I was able to visit a refugee camp on the northern border between Ethiopia and Eritrea a few years ago. It was a long trek up from the capital of Ethiopia, Addis Ababa, involving multiple short flights and then what felt like an endless drive through the Ethiopian mountains. The van we took was suitably rickety, the driver suitably blasé, and the roads suitably ancient having been laid by the Italians during the colonial era of the beginning of the 20th century -and left alone ever since.
I’ve read and heard a lot of stories about persecution. Some are dramatic and recount tales of deliverance from extreme circumstances; some are quiet, soft tales of persistent faith in difficult circumstances; many are long-term, daily grinds of patient, difficult trial; some are the total uncertainty of camp life.
The women that I met there stuck with me the most. Their experience is of course very different from the male experience – no more or less valuable, but very different. They continue to make a home for their families, raising children, providing what food they can, supporting their husbands. Or without husbands, keeping the family afloat, working in the various entrepreneurial outlets. (On that note, they were a very entrepreneurial bunch with businesses cropping up everywhere – my favourite was the bar that showed the Premier League and therefore gave them more access to English football than I have at home!)
While we were there meeting with Christian leaders in the camp, hearing their stories of escape from Eritrea and the limbo life of the refugee – displaced from Eritrea, but not sure of their future in Ethiopia – the women quietly went about supplying us with food, chatting to us about their experience and introducing us to their children. It wasn’t until we were about to leave that I realised one of our hosts was mid-way through a second pregnancy.
I think it’s this that sticks with me most – this lovely, gracious, generous, pressured woman was preparing to bring a new baby into the world … in a refugee camp. It wasn’t an awful camp, it was fine compared to some of the horror stories we hear of some camps, but it was a camp. It was limbo, displaced, lacking identity. What does that child say later in life about where it was born? Which nation does it belong to? What identity does it have?
And that’s all assuming that the child arrived safely, born into a camp with basic facilities and basic care. None of us would choose to have a baby in a camp, and we can be sure that for this lady, a camp was not her maternity ward of choice.
Except, of course, it was. Kind of.
She did choose to have a baby in a camp because she chose to follow Jesus. She didn’t have to do that – she could have denied him and probably gone about a relatively normal life in Eritrea. It wouldn’t have been what we’d experience in the UK, but it wouldn’t have been a makeshift camp in the Ethiopian desert.
But she didn’t deny him. She knew that her saviour was more precious than her birth plan, her hope for her baby, even than her baby itself.
When remembering that woman, a lady who’s name I don’t even know, I remember something of the daily grind of persecution; the daily grind of saying “Jesus is Lord” and life panning out from there.
I pray for that lady, for her family, for her baby. I pray that she found safety; I pray for her family’s security, I pray for her faith.
I pray that I would make the same choice: to say “Jesus is Lord”.
Ever read Psalm 22? And I don’t just mean read it as one would read the newspaper or a gripping novel. I mean have you ever read it repeatedly; chewed over the words and thought about them so much that a magnificent picture is allowed to form in your mind’s eye, as the words play out our Lord’s sacrifice in your heart and in your mind? Have you ever considered what it means to be ‘poured out like water’, or what it must feel like to have all your ‘bones out of joint’? Have you ever pondered how much love One must have for another in order to knowingly, willingly, freely endure such suffering, so another does not have to (Hebrews 12:3)? Why don’t you take a few moments now to do just that? Go on. I’ll wait.
Now, consider the title of this blog: Are you living for Him? Truly? Are you dying to live? Honestly? What do I mean by this? Well, are you filled to the fullest measure of His glory (Ephesians 3:19); is that even your heart’s desire? Are you living out the freedom that is found in Him (2 Corinthians 3:17, 2 Corinthians 5:17, Romans 6:1-14, 2 Peter 1:3-11)? In those trying moments, are you standing for what you believe in your heart, according to His Word or are you falling for whatever is deemed ‘P.C’ at that time, for fear of being ridiculed and/or labelled a ‘phobe’ or an ‘ist’?
When we take the time to consider what our Lord went through for us, our reasonable response should be to live for Him; our reasonable response should be to die to self so that He might live and be glorified through us in word and in deed (2 Peter 1:3-10, 1 John 3:18). Being a Christian is more than warming a seat on a Sunday; it is more than just a silver cross dangling from a chain around your neck, or a dove sticker on your living room window or a fish on the back of your car. The Bible says that we will be known by our fruit, not by a bumper sticker (Matthew 7:15-23, 1 John 1:4-6).
The persecuted church is living for Him and dying to live, which is the very reason why they are being persecuted. Please don’t get it twisted, I’m not at all suggesting that if one is not experiencing persecution that they are any less of a Christian than one who is, but what I do hope to achieve by writing these words is that your hearts are challenged, encouraged and reminded. I hope that this blog causes a stirring in your spirit, challenging you to look closely at your walk with Him (1 John 1:4-6); that these words encourage you to explore the depths of your heart in an effort to discover how much you are prepared to sacrifice for Him (Mark 10:21, Matthew 13:43-46), and I trust that these words serve as a reminder to always prayerfully consider those who suffer for His Name’ sake (Hebrews 13:3).
Annie loves tea, Jesus and Arsenal FC, but not necessarily in that order.
I’m sure everyone has done it…
You go into your kitchen thirsting for a drink and after realising there’s no juice, you have to go for the second best option – squash (gutted!). But because your mind was set on juice even before you got to the kitchen, you pour the squash as if it is juice and, without even thinking, take a mouthful.
The strength of the undiluted, jaw-tingling squash hits! It’s full of flavour, its bitter, it’s powerful and it’s hard to swallow.
You’ll won’t make that mistake again in a hurry. From now on, every time you drink squash you’re reminded of that time, so next time you overestimate the amount of water needed to dilute the strength, and then underestimate. Until finally you get just the right ratio of water to squash.
Some things aren’t meant to be powerful. Like squash.
But some things are! Like the Good News / ‘Gospel’ of Jesus!
When I first read the title ‘Don’t Dilute the Gospel’, my first thought was, ‘Why would anyone want to do that!?’ The Gospel of Jesus has been powerfully transforming people’s lives for thousands of years! It is where we find hope, freedom, love, security and rest!
Romans 1:16 says, ‘For I am not ashamed of this Good News about Christ. It is the power of God at work, saving everyone who believes…’
Then I realised, it’s the power of the Gospel that the enemy doesn’t like. If he can convince people to water it down / dilute it, then it no longer changes lives, because people aren’t really receiving it, but a diluted, false gospel. It’s no longer something that challenges us to the core of our being, but something palatable and easy to swallow.
When I read the stories of our Christian family around the world experiencing persecution, I am reminded of the strength of the gospel. I am reminded that it is the gospel of Jesus that has brought hope to so many in dangerous situations, and the same gospel that has kept spreading despite the danger.
Napoleon Bonaparte, the famous French military leader, once wrote;
“Alexander, Caesar, Charlemagne, and I have founded empires. But on what did we rest the creations of our genius? Upon force. Jesus Christ founded his empire upon love; and at this hour millions of men would die for him.”
The same is true today. We mustn’t dilute this gospel of love, for it is this eternal hope, found only in Jesus (nothing more, nothing less), that is advancing God’s empire throughout the world even to this day! No persecution, no war, no disease, no extremist group can stop the undiluted Good News of Jesus’ kingdom from advancing!
Dealing with Persecution
A youth group in India were gathering for praise and worship when their meeting was stormed by a group of militant Hindus.
Maggie, 24, said, “We stopped worshipping. My brother Paul asked one of the intruders what was wrong. The intruder started punching Paul in the face. Everyone, men, women and children, were attacked and beaten.”
The assailants were from the local neighbourhood and the attack is understood to have been pre-planned. This is just one of a number of attacks experienced by Christians in recent years in India, by militant Hindus who want to stop Christians practising their faith.
I’ll be honest, I’ve never been in a youth meeting that’s been broken up by bunch of local militants. Have you?
Put yourself in that room for a minute. What would you have done when you realised it was beginning to fall apart? Would you have run? Would you have made an escape and promised never to attend that meeting again? Would you have stuck it out and been there for the aftermath?
In part one of Release Potential’s new resource, Persecution Uncovered, we begin by dealing with persecution: putting ourselves in the positions of those who face real hardship because of their faith in Jesus.
The Bible gives us three responses to persecution: endure, avoid, and overcome.
Acts 16: 25-36 talks about enduring persecution, and asks what we think it means to stick something out, even though it costs us a great price.
Acts 9: 23-25 talks about avoiding persecution, about those times when it’s ok to run away from opposition.
Romans 12: 14-21 talks about overcoming persecution, and asks how we can rise above the brutality to a place of blessing.
Helping our young people to think about what their brothers and sisters – their peers – around the world face because of the faith they share is a tough task. But if we begin with confronting the reality of persecution, and looking to the Bible for some answers, we enable them not only to identify with their Christian family, but we also equip them for the moments in their lives that will put pressure on their faith.
Persecution Uncovered is a really helpful way to walk with young people through some of these issues. Starting with a story, and using games, creativity, prayer and application, you can help young people to understand better what it is to follow Jesus at a cost.
And the more they understand about what goes on around the world, the more they will see the active, faithful and merciful hand of God at work in His people.
Keep in touch with Release Potential on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram – and get your youth connected too!
For young people age 17 -25, how about finding out about becoming a Changemaker programme? Changemakers impact their world as they learn the cost of following Christ. Find out more at Releasepotential.org.
“Around the world today, many young people face extreme challenges and attacks on their faith. Confronted with tough choices, time and time again, they choose Jesus and live their costly faith in the face of persecution.”
Ever thought about teaching your youth group or student church on the subject of persecution but had no idea where to start? Ever been unsure of the theology of persecution, or how it applies to those of us who live relatively comfortable lives of faith, unchallenged by the pressures of persecution?Release Potential has developed a brilliant new resource to help groups work through together what persecution really is and how we can all learn from it.
Persecution Uncovered explores issues creatively and honestly, offering groups the chance to work things out for themselves and experience the hope and support that come from knowing that we are all one body in Jesus.Starting with dealing with persecution, the series goes on to cover solidarity, forgiveness, resilience, redemption and sacrifice.
The six sessions are designed to be adaptable to each group’s needs, exploring different aspects of the realities of persecution in practical, engaging and challenging ways.
Each session includes icebreaker games, Bible study and discussion, creative response and prayers designed to encourage the group members to think about persecution, supported by what the Bible teaches, and then to respond in a way that helps them take their thoughts and apply it into their everyday life.
Release Potential’s desire is that all young people will understand better what persecution is, and the experiences that so many of their peers around the world have because they too believe in Jesus.Persecution can be a tough topic to tackle and can leave some of us feeling inadequate, unspiritual, ungrateful or unworthy. But when we really look at what persecution is, and when we really choose to learn from our family around the world, we get to know the true grace and kindness of our God.
Understanding persecution is a great way to disciple young people, and for us all to grow in our faith. Persecution Uncovered is just what we all need to get our heads around a difficult subject and move closer to Jesus, sharing in his suffering and the suffering and joy of our brothers and sisters.
What do you hope for? Good relationships? A friend to come to know Jesus? A new perfume for Christmas? I hope for all of these things. And some other stuff.
And then there’s always the hope. The hope of things eternal, life lived forever in the presence of God.
This is the final part of our series from the book Jars of Clay, and it leads us to the International Day of Prayer for the persecuted Church. If you want to think and read more about our Change It Up series, you can get your own copy of Jars of Clay here.
Persecution magnifies hope: “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.” (Romans 8:18) Paul, both the persecutor and the persecuted, wrote that. Some of us will know something of sufferings, of a life punctuated by hardship, uncertainty, sorrow. Our brothers and sisters in persecuted communities know of those sufferings alongside the constant suffering of being under pressure because of their faith. And when we understanding suffering, we understand hope: hope of things yet to come, glorious hope in glorious peace with our glorious King Jesus.
Hope makes sense of persecution: because we know that Jesus not only died to bear away our sins but that He also rose to start up something new with us, we know that there is a hope to come which is above and beyond all that is experienced in this life. “He who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus and bring us with you into his presence.” (2 Corinthians 4:14). It’s this that motivated Paul as he preached in continuing hostility and aggravation at his message: the hope that he would be given the same eternal life as Jesus.
Hope brings joy where there is persecution: the Christian’s ultimate goal is eternal life with God and it is in that hope of eternal life that complete, untarnished joy is found. And it is in the experience of the persecuted that joy is found – for many it is when their church is destroyed, or their livelihood ruined, or their family member killed, that the deep joy that surpasses all earthly goodness remains. When all is lost but Jesus and eternity in Him, all joy is found in that hope.
If you wonder whether that can really be real, whether people really can be truly joyful in the face of real, constant, painful opposition, get involved with the persecuted and see for yourself. Learn from them, those who suffer for Jesus. Learn about the breadth and depth of God’s love, His grace that never runs out, His love that helps so many to live despite such horror. And honour those who suffer and yet bear your name – Christian.
Find out how you can be a Changemaker and commit to understanding the journey of faith that so many others like you, but not like you, make. Get involved with Release Potential, follow us on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook. Like, share, tweet, repeat.
Find your way to honour your Christian family.