June 21, 2016

Persecution: Plan For It, Don't Worry About It

Post by Brittany Tedesco

I don't know about you, but I'm incredulous that a Muslim can kill 50 people at a gay bar and Christians are blamed, by some, for the massacre. We've refused to make wedding cakes for gay couples and defended the biblical definition of marriage, which has earned us titles like "bigots" and "homophobes."

In the U.S., Christians are increasingly being viewed, especially by the Millennial generation, as the enemy of a loving, inclusive, accepting society where everyone just gets along. Christians are beginning to acquire a bad name.

"Blessed are you when men hate you, and ostracize you, and insult you, and scorn your name as evil, for the sake of the Son of Man" (Luke 6:22 NASB).

Typical town in Bangladesh

It's easy to be outraged by false, baseless accusations, but Jesus warned us that this would happen. It shouldn't shock me. But it does shock me, because this is the United States of America, which was founded on Christian principles. Stuff like this shouldn't be happening here.

But things change. Political climates change, policies changes, governments change.

Countries where Christians face the worst persecution today weren't always so hostile.

Bangladesh, for instance, used to be a secular state—until it declared Islam its official religion in 1988. Beginning in the 19th century, Arab nations worked to spread the influence of Islam throughout the country. In the mid-1970s, Bangladesh received generous donations from Saudi Arabia for the construction of mosques and an Islamic university. Since then, the Bangladeshi government has taken the initiative to propagate Islam, providing financial assistance to mosques and organizing the training of imams. Today, 89% of the population is Muslim.

Al Khulafa historical mosque in Baghdad, Iraq

"I am very sorry to report that a few days ago a family member of our congregation was beaten and stabbed by some religious persecutors," wrote the leader of an indigenous ministry in Bangladesh. "The attack was so severe that one leg was amputated above the knee. Please pray for this young man and his family (a wife and young son)."

The young man's two older brothers had just donated a piece of land for a church and Christian school in the village where he was attacked. The ministry has already started three free Christian primary schools in other villages. Not everyone is happy with their work. It's not easy being a follower of Jesus there today.

Likewise, Iraq wasn't always an Islamic country. In fact, the Assyrians were among the earliest converts to Christianity. Before Islam took over North Africa and the Middle East, the region's main inhabitants were Christians and Jews.

But countries change. In an earlier post, I write about how Iraq became Islamized.

Safwan is an Iraqi refugee who fled to Jordan with his family. In 2011, two Christian men were killed near his home, prompting him to flee the area. But he was followed by several men in a car who drove over him, knocking him unconscious. Thinking he was dead, his would-be assassins took his ID and then proceeded to drive over his left leg a second time.

In most Middle Eastern countries, a person's religion is listed on their ID card. "Every time a Christian is killed," wrote the ministry leader, "they [Muslim radicals] take the ID to prove that they killed him and then they are paid for doing this."

North Koreans bow before statues of Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-Il in Pyongyang

Two Christian men discovered Safwan—with his shattered leg, two broken ribs, and broken shoulder blade—and took him to a hospital. When ISIS invaded, Safwan and his family fled to Jordan. His leg has become infected and they're afraid he might lose it. They cannot go back to Iraq or afford surgery in Jordan.

What about North Korea? Can you think of a place more hostile toward Christians? Around 70,000 North Korean Christians are imprisoned in hard labor camps, where they are tortured in an attempt to get them to renounce their faith or reveal the identity of other Christians.

In his article "Jesus in the Land of Kim Jong-Un," Ray Cavanaugh writes how civilians are told to report "incidences of disobedience, such as Christian worship," and how spies are instructed to set up secret prayer meetings to entrap Christians.

And yet, at the beginning of the 20th century, Pyongyang, North Korea's capital city, was called the "Jerusalem of Asia." Christians worshipped in around 3,000 churches throughout the country at that time. But everything changed under the subsequent Japanese rule and following dictatorships of Kim Il-sung, Kim Jong-il, and Kim Jong-un.

Countries change. We can't bank on the U.S. staying the same. One day, we might have to face the kind of persecution others in the world are already enduring.

"Suffering goes hand-in-hand with our call, and God is calling us to embrace it for His glory and our joy," said Noah Oldham, pastor of August Gate Church, at the 2016 Southern Baptist Convention Pastors' Conference.

Huh? How do we embrace suffering?

For one thing, we can plan for it.

Mind you, planning and worrying are two very different things. God isn't calling us to sit around morbidly contemplating the suffering we might have to face one day. I've done this and it completely steals my joy. In those times, my husband has reminded me that I've not been equipped today to deal with what might happen tomorrow. God's grace will be sufficient for whatever might happen in the future. The Bible tells us to be anxious about nothing. Jesus told us not to worry about tomorrow, because today has enough worries of its own.

Planning is different. We plan by strengthening our faith. The Bible tells us that faith comes from God's Word. So dig in! Read it, soak in it, meditate on it. Grow some roots. Get grounded.

"Salvation is neither a casual determination nor a superficial declaration," David Platt said at the Pastors' Conference. "One cannot merely say some words, raise their hands, and move on with life as it was before."

In a video on his website, Kyle Idleman, author of "Not a Fan," talks about how he used to be a fan of Jesus. When he was in high school, he hung a poster of Jesus next to a poster of Michael Jordan on his bedroom wall.

"Jesus didn't just want fans, He wanted followers," Idleman said. "Maybe you're someone like me who wanted to be close enough to Jesus to get all the benefits but not so close that it required sacrifice. You wanted to follow Jesus into heaven, but you didn't necessarily want to take a cross with you. But the only invitation that Jesus offered was an invitation to die to yourself and to find life in Him."

This world changes, but Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever. Your security is in Him, not in your country. And He will never fail you.

Sam - posted June 27, 2016
As a Christian millennial, and a Christian Aid Mission donor, I am disappointed that this article focuses how we as Christians can feel better about our suffering and persecution, and not on how we can use it as an opportunity to share God's grace and love. An opportunity to reach out to those communities who feel unloved, unaccepted and excluded by us who are commanded by our Holy Father to "love our neighbors as our selves," "love our enemies," and "accept one another" not because of how that love can benefit us, not because that love is returned, but because we serve a God who "so loved the world." While we are focusing selfishly on our own persecution, something we are uniquely blessed to know will be used for our good and God's glory, 49 people are dead. 49 families are facing the sudden, horrific loss of loved one. A community of over 10 million of God's children are stricken and afraid. It isn't about us. It's about Him. Let us bear their burdens (Galatians 6:2) with unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, tender hearts, and humble minds (1 Peter 3:8). Let us be more like Him.
God Truth Love Ministries - posted June 27, 2016
Excellent article. As you explain: we.."Christians are increasingly being viewed as the enemy of a LOVING, inclusive, accepting society where everyone just gets along.". Those that promote the idea that God agrees on modern views on sexuality have as the main argument that, supposedly God does that because "God is love". But this is a "half truth" only, used by the enemy (like he did in paradise with Adam and Eve, to separate us from God); half truths are just LIES. The truth about our God is that HE is "TRUTH AND LOVE" at the same time. The "TRUTH" bit is the part that the enemy removed from this WHOLE truth; also "truth" is the part that defenders of modern views on sexuality don't like, because "truth" challenges them. God cannot be only "LOVE", because LOVE without TRUTH is not real LOVE. God is TRUTH and LOVE at the same time. God LOVES us, but because He is also TRUTH, HE cannot approve everything that we bring in our lives (like modern views on sexuality and same sex marriage) when we have an encounter with God. His TRUTH will help us to "renew our minds", a process that God will use for example to remove from our minds wrong views on sexuality and same sex marriage. God bless you ChristianAid. Amen!
Sherri - posted June 27, 2016
Thank you for your blog. Some US Christian ministries' responses to the Orlando massacre read like attempts to avoid looking "bigoted" by joining the current culture's criticism of the church. I too am feeling admittedly afraid and increasingly lonely in my USA. Thank the Lord for your husband's Godly wisdom. I'll try to remember it through these increasingly evil days.
Mary - posted June 24, 2016
Thank you for this enlightenment. I hear you, and I pray for the unbelievers. There is so much meaness and evil in the world, but then Satan knows his time is close and he's trying to take as many with him as he can. Jesus came to save, not to destroy, but people don't want to believe it. When GOD was taken out of our schools, our country, our lives is when "HELL", all broke loose. I continue to pray for our young people, our country, and our nation. Jesus will soon reign. AMEN!