I just received my newsletter from Voice of the Martyrs. It occurs to me that here in the United States, we have very little idea of what persecution really is. We are insulated from the horrors that our Christian brothers and sisters in other countries deal with everyday. We consider ourselves persecuted if someone wishes us "Happy Holidays" instead of "Merry Christmas" while we are doing our Christmas shopping. We may see a news report from Iraq or Kenya and feel sorry for those "poor people," but then we go on with our lives, worrying about such things as what to eat for dinner and what to watch on TV. We dress up on Sunday morning and freely go to our comfortable church buildings and smile and wave and sing a few songs, and then go home to a nice dinner and relax for the rest of the day because of course you are not supposed to work on the "Sabbath."
But what if all of this changed? What if your comfortable church building was burned to the ground by a militant group, and the members were chased by people who were trying to kill them? Would you still show up the next day ready to praise God? This is what our family in the Republic of Niger had to deal with in January. What if you were in your home, when someone pulled your family out, asked if you were Christians, and then killed your husband when you said you were? This happened in Hindi, Kenya last July.
We live in a relatively safe, affluent country. But our brothers and sisters are suffering all around the world from religious persecution, from lack of food, lack of medical care, and lack of educational opportunities. And worse, there are countless people lacking all of these things plus the knowledge of Christ. Can we ignore this? Can we continue to walk around in our own little insulated bubble, living the good life, and limit our involvement to feeling sorry for "those people over there" every once in a while?
I confess that I don't pay a lot of attention to the news. Partly because I feel that I'm not getting the whole story anyway, and partly because I can't deal with the pain of seeing so many horrifying images. I tend to come away feeling depressed, rather than encouraged or empowered. But when I read the stories from Voice of the Martyrs, Amazima Ministries, or Gospel for Asia, I see that there is hope. There are people who are making a difference. There are everyday people like you and me who are risking some of their comfort to make someone else's life better.
I hope that if I were in a situation where I had to defend my faith, I would be brave enough to do so. I believe that what the apostle Paul wrote to the Roman church still stands. "Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written, For thy sake we are killed all the day long; we are accounted as sheep for the slaughter. Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us. For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nore things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord." (Romans 8:35-39)
But I think the time to act is now. Those of us who have been given much cannot go on keeping for ourselves, and squirreling away our extras in case hard times come to us. For so many people, hard times are now. In God's kingdom everyone has enough. So why are things so unbalanced? We need to take a good hard look at ourselves. It is not enough to feel sorry. We cannot enjoy our gifts in isolation. Our family is in trouble! "Those people over there" are our brothers and sisters, our parents, grandparents, and children. They are not nameless and faceless. Our Father knows each one intimately, just as he knows you and me. And he is hurting because they are hurting.
I am preaching to myself, here. I am the first to try to get the things I want without thinking of the needs of others. And I am so sorry for acting this way. Please pray for me, as I pray for you, and we all pray for our family all over the world. And lets put some hands and feet on our prayers! For God expects us to do what we can.