Suffering. The natural human response is to avoid it. Yet Jesus told His disciples they should expect to pay a high price for following Him. In fact, the Master’s teachings clearly indicate that persecution and suffering are to be expected in the Christian life.
Paul writes to the church in Rome and says, “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. I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us” (Romans 8:17-18).
Suffering with Christ and sharing in His glory are inseparable. So we should not pray for persecution to cease, but for God to be glorified in the midst of the suffering. As believers, the Bible calls us to actively remember the persecuted, to pray for both the persecuted and the persecutors, and to take joy in suffering. Here are four testimonies of faith from our own global workers.
North Africa – Continued evangelistic fervour
A journalist’s article accused the government of not acting to shut down a gathering of believers who had just met to celebrate the Christian feast of the birth of Jesus. The response was swift. The local believer who hosted the gathering was taken in for questioning. A phone call was received: “This is al-Qaida. We will kill you and your entire family.” Click.
Lying low, local believers grappled with fear. “Joseph” and “Susan” met with believers one-on-one to pray and encourage them. Over the ensuing months, believers were followed, interrogated and threatened. It became apparent that a new normal was being established. The opportunity to gather at regularly scheduled times was over. Meetings between believers took place in smaller groups, and the timing and locations became more sporadic.
At one such small gathering, a discussion erupted about not permitting new people to enter the newly established group of believers. This fearful response to persecution could have gutted the evangelistic fervour of this fledgling group of believers. Just years before, there had been but one believer in the entire region. The group’s consideration to cloister and protect was understandable, but the new believers’ passion for their friends and family wouldn’t let them. Instead, the decision was made to risk. And they have continued to boldly share Christ, baptize new believers, and watch the kingdom of God expand in their midst.
Asia – Intimidation and incredible growth
A couple of foreigners were introduced to Pastor “Bob,” and he was told they would be a blessing to his church—a church that was not sanctioned by the authorities. Four nights of meetings were planned. During the first few nights, things went well and about 30 local people attended. Partway through the time of worship on the third night, the doors opened and in walked about 20 men with authority to put a stop to the proceedings.
The pastor was taken aside and questioned. The two foreigners were also interrogated: “How do you know these people?” “What are you doing here?” Papers, computers and a camera were hauled away from the church office. Everyone present was required to provide contact information, and that particular series of church meetings was halted.
Pastor Bob determined not to be thwarted in his ministry. Things were quiet for a few days, then he continued with the service as usual the very next Sunday.
Pressure tactics and intimidation did not stop Pastor Bob. Months later, another attempt was made to shut things down when the landlord was ordered to throw the switch on the electricity. He did so, but the following week the electricity was back on. Since that time, great things have been happening. Pastor Bob has planted 13 new churches, and last year he baptized 150 new believers!
Middle East – A closed door and a new placement
“Chris” and “Cynthia” responded to God’s call to the Middle East and began living incarnationally among a Muslim people group. They loved these people and ran an NGO that shared Jesus by tangibly meeting physical and societal needs. One night, as Chris was taking out the garbage, he was attacked. Thrown to the ground. Face in the dirt. Pistol pressed into the back of his head. Death threats uttered.
Despite this traumatic experience, Chris and Cynthia did not want to leave. They were ready to accept whatever came, even to face death, but were informed by authorities that they had to leave. After several months in Canada they were aching to return, but it just wasn’t possible. Chris and his wife struggled with their new reality of being distanced from the people they loved. They grappled with the gnawing question: If we can’t go back, how will we reach these people with God’s message of love? Over several years and through a series of events, God led them to live in a neighbouring country. Now they receive many visitors, travellers and refugees from the people they felt called to reach. They are thrilled at the abundant opportunities they have to host, disciple and encourage the people they love. If you ask them, they will tell you: “God is faithful. He is doing greater things among this people group today than ever before, and we are privileged to be welcoming those who are living in a persecuted land.”
Horn of Africa – Perseverance and encouragement through persecution
Despite being in an area rife with religious zealots opposed to the presentation of the gospel, this community of believers chose to risk. They shared the gospel, and many became disciples. But many experienced persecution, particularly the leaders and church planters.
An established group of believers led the way in planting many new churches in the surrounding unreached region. One Sunday morning, a group of anti-Christian zealots came to attack the church members and demolish their building. Sadly, many members were wounded, some needing to be hospitalized for more than a week. The building that housed the gathering was destroyed.
The leaders, who were seriously injured, could have given up and moved on—but they maintained their commitment to make disciples. They asked for help to encourage and equip their church to continue in the very same community. They even spoke with confidence of the impending fruit that always follows persecution. They have rebuilt their structure and continue to plant new churches among the unreached communities in their region.
This November we invite you and your entire church to prayerfully carry the burdens of more than 100 million persecuted believers around the world, and hundreds of millions more who suffer the greatest persecution of all: no access to the gospel. Pray for the success of global workers seeking to live out their lives in hard places to display Jesus’ worth.
On November 12, believers around the globe will remember the persecuted church. Will you believe with us that God will be glorified and Jesus will be exalted?
These testimonies have been submitted by the RAN (Restricted Access Nations) Regional Director and reflect the ministries of global workers in sensitive contexts.
This article appeared in the November/December 2017 issue of testimony, the bimonthly publication of The Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada.