“I have had a vision, therefore I cannot stop serving God with my life.” – beaten Indian pastor
It pissed me off, convicted my soul of useless connection to lesser things, left me horrified and amazed and questioning. We may occasionally hear about terrible persecution, personal attacks and mass demonstrations of violence against those known to be followers of Jesus around the globe, but individual stories carry far more weight. We’ve all tasted the power of a story.
Last night, I joined a hundred or so people gathered at my church‘s campus to view a simulcast presented for churches around North America, “Love Costs Everything.” A digital Francis Chan begged us not merely to empathize, but to flirt on the boundary of internalize and externalize. This was not for remorse, but for seeking. For prayer. Perhaps even for action. The images presented were not suitable for the faint of heart or the proud of spirit.
The Persecuted Church
We went to Paris, Baghdad, India, our North American backyard. We were transported by their stories. Honest but weary eyes beckoned us through the pixels, captivating. They offered us a touch of their wounds and deep grace amidst the ebb and flow of each account. The room trembled and sighed with heavy heart, hinging on pregnant pauses of an Egyptian widow, a Columbian son.
“I have love for those who have beaten me.”
“I miss my wife dearly, but I must keep the vision alive, the dream we had of serving God together.”
I wanted to load a handgun and defend the Iraqis as they met in a church facility compound. I wanted to exact revenge on the Columbian guerilla communists. I wanted to scream at Muslims and Hindus and their systems of subjugation and oppression. But the weathered faces of the survivors of horrific persecution and loss told me a different story. They spoke to me, between their sentences,
Their resolved tears said, “I hope my attackers experience the mercy of God.” “I will choose only Christ.”
One Indian pastor recalled the beatings incurred from brazen young men who had invaded his ministry center. He said he felt God with him, in the room as rods were swung and blood drained down his face and chest. The pastor screamed the name of Jesus as men pummeled him with mockery and hate. And when they concluded, he rose from the floor, stumbled through the doorway with bloodied vision and preached to befuddled onlookers of a transforming love, a free embrace, a Son of God offering forgiveness to the misled and to the broken.
“If when you do good and suffer for it you endure, this is a gracious thing in the sight of God. For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps.” I Peter 2:20-21
Despite the unabashed evil directed against the very children of God, reckless anger must be subsided at the remembrance of the One some of us may profess to follow. Enduring injustice’s pinnacle, forsaking aggressive retaliation, Christ invites us to make no enemy of flesh and blood, but cling to him through temporal earthly sufferings and persecution because he knows the way through it. He’s been in the thick of it before. He joins our brothers and sisters around the world, in humid forests and on remote dusty roads and between harsh city structures.
And he beckons us still: “Stick with me. I’ve got another kind of life for you. For you see, this one’s only temporary.”
How can such a humanitarian disaster of persecution continue with so little resistance? How does the Church in North America respond to this? Have you sensed God’s presence through suffering?