay stiff and silent but continued to sob later turning into steady, silent crying. The medical team kept asking if it was hurting but he would shake his head and continue to cry.
After a while the boy stopped crying, opened his eyes and looked questioningly at the nurse who took the needle out of his arm. When she nodded, a look of great relief spread over his face.
The boy had all along thought he was dying. He misunderstood, thinking that he was to give ALL his blood so the other little girl could live. And she was his friend.
Jesus calls me today to show sacrificial love—especially for those I consider friends.
Pray that this depth of love will become a reality in the church of Jesus Christ and in your life.
LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR
Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you. Matthew 5:42
The second part of the Great Commandment (Luke 10:27) is “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Jesus then tells the story of the Good Samaritan. In this story Jesus defines our neighbor as anyone in need of help. This kind of love is very practical.
It was the middle of winter and the elderly Christian in prison had a badly infected ear. He thanked God that he had been able to keep his fur hat affording him some protection from the biting cold. At least he had a pillow at night.
One day one of his cellmates asked him for his fur hat. The Christian had been willing to share food with his cellmates, but felt he could not give up his hat. After all, he had an infected ear. He needed that hat.
Through the night he wrestled with his conscience. He was haunted by this Scripture: “Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you” (Matthew 5:42).
After a night of prayer, he sought forgiveness before God and was ready to hand over his hat. In the morning he learned that during the night the guards had taken the cellmate to another prison with a more severe climate.
That same morning, the guards held a routine check of the cell and among the personal objects confiscated was the believer’s fur hat.
He had tried to keep something that he was about to lose and God wanted to see the hat used for continued good with the other prisoner. Many years later, this believer remembered that lesson in Christian maturity which the Holy Spirit taught him.
Today I will live in the realization that people are more important than things.
Help me, Lord, to not be tied down by my possessions but be open to sharing what You have given me with others in need.
STAND FOR WHAT IS RIGHT
“Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me.” Matthew 5:10-11
Jesus assures his followers there is blessing in suffering for what is right. This blessing may take the form of inner peace and joy. This is the meaning of the word translated “blessed” or “happy” in Jesus’ teaching called the Beatitudes (Matthew 5:1-12).
The New Testament writer, James, indicates that pressures are blessings in disguise and should be responded to with joyfulness (James 1:2-3). The MESSAGE paraphrase translates the verses this way: “Consider it a sheer gift, friends, when tests and challenges come at you from all sides. You know that under pressure, your faith-life is forced into the open and shows its true colors.”
Helen Berhane was severely persecuted in Eritrea’s prison system because she would not deny her faith. No matter what they did, she refused to give in. She explains:
I told the chief, “I cannot abandon my faith. If you puncture a sack of grain, the only thing that pours out is the type of grain that was in the sack. It is the same with me. I can only say what is inside me; everything that is in my heart must come out of my mouth…The more you punish me, the stronger I will be. If you keep hammering on a nail’s head it just becomes harder to pull out of the wall…”
I could not understand how they expected me to stop believing; it was impossible for me. In fact, the guards were making their own situation worse, because people began to ask what was so special about this religion that Christians refused to give it up, and they also believed. Our suffering became a glory for our faith…I am convinced that the number of Christians has doubled or tripled since they closed the churches. So perhaps God is using this terrible situation for his glory.
Today I will stand for what is right because I know Jesus will be glorified and I will receive a blessing.
Ask God to give strength and courage to those around the world being pressured to deny their faith today.
TURNING THE OTHER CHEEK
If someone slaps you on one cheek, turn to them the other also. If someone takes your coat, do not withhold your shirt from them.
An Open Doors colleague shares the following incident from an SSTS seminar in Indonesia:
I remember standing in front of nearly 800 pastors on the island of Timor facing a serious dilemma. Most of the pastors were victims of attacks by Muslims on the island of Ambon. They had lost homes, churches and even family members during these attacks. They were hurt, devastated and needed answers to the challenges they faced.
As soon as I started preaching, one pastor stood up and interrupted me: “Must we accept the persecution from the Muslims or must we retaliate? We are tired of forgiving just to be attacked again. We believe it is time to defend the honor of God and retaliate. What must we do?”
I understood perfectly the challenges. I had met those who were attacked and I have seen the scars on the bodies of those who simply accepted it. I understood there was no easy answer. Then another pastor interrupted: “No, pastor, tell this brother he is wrong. The Bible tells us to accept our suffering. We will dishonor God if we retaliate. Seventy times seven we need to forgive. Isn’t this true?”
I looked at the pastors and replied, “The Bible is clear. You MUST retaliate!”
There was silence. I sensed the division. I could see the smiles on the faces of those who agreed and saw those who disagreed getting ready to leave the hall.
“Wait, brothers!” I intervened. “Before you leave, let me finish my sentence. Luke 6 teaches us clearly to retaliate, but in doing so, we need to choose our weapons. When someone curses you, you don’t just accept it. You retaliate by blessing him. When someone mistreats you and persecutes you, you don’t just accept it. You retaliate by praying for him. When someone takes your cloak you retaliate by giving your undercoat. When someone slaps you in the face, don’t stand for it. Retaliate! Turn your other cheek.”
The burden of just accepting suffering was broken. They were satisfied.
Today I will retaliate against attacks upon me using the spiritual weapons of Jesus.
Lord, may I always remember how You want me to respond when others treat me badly.
WE DO NOT HAVE TO BE PERFECT TO DO GOD’S WILL
But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. 2 Corinthians 4:7
Open Doors colleague, Ron Boyd-MacMillan, shares the following insight from his teaching, “Why I Need to Encounter the Persecuted Church.”
While living in Hong Kong, I used to make a point of having dinner with many of the Open Doors supporters worldwide that gave up some holiday time to courier Bibles into China. Often in the course of their travels some of them would meet famous house church leaders and say, “To be truthful, I was a bit disappointed in meeting.” They would add something like, “I thought these people would be remarkable saints, and of course they were, but they were also quite prejudiced, or rude, or had some other feature that I did not think worthy of a very spiritual leader.” They assumed that the persecuted were “super-saints.” But they are not.
It is a very unfortunate trend to idolize the persecuted. We assume that if a Christian survives twenty years in a stinking prison cell they are in a completely different spiritual category from ourselves. They are of course different in what they have experienced, but that does not necessarily make them more spiritual. As J.C. Ryle once put it, “Even the best of men are only men at the best.” They often retain the blind spots and prejudices of their culture.
On one occasion I was taking a distinguished Bible teacher to meet a revival leader in Lanzhou, Gansu province. This Chinese leader had seen over 50,000 people come to know the Lord through his ministry over a ten-year period, but to our amazement he taught that “you can only come to faith on a Sunday.” He had been taught Christianity by his beloved grandmother, who believed the Lord would only listen to pleas for repentance on a Sunday. We talked and argued about this, and eventually he threw us out shouting, “You just hate my Granny.” I hear now, years later, that he has extended the “repentance period” to Saturday as well. Yet he is still an extremely effective evangelist despite this chronic, man-made obstacle he has erected to the grace of God!
Surely the great point is this: flawed as some Chinese leaders were, they did the will of God mightily. They labored in a country that has seen the number of Christians grow from less than one million in 1949 to over eighty millions today—the largest revival in the history of Christendom. God didn’t stop pouring out his Spirit because his saints were imperfect.
If the persecuted teach us anything, it is that God will work through us even despite our prejudices, blind spots and eccentricities. If we offer ourselves, we will be used…as we are.
We do not have to be perfect to do God’s will. Otherwise, no one could.
Today I will walk in faith thankful that I do not have to be perfect to do God’s will.
Thank You, Lord, that You can still use me with all my imperfections and blind spots.
SINGING IN THE SPIRIT
Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts.
Once I spent a week in the company of a famous female Chinese evangelist. Many characteristics that made her stand out; her courage, her long hours on her knees, her carefully cultivated simplicity of faith. But at the time, these were not the features that stuck with me and ended up transforming my faith. What actually impressed me about her was the same thing that impressed me about everyone else around her too. They were always singing. Singing hymns!
Three features of the singing were striking. First, the hymns themselves were not in the least profound. In terms of content, they lacked theological depth and poetic phrasing. Wesley or Newton would not have been proud of these offerings.
Second, they couldn’t sing very well. Chinese are not renowned for their harmonic skills in any case. They warbled, croaked, and droned and screeched…all with a complete disregard for the tune.
Third, they sang primarily to themselves. Oh sure, they sang in groups and to each other, but the most of their singing was done by themselves, to themselves. But all this did not matter. The songs worked.
Travelling around with these persecuted believers made me realize I had forgotten how much Christians sing praises. For me, the only time I sang was in church or an occasional chorus at a home group. I had never really sung hymns to myself, or seen singing to another as a ministry. I didn’t have a terribly good singing voice, and felt like I should leave it to those who were good at it. But after hearing everyone in the Persecuted Church of China singing virtually all the time, and seeing the difference it made to them spiritually, I wondered, Why do I not sing by myself, to my own spirit, or see singing as a ministry of encouragement?
So when I came back, I picked my seven favourite hymns. Ones like, “We rest on thee, Our Shield and Our Defender,” and, “Breathe on Me Breath of God.” I learned them, and during my quiet times, I sang to my spirit. And I found it to be true. A song lifts the spirit like nothing else. And as I read the Bible, I saw how central singing was to the practice of faith. The Israelites sing all the time in the temple; prisoners Paul and Silas sing in the cell; the early house churches sing to each other, and the Scriptures climax in the great throne visions of John in Revelation, and what is going on in that most hallowed place but the singing of a “new song”.
Thank you Persecuted Church, for restoring a lost but key component of my quiet time.
Today I will sing to the Lord in my spirit and gain encouragement for service to Him.
Lord, I ask You to help me be one who is always singing Your praises with my spirit.
DEALING WITH DIFFERENCES
“Master,” said John, “we saw a man driving out demons in your name and we tried to stop him, because he is not one of us.”
“Do not stop him,” Jesus said, “for whoever is not against you is for you.” Luke 9:49-50
The disciples complained to the Lord Jesus that some other men who were not of their group were ministering in Jesus’ name. The disciples had forbidden them to continue, but Jesus rebuked them. The Lord had to deal with Peter very specifically through a vision and a dramatic experience before he could say, “I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism, but accepts men from every nation who fear Him and do what is right” (Acts 10: 34,35).
The Apostle Paul enlarged on this idea in Romans 14. He summarized his teaching when he said, “Who are you to judge someone else’s servant?” (Romans 14:4). “You then, why do you judge your brother?…for we will all stand before God’s judgment seat” (Romans 14:10).
We must be very careful about rejecting someone simply because they do not serve the Lord the same way we do. If we quietly go about the work the Lord has given us, we need not be overly concerned about how others feel led to serve Him.
In Eritrea, Helen Berhane experienced differences among believers even in the horrible conditions of the shipping container prison. She writes in her book, Song of the Nightingale:
It was an incredible experience to share my imprisonment with others who were also imprisoned for their faith. However, with Christians from six different denominations in one container, we often found that we disagreed. For example, there was one lady who was a traditional Orthodox Christian; a very strong believer. If I told a joke as part of my Bible teachings she disapproved, so she actually began to pray and worship alone, and even eat alone. I found it amazing that even in a container she would not socialize with Christians she perceived to be too worldly! Other people argued over how we prayed. Some people preferred to pray silently, while others would pray out loud, and in such a small space it was easy to see why this was a problem.
I had to remind them, “We are not in our churches now. In our own church halls we can do as we please, but here we must tolerate each other’s differences. If we keep fighting they may send us to the underground prisons in the mountains, so we must be thankful for our freedom to worship together here, and not argue about the ways we used to worship when we were free.”
Today I will be very careful about rejecting someone simply because they do not serve the Lord the same way I do.
Lord, help me to be humble in dealing with believers who see things differently than I.
SIMPLICITY OF THE CHURCH
And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way. Ephesians 1:22-23
Rene looked carefully both ways as he turned the corner. No one seemed to be watching. Wiping the perspiration from his forehead he glanced at his watch. He was five minutes early. He walked slowly around the block a second time to arrive at the large gate at exactly 7:14. He pressed the bell three times: short…long…short. It was the newly changed code to indicate he was a fellow-believer. The gate opened and closed quickly as Rene slipped inside. In two hours time there were several hundred believers gathered secretly in the basement for fellowship.
Rene sat quietly waiting for the others. He remembered reading in a magazine about a small group in China that gathered weekly in the back room of a small store to worship together. It was the era of the infamous Cultural Revolution. Since the believers could easily be overheard by anyone entering the store, they “sang” hymns together without words or music. Someone whispered the name of the song and they would silently move their lips and simply think of the words and music.
He chuckled out loud. The memory came of Pastor Wally saying, “We are an underground church like the believers behind the Bamboo Curtain, but the difference is that we can praise in full voice because the facilities are sound proofed. Not even our closest neighbour can hear us.”
This is a description of a church group in Saudi Arabia – a country that has not had an official church in over fourteen hundred years. And yet many believers meet together secretly and at great risk all over the country.
The most common way for the church to express its faith in Western societies has been through the institutional pattern. Consequently, this is the only pattern with which many Christians are familiar. But this form can be easily eliminated by a repressive government, is difficult to maintain in other hostile environments, and may not be appropriate to local cultural needs. There are other options if you and your fellow believers were under the rule of those who were trying to repress Christianity.
Today I will accept that there are many forms of church to fulfill the five biblical functions of the church.
Pray for those around the world who must meet in secret for worship services.
THE FORMS OF THE CHURCH
Day after day, in the temple courts and from house to house, they never stopped teaching and proclaiming the good news that Jesus is the Christ. Acts 5:42
The place in which a church meets varies. The use of big buildings, complex organizations, involved programs, huge budgets that provide for schools, hospitals, orphanages and other social activities are only possible in financially strong unrestricted societies.
Although the Lord has blessed these activities in many places in the world, we must recognize that they are not essential to the existence of the church. In some countries these activities are forbidden by the government, while in others, the local economic situation makes them impossible. Still the church can thrive, because it is not dependent on these things. Serious problems have arisen when Christians have become confused on this point.
A number of years ago, for example, some Vietnamese leaders thought that their lack of funds for such things was the cause of the slow growth of Christianity there. On one occasion, the following conversation was overheard:
“Do you have communists in your part of the country?” the observer asked.
“Most assuredly. They are there,” the leader replied.
“Are they growing in numbers and influence?” he then asked.
The leader hesitated momentarily, then admitted sadly, “Yes, they are growing very fast.”
“Can you show me their meeting places and schools or introduce me to their leaders?” the observer continued.
“Certainly not,” the leader said in disgust. “If they are known, they will be arrested.”
“You mean they are secret, without buildings or property and still they grow in number?” the observer asked in amazement.
“Yes, you could say that,” the leader responded.
“Then it must be that their growing influence does not depend on such things. If they can be wrong in their beliefs and still grow without money and buildings, why do you think the church of Jesus Christ needs these things?” the man concluded.
If God provides these things, then use them for His glory. If He does not, remember that the New Testament church had none of these things, but they turned their world upside down (Acts 17:6). The early Christians did not confuse the church’s functions with methods. If they had done so, the church would have died in the bondage of Jewish legalism. The early churches were not encumbered by the presence of buildings, nor hindered by the lack of them. They met in public places, when they were permitted to do so, but when they were not, they went from house to house.
I will no longer confuse the forms of the church with the biblical functions of the church.
Thank You Lord for those who use their homes as centers for Your worship and declaration of the good news of Your love.
THE BODY OF JESUS
And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. Colossians 1:18
In China, one small group of believers gathered weekly in the back room of a small store to worship together during the Cultural Revolution. Since they could easily be overheard by anyone entering the store, they “sang” hymns together without words or music. Someone whispered the name of the song and the group together silently moved their lips simply “thinking” the words and music.
In the Bible, the church is called “God’s husbandry,” “the body of Christ,” and the “household of Christ” (I Corinthians 3:9; 12:13,27; Hebrews 3:6). It is also called His bride and a wife (Revelation 19:7-9; 21:2,9; Ephesians 5:22-33). These are all simple examples given to help us understand that the church is a spiritual entity, neither a building nor a human organization. This is probably the most common error in belief found among Christians. It is important that we realize that the church of Jesus Christ is basically and primarily spiritual.
When Peter confessed that Jesus was the Christ, the Son of the Living God, Jesus responded by promising to build His church on the solid “rock” of this great truth and that the gates of hell would not withstand it. (Matthew 16:13-18). According to the New Testament, a person who has recognized, as Peter did, that Jesus is the Christ, and who trusts in Him by faith as Savior and Lord, is “born again” (John 3:1-17).
This new birth is a spiritual experience that opens the heart to the Spirit of God. He enters that heart and dwells there. This believer is then a “priest” of God and enjoys direct access into the holy presence of God (I Peter 2:5,9; Hebrews 4:16). This relationship of an individual with Christ is clearly a spiritual relationship, and Jesus joins together individuals who have this faith in Him into a spiritual body—His church.
I will cherish my relationship with Christ and His body—the church.
Thank You Lord for Your household of faith. Help me to understand its functions and walk and serve in expressing them.
FOR THE BENEFIT OF THE BODY
If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it. 1 Corinthians 12:26
It is a beautiful picture when the church of Jesus Christ operates as the Bible teaches for the benefit of the body.
On January 21st 2007, Dimitri from Uzbekistan was arrested and subsequently sentenced to four years in a labor camp because of his “illegal religious activities.” The labor camp in which he is being held is 850 kilometers from where his wife Marina and their three daughters live. They are allowed to visit him just a few times a year.
Marina is gratefulfor all the prayers for them and for all the encouragement which they have received through letters and cards.
“We’ve really experienced God’s faithfulness. He’s protected and blessed us, and He’s always been close when we’ve needed Him. We want to thank God, because He doesn’t leave us on our own. He helps us through tough times.
“I’ve visited Dimitri a few times and also taken the children with me a few times. His health is good and he’s even trying to encourage others. They have to get up early in the morning to start work. Often he doesn’t have the strength to pray, but then he senses that others are praying for him. He finds his strength in the Lord Jesus, tries not to become oppressed by the circumstances, and he thinks a lot about us. This helps him to survive.
“His Bible was confiscated by the guards and now he is writing out Bible texts from memory in a little notebook. In this way he has his own handwritten Word of God. He’d like to have his Bible back, but permission is still being refused.
“We’re thankful for the many friends who are supporting us and writing to us at this difficult time. I’d also like to thank everyone for their many prayers. Now I’m coming to understand what the Bible means when it says, ‘we are one body,’ because ‘if one part suffers, every part suffers with it.’”
Today I will not just think about myself, but function as a vital member of the body of Jesus.
Lord, bless prisoners like Dimitri who today may be feeling lonely. May they experience the blessing of realizing they are part of Your body.
DEREGISTERING IN CENTRAL ASIA
And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. Colossians 1:18
“Our church is considering whether to relinquish our government registration,” said Pastor Sergei to our SSTS seminar group in a restricted Central Asia country. No one knew how to respond. The seminar was being conducted in this pastor’s church because it was the only one in the region registered with the central government!
“Why?” someone asked.
“Here is our reasoning,” Pastor Sergei graciously replied. “We have a ‘grandfather clause’ that permits us to be registered even though we do not meet the current requirements to be registered. But I have to file a report with the government each month outlining the number of meetings, who attended and how much money we received from these meetings and people. I find it very difficult to give an accurate report, thereby possibly jeopardizing some individuals who attend our meetings, or to falsify the reports and thereby violate my conscience.
Pastor Sergei added, “I feel like I am working every day for the NSS (National Security System—former KGB). As a denomination, we are unprepared for persecution. I feel my people would be better prepared for persecution if we met in smaller cell groups and were not registered.”
To register a church in this country, three conditions must be met: a list of at least one hundred members whose last names are Russian or Koreans but no one from one of the traditional Muslim tribal groups; a vote of 100% among the church neighbors favoring a meeting in their area; and a building, but few want to rent or sell a building to a Christian group—even if the neighbors approve!
“This is why we are thinking of deregistering with the government and going underground as smaller cell churches,” concludes Pastor Sergei. Then he looks straight into your eyes and asks, “Do you agree?”
Today I reaffirm that Christ is the head of His church, not temporal authorities.
Lord, give wisdom today to church leaders in countries where registration is so difficult and fraught with so many complexities.
NORTH KOREA TESTIMONY
And now, compelled by the Spirit, I am going to Jerusalem, not knowing what will happen to me there. I only know that in every city the Holy Spirit warns me that prison and hardships are facing me. I consider my life worth nothing to me; my only aim is to finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me—the task of testifying to the good news of God’s grace. Acts 20:22-24
After Gyeong Ju Son, a young woman from North Korea, gave her moving testimony at The Third Lausanne Congress on World Evangelization in Cape Town in October 2010, the 4200 participants from over 190 countries, came away stunned—many moved to tears.
Born in Pyongyang, North Korea’s capital, this petite 18-year-old is the daughter of a former high-ranking government leader—an assistant of the North Korean leader, Kim Jong-Il.
In 1998, when Gyeong Ju was at the tender age of six, her father suffered severe political persecution and the family was forced to flee to China. It was there that her parents came to know the amazing grace and love of God. After only a few months, her mother, pregnant with their second child, died of leukemia.
“It was in the midst of this family tragedy that my father joined a Bible study led by missionaries from South Korea and America, and after a time his strong desire was to become a missionary to North Korea,” she says.
In 2001 her father was reported and arrested by the Chinese police, to be sent back to North Korea, where he was sentenced to prison. Desperately crying out to God during this time, his three-year incarceration only served to strengthen his faith. After his release he returned to China and Gyeong Ju Son was reunited briefly with her father.
“Not long after he chose to return to North Korea—instead of enjoying a life of religious freedom in South Korea—to share Christ’s message of life and hope among the hopeless people of his homeland.”
In 2006 her father’s work was discovered by the North Korean government and once again he was imprisoned. Not having heard from her father again, she assumes he has been publicly executed on charges of treason and espionage. This is often the fate of confessing Christians in North Korea.
Left in China, Gyeong Ju Son was adopted for a while by the family of a young pastor, and it was their love, care, compassion and protection that made a deep impression on her. When they left for America she was given the opportunity to go to South Korea.
Today I give thanks for brothers and sisters who serve Jesus at the cost of their own lives.
Pray today for those believers still living in North Korea and committed to evangelism.
NORTH KOREA TESTIMONY – PART 2
Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory. Romans 8:17
At the Third Lausanne Congress on World Evangelization in Cape Town in October 2010, North Korean Gyeong Ju Son shared her moving life story. Here is the conclusion:
While staying at the Korean Consulate in Beijing, waiting to go to South Korea, her life was dramatically and irrevocably changed when God came to her in a dream. She says:
“He had tears in His eyes. He walked towards me and asked ‘Gyeong Ju, how much longer are you going to keep me waiting? Walk with me. Yes, you have lost your earthly father, but I am your Heavenly Father and whatever has happened to you, was because I love you.’”
Praying to God for the very first time, she gave Him her heart, soul, mind and strength, asking that she would be used at His will. A deep love for the lost people of North Korea and the need to bring the love of Jesus to them, has subsequently become her life purpose. She continues:
“I look back over my short life and I see God’s hand everywhere. Six years in North Korea, eleven in China and now in South Korea. Everything I suffered: all the sadness and grief, all that I have experienced and learned; I want to give it all to God and use my life for His Kingdom. In this way I also hope to bring honor to my father.”
Still a student, the intention of this young and vibrant follower of Christ is to go to university to study political science and diplomacy, and then work for the rights of the voiceless in North Korea. She concluded:
“Brothers and sisters here in this place, I humbly ask you to pray that the same light of God’s grace and mercy that reached my father and my mother and now me, will one day soon dawn upon the people of North Korea, my people!”
Today I will continue to believe that God takes terrible situations and turns them into good.
Lord, we pray that you will call many youths like Gyeong Ju to minister among the needy people of North Korea.
I AM NOT AFRAID ANYMORE
One night the Lord spoke to Paul in a vision: “Do not be afraid; keep on speaking, do not be silent. For I am with you, and no one is going to attack and harm you, because I have many people in this city.”
The Apostle Paul was experiencing great pressure and persecution while sharing the gospel in Corinth. With the encouragement of these “red letter” words from Jesus Himself, Paul gained courage to stay in Corinth for another year and a half teaching the word of God.
Known for its rich historical heritage and tourist attractions, Aurangabad is one of the very famous districts of Maharashtra, India. It has been an important place since ancient times because of its location in the famous Silk Route. The route traveled across the width of Asia to Europe. The city is named after the great Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb and is one of the fastest growing cities in India. Marathi and Urdu are the main languages spoken in the city.
During the first Standing Strong Through The Storm (SSTS) seminar, the participants expressed profound appreciation, gratitude and the need for more such seminars. So new sets of people were targeted in order to bring awareness and educate them on how to handle persecution when it comes.
The majority of the students confessed that they had never heard this kind of teaching before. Topics such as addressing religious intolerance were highly appreciated. While the participants were initially apprehensive of sharing their testimonies, they stepped forward after watching the persecution related movies and video clips, and boldly shared what God had done in their lives.
Pratima Pagare attended and commented, “I was always scared to death with the thought that fundamentalists will attack and stone us because we minister to people in the name of Jesus. I am so encouraged to come to this seminar and to hear the testimonies of people who faced persecution in their ministries and still went on. I was also strengthened by the teachings on how to stand strong in the midst of storms and this has driven away all my fears. I thank God and Open Doors for this.”
Priti Alhad said, “I did not know what the content of the seminar would be, but gradually as the sessions went by, I considered myself privileged to be present here and be blessed by the teachings. I am not afraid of persecution but these teachings encouraged me and prepared me for the times of persecution…As I go from here I want to share this knowledge that I have gained here and create awareness among my church members and utilize these teachings in my ministry. I thank your ministry for organizing this seminar in our area.
Today I will keep on speaking and not be silent trusting the Lord for His protection and blessing.
Help me Lord to lose my fearfulness and trust You when I face those who oppose me.
To him who overcomes, I will give the right to sit with me on my throne, just as I overcame and sat down with my Father on his throne. Revelation 3:21
Christians in areas of persecution have used many metaphors and similes to describe the victory of following Jesus and becoming an overcomer as He was. Here are some examples:
In the former Soviet Union, believers said:
Overcomers are like nails. The harder you hit them, the deeper they go!
In China believers said:
Overcomers are like bamboo. The more you cut them down, the faster and stronger they grow back.
In Iran believers said:
Overcomers are like rubber balls. The harder you throw them down on the floor, the higher they rebound!
Overcomers are like flowers. The more you crush them, the stronger and sweeter the fragrance.
In the Philippines believers said:
Overcomers are like stained-glass cathedral windows at night. Their true beauty is revealed only when there is light from within.
In India believers said:
Overcomers are like tea bags. You have to put them in hot water to know how strong they are!
You can be an overcomer! And you can stand strong through the storm!
Today I will be an overcomer standing strong through the storm.
Pray that all Christians living under severe persecution will be encouraged and understand what it means to be an overcomer…as well as anticipate the many rewards Jesus promises to overcomers.
 Christof Sauer and Richard Howell (ed), Suffering, Persecution and Martyrdom: Theological Reflections
(Johannesburg, SA: AcadSA Publishing, 2010), pp.331-332.
 Charles R. Swindoll, The Grace Awakening (Dallas: Word Publishing, 1990), pp. 5-14.
 Philip Yancey, What’s So Amazing About Grace? (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing, 1997), pp. 219-227.
 Helen Berhane, Song of the Nightingale (Colorado Springs: Authentic Media, 2009), pp. 70-71.
 Helen Berhane, Song of the Nightingale (Colorado Springs: Authentic Media, 2009), pp. 49-50.