The Paradox of Persecution

            This past Sunday, Joyce Babb presented a Persecuted Church Update. But rather than telling us a story of a pastor or a brother or sister in Christ who is suffering for their faith, she let us know about the amazing work that God is doing in countries around the world through Samaritan’s Purse’s Operation Christmas Child (OCC). When she said that over nine million children have come to Christ over the last ten years through this brilliantly strategic ministry, I was floored. I knew it had impact, but nine million kids? The kingdom of God is swelling by almost one million children a year through OCC. And that’s just one ministry.

            God is working around the world drawing young and old alike into a relationship with Him. We can never get so isolated in our little American church bubbles that we forget how big God is. God moves in this world. God reveals Himself in this world. God overcomes incredible powers in this world – both governmental, societal, and spiritual. While we often settle for the mundane, across the globe God is doing the miraculous. While we are content with comfortable Christianity, around the world God is setting fire to His Church and creating revival through the flames.

            While the celebration of OCC’s nine million was wonderful, those weren’t the words that stayed with me. At the end of Joyce’s time, she brought us back to the Persecuted Church. She said something to the effect of, “We need to remember that suffering isn’t really suffering. Persecution isn’t really persecution. Sorrow isn’t really sorrow. They’re all part of God’s great plan to grow us and to draw people to Him.” Those words were humbling to me, because I can only truly acknowledge them in the abstract. There’s an old Charlie Peacock song that says, “You can only possess what you experience. Truth to be understood must be lived.” In country after country, our fellow believers are living out the paradox of the joy of suffering.

            There are 245 million victims of serious persecution each day in 73 countries around the world. One in nine Christians has no right to practice their religion – in Asia, the number is one in three. Every day, eleven Christians are martyred – that’s 4015 each year killed for their faith. The top five persecution countries are North Korea, Afghanistan, Somalia, Libya, and Pakistan. Last year, for the first time, India made the Top 10 persecution list. While Prime Minister Narendra Modi of India puts forth a sanitized front of Western egalitarianism as he travels around shaking hands with world leaders like Donald Trump, Benjamin Netanyahu, Emmanuel Macron, and Boris Johnson, his show of civility cannot hide the fact that he is not a good man. As a follower of the Hindu nationalist ideology called Hindutva, he aligns himself with the perpetrators of most of the violence against both the Christian and Muslim minorities.

            In spite of this persecution – or maybe because of it – the Church is growing like crazy around the world. In Iran, number nine on the persecution Top 10 list, so many are coming to Christ that the nation’s Intelligence Minister was forced to speak out about it. In a speech to Shia clerics, Mahmoud Mahmoud Alavi assured the troubled leaders that his ministry has sent out people tasked with “countering the advocates of Christianity” to areas where conversion is the greatest. Despite Alavi’s efforts, the Lord is still working. In an “end around” to Iran’s national anti-Christian policies, God has been bringing to Himself a massive number of Iranian students who are going to school in Turkey. These young men and women leave their country disillusioned Muslims, then return home committed Christians. A 22-year-old student named Sabha Allahvardi, after being baptized in Turkey, said, “I never thought this would happen to me in Iran, but now I’m really happy because my life is changing.” Man makes his plans, but it is God’s will that prevails.

This is the point where I am supposed to wrap up this blog post with some deep truth or a detailed plan of application. Truth is I don’t know what you should do with this information. I know it’s important. I know it tells us about God and the way He works. I know that the faith of our persecuted brothers and sisters should encourage us and humble us. But as for the So What, I’ll leave that up to you. Take some time in your morning prayers to ask God what, if anything, He wants you to do with this information. Is there anything you should change in your life? Is He challenging you to pray for the Persecuted Church or to learn more about it? Is He moving you to step out of your comfort zone and get involved in missions? Take some time, ask the Lord, and see what He says.