February 23, 2016
I Will Yet Go Forward
Post by Brittany Tedesco
"There's no discouragement,
Shall make him once relent,
His first avowed intent,
To be a pilgrim." -John Bunyan
February 18 was the 338-year anniversary of the publishing of John Bunyan's famous allegory, Pilgrim's Progress.
It's been a while since I read it, so I refreshed myself on the journey that Christian, the story's protagonist, takes from the City of Destruction to the Celestial City.
What a journey it was, fraught with so much danger, struggle, and temptation, but Christian made it to his prized destination. While others he met along the way turned back or tried to reach the Celestial City in a roundabout way, Christian stayed the course.
He meets Obstinate, who tries to persuade him to go back home and forget about the Celestial City. Then there's Pliable, who is happy to journey with Christian. . .until they both fall into the Slough of Despond, a mire full of fears, doubts, guilt, lusts, and temptations. It proved too much for Pliable, who hightails it off the path.
Mr. Worldly Wiseman tries to coax Christian to move to the City of Morality, where so many other pilgrims have been shipwrecked. It's there that people believe they can enter the Celestial City through their own morality instead of through the "offensive" cross of Jesus Christ.
Similarly, young Ignorance, who sees Jesus Christ as only an example to follow, not a Savior, tries to reach heaven through his own good deeds, but fails tragically when he's turned away at the gate of the City.
Flatterer, dressed as an angel, temporarily leads Christian off the path. Atheist mocks him.
Mistrust and Timorous, two other pilgrims who've somehow made it to the top of the Hill of Difficulty, strike fear into Christian's heart when they tell him of the fierce lions at the Palace Beautiful up ahead. But Christian presses onward, and learns that the lions are chained; they were placed there as a test to journeying pilgrims.
Christian experiences terror and sorrow as he walks through the Valley of the Shadow of Death, he meets with temptation in Vanity Fair—where every lust of the flesh is hawked, he encounters greed in the hill called Lucre. But onward he walks, always onward.
"To go back is nothing but death; to go forward is fear of death, and life everlasting beyond it. I will yet go forward," Christian says.
After reviewing this story, I was left with one resounding thought: being a follower of Jesus Christ is truly miraculous. And, no, I don't just mean the initial surrendering of one's life to Him, though that is a miracle. I mean journeying with Him on a path that the forces of evil and darkness constantly beckon us to abandon in a thousand different ways. . .by compromising with the world or falling into despair or leaning on our own understanding.
A person who stays the course, in Christ, all the way to the end is nothing short of a miracle. Not many do it, Jesus told us. "Narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it" (Matthew 7:14 NKJV).
The reason I call it a miracle is because, apart from God, none of us could make it in our own strength. He gives us both His Word and the Holy Spirit, whom Bunyan in Pilgrim's Progress called the "Interpreter," to fight the foes along the way.
But in addition to these crucial elements, He also provides us with flesh-and-blood help—more mature pilgrims to support us. Christian had special companions who walked alongside him for parts of his voyage.
I focused a great deal on these helpers. And because I work at Christian Aid Mission, I immediately likened these helpers to the native missionaries that are walking alongside modern-day pilgrims on their literal and spiritual journeys. Often these two types of journeys coincide.
In today's world, so many people are being forced to migrate to new lands. Frequently, God meets people for the first time after they've left home for a new location. He has helpers in place to receive and aid these pilgrims on their journeys.
When Christian finds himself in the Valley of the Shadow of Death, he hears the comforting words of Psalm 23, spoken by a fellow pilgrim named Faithful, whom he meets on the other side of the Valley.
Faithful walks alongside Christian for a time, until he is martyred at Vanity Fair.
"One died to bear testimony to the truth, and another rises out of his ashes to be a companion with Christian in his pilgrimage," wrote Bunyan of Christian's next helper: Hopeful.
Hopeful walks with Christian through many challenging and formidable situations, even helping him to cross over the River of Death to the Celestial City when Christian is bogged down under the weight of past sins.
Christian's helpers reminded me of Sana and Joseph*, who work in Lebanon. They lead ministry teams who come alongside modern-day pilgrims, refugees who've escaped Syria. They pray with them, provide them with food and medical aid, organize weekly church events and bible studies, and hold evening coffee meetings. They are Faithful and Hopeful to these itinerant souls, always pointing them onward to the Celestial City.
Faithful was martyred at Vanity Fair because he spoke the truth when he was put on trial. He refused to be quiet or compromise with the world. He reminds me of Maya and Ammar* inside Syria. Both come from fanatical Muslim families who wish to stone them for becoming Christians. Yet despite the danger, they refuse to be silent about Christ. Even some in their Christian community have advised them to tone it down a bit. Maya responded by saying, "How can I speak less of this? I was in darkness and now I'm in the light. Jesus Christ is the living God and He has changed me. God is not dead, He is alive! He is not like in Islam. You can't find this in any other religion. How can I not share this?" She exhorts timorous pilgrims not to fear because "God is with you."
Rami* works in an area where Muslim-background believers are notoriously persecuted. He's been targeted by extremists in the past. In just a few months, the house church he planted grew to 50 people. He aids Syrian pilgrims, discipling and encouraging them. He is Hopeful—always looking ahead to his eternal destination.
Thank you for helping Christian Aid Mission support the Faithfuls and the Hopefuls, these invaluable helpers who take the hands of pilgrims who've made the decision to leave their own "cities of destruction" and walk the narrow way. They encourage, bolster, and support them. They protect them from dark forces of false doctrine that would lead them off the path, and dark doubts that would bid them to abandon the way. They shepherd timid travelers until they become bold and resolute. . .
Like the woman in Syria, who, along with her children, became a follower of Christ. Her husband told her that he would no longer support her because she'd left Islam. But she stood fast, even though she lives in an area where there is no work available for her to earn a living. . .
Or like the marginalized Rohingya people, who are hearing about Christ for the first time through Christian Aid Mission-assisted ministries. Leaving Islam means they lose the support of their Muslim social structures, but hundreds are making the decision to walk away from this support, knowing it only represents a "city of destruction." They have a new destination in mind now.
They say with Christian, "I will yet go forward."
*names changed for security