"Consequently, faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ." Romans 10:17
Bill and John were near the docks in southern England when they saw the Romanian flag hanging from the stern of a ship. It was during the years of Romania’s hard-line Communist rule.
With little conversation, they recognized the mission field before them, untied their cases of Bibles and went aboard. They stepped into the mess room where the ship’s entire thirty-five-man crew was gathered. Bill and John explained why they had come and began to pull out the Romanian Bibles. The crew immediately gave the two their undivided attention. Most of them had never before heard about God and his Son, Jesus.
When Bill and John discovered that they didn’t have enough Romanian Bibles, two burly seamen grabbed Bill by the arms and gently but firmly sat him in a chair. They explained apologetically in broken English that Bill would stay there until John came back with Bibles for all of them.
A hostage for Bibles—John didn’t know whether to laugh or cry, but it was the only way the Romanians could make sure that John would return. Living in a Communist country full of broken promises, they didn’t trust anyone.
John rushed to the office and packed his case full of Romanian Bibles. Within an hour, he was back in the mess room, where the crew gratefully received the Bibles and released their “hostage.”
Get the word out. That’s what Jesus said to do about his gospel message. However we can, wherever we go, whatever we do, we must be about the business of spreading the word about Christ. Our commitment may take us to the docks or simply to the breakfast table of our unbelieving neighbors next door. Either way, we must be prepared to share God’s Word with those who are spiritually perishing. Are you driven to get the word out about Christ? Are you conscious of the limited time you may have to complete your mission? Don’t waste another moment, thinking someone else will do your part. What can you do today to spread the Good News?
I am not an alarmist, nor am I a prophet. But as I listen to and read a cross-section of materials emanating from the Western (primarily American) church I am aware that there are those who recognize a trend toward the persecution of Christians in the West. The form of the persecution will be different perhaps than other parts of the world. At some point it may converge with global persecution and take on more violent forms.
In the premier issue of the Journal of Lutheran Mission are papers and responses from a Summit on Lutheran Missions held in San Antonio, Texas on November 2013. In an article titled “What will Happen to Missouri [referring to the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod]?” The Rev. Randall L. Golter, executive director of the LCMS Office of International Mission, comments regarding the possible coming persecution: “Headed our way may very well be the cleansing and purifying by the Lord Himself, so that the idols fabricated every day by the church are exposed and she remains useful for His purpose of making Christians.”
It is a rather sobering and, I believe, realistic statement. Would God allow persecution to come upon Western churches to purify the church? God allows persecution as a means of fulfilling His mission in the world. Persecution has many purposes, in fact, and purification is one of them. The question is, can we clean-up our act now and avoid persecution (something like Nineveh after the preaching of Jonah)? This is preferable to Israel and Judah’s response that led them into captivity. Perhaps we should purify and cleanse ourselves and the church so when persecution comes we will be better prepared for it. Whatever the question and whatever the future, it is always appropriate to search our hearts and practices and allow God to cleanse and purify us now. Even a non-prophet like me can see the wisdom of that. Has not the time come?
Rather than being entirely focused on the possibilities of persecution for the West in the future, it seems wise to consider seriously standing with those who are already being persecuted. There is an attitude that says that if it does not affect me, then it is not my problem. As Christians, one body that is global in scope, persecution that produces pain in one part should be felt by the rest of the body (I Cor. 12:26). If we feel no pain, are we truly connected to the body of Christ? Is there a spiritual numbness that doesn’t allow the pain to be felt?
A recent news story from my own denomination told about an attack on one of our churches in India on July 16th. Suspects entered the church around 2:30 p.m. during a youth service, ransacked the church, physically harmed the pastor and several of the youth, and broke the steeple and other church furniture. They then threatened church personnel with "dire consequences” if the church did not close down. I wonder how many around the world felt their pain upon hearing that news?
Someday, perhaps not as far down the road as we may think, their pain will be our pain and the word will go out to them to pray for us. In the meantime, it seems reasonable and fair that we pray for them.
YOUR TURN: Do you believe persecution will come to American Christians? What are you doing now to prepare yourself to stand strong in your faith when and if persecution does come?
Roy Stults, PhD, is the Online Workshop Coordinator and Educational Services Coordinator for The Voice of the Martyrs. He graduated from Olivet Nazarene University (BA and MA), Nazarene Theological Seminary (M.Div.), Trinity Evangelical Divinity School (Doctor of Missiology), and The University of Manchester (England) with a PhD (theology). A Vietnam veteran, Dr. Stults served as a missionary for 19 years and pastored U.S. churches for eight years. Prior to joining VOM, he was a Professor of Religion at Oklahoma Wesleyan University.
As the Youth and Young Adult Coordinator for The Voice of the Martyrs, I have spent a good amount of time researching the trends and values among young adults. As a Millennial (people born from 1980 to 2000) myself, it is easy for me to see how I fit smack dab into the stereotypes and statistics about this generation. Thanks to technology, the Millennial generation is more aware of need than any before it; we get a Twitter update on our smartphones the moment something happens. This is part of the reason why social justice issues have exploded with Millennial involvement.
Where does Christian persecution fit into the values of Millennials? There are many different reasons why I’m passionate about this but I’ll give you five of the main reasons why we care:
We are inspired by the stories of persecuted Christians who take a courageous stand for the sake of the gospel. Most Millennials don’t believe they have to wait until they receive a certain degree or reach a certain age to do something significant. We see the stories of other young people who, against all odds, stood strong in the face of challenges, and we endeavor to do the same.
2. We are unwilling to accept the status quo.
Millennials don’t accept doing things just because that’s always how they’ve been done. The answer “because I told you so” doesn’t work for this age group. We are motivated by our beliefs and our passions, not by rules or systems. Our brothers and sisters who are persecuted challenge the status quo every day when they break the law by reading their Bibles or have an illegal underground church gathering. They are motivated by their belief and passion to live for Jesus.
3. We are looking for something deeper.
Many Millennials feel starved for the living, active, risk-taking faith we read about in scripture. We want more than the American dream; we aren’t satisfied with traditional church or traditional Christianity. We are not alarmed by the danger, the stories of blood and persecution; we are tired of apathy and know that just being ‘good people’ isn’t enough. We want to live lives radically sold out to the cause of Christ. Millennials want to take risks for something that impacts eternity, such as the risk to share the gospel with a Muslim or Hindu extremist.
4. We value authentic community.
Community is one of the highest values of Millennials; this is why coffee shops are so popular and why we are so influenced by our peers. Connecting with our persecuted family provides Millennials with more than meeting a need; it provides us with community, with fellowship with our brothers and sisters living in some of the most difficult places in the world.
5. We want to make a difference and believe we can change the world.
People accuse Millennials of being too optimistic. But we serve a God who can do big things and who can use anyone that is willing to submit themselves to Him. Who would guess that Iran has the fastest growing church in the world, in a country where it’s illegal to convert to Christianity? Millennials don’t view their cultural challenges as a threat from the world, but as an opportunity to reach the world for Christ.
YOUR TURN: Are you a Millennial too? What would you add to this list? Share your thoughts in a comment on this post, as well as your ideas about how VOM can best communicate the testimonies of persecuted believers to people in your age group.
Brooke Parks serves on the staff of VOM as youth & young adult coordinator. She was first introduced to the ministry of VOM by her parents and grandparents, who received the VOM newsletter, and through the VOM book Jesus Freaks. She has served in 12 different countries and is passionate about helping expand God’s Kingdom throughout the nations of the world.
On a recent trip to Nepal, I joined a small team of staff members to do Bible distribution and take part in a pastor’s conference located in the central region of the country.. After several hours of driving, we came to a residential area of colorful but otherwise run-down houses. Most homes didn’t appear to have indoor plumbing as I saw people collecting water and washing their clothes at well-fed water taps residing on each block. From my western point-of-view, these were poor low-income families. Our Nepali VOM staff informed us that these people were part of the upper caste in the area and were all Hindus. Christians are treated as the lowest caste. One of the VOM staff told us in a matter-of-fact voice, “you won’t find Christians here.”
After a few more minutes of driving, the scenery dramatically changed as the rows of colorful old homes became rows of huts made from sticks coated with mud. The roads were dirt and the water taps had disappeared. My definition of poor had been rewritten. Our Nepali staff informed us that this is where the Christians live.
We arrived at a small, humble one-room church expecting the people to look worn and defeated because they had been ostracized by neighbors for being Christians. To our surprise, we found incredible faith and joy. When they sang, they didn’t worry about who would hear them or if they were talented enough. They sang loudly and boldly. When they prayed, everyone prayed aloud and the room became alive with shouts of praise and gratitude.
My former youth pastor once told us the last words of wisdom his dying father spoke, “You don’t realize that Jesus is all you need until Jesus is all you have.” For these church members, there is no healthcare system if they become sick. There is no 401k being built for retirement. There isn’t even assurance of a next meal, yet they are grateful for a Savior who has set them free and given them lasting hope. Jesus is all they have and that is enough.
Stephen Davis serves on VOM's staff as a Web Developer in the Global Technology Services department. Before coming to VOM, he worked at a marketing agency in Dallas, Texas and volunteered as the youth pastor at his church. Stephen, his wife Anne Marie and son Alex learned about VOM through Randy Alcorn’s book Safely Home and then quickly began receiving the newsletter, sponsoring a pastor and seeking opportunities to serve persecuted Christians.