At our staff meeting this week Sean, our Youth Pastor recounted what his team did with the teens on Friday night. I was very moved by it and decided to write this post. The theme for the evening was the Persecuted Church (a subject by the way, we seldom talk about today). He played a short film clip from Open Doors, an international ministry that serves the persecuted church.
It was a story about a young girl called Susan from Uganda. Susan is 14 years old and belonged to a strict Muslim family. One day a visiting speaker came to her school and spoke about someone called Jesus who claimed to be the Son of God and had come to save people from their sin. Right then and there, Susan made the decision to follow Jesus. When she got home, her father found out and was furious. On one occasion he dragged her outside, put a knife to her throat and said, “If you do not stop going to church, I will kill you.” But Susan didn’t stop. So her father took her to a room in their house where there was a mat on the floor. He told Susan, “Sit on that mat and do not move until you are willing to deny Jesus Christ.” He turned around, walked out of the room and locked the door. Susan stayed on that mat for 3 months. Eventually the neighbours found out and informed the Police. The Police came and when they found Susan, she was alive, but only just. When she was asked why she was in that room she answered, “My father said to me the day I move from that mat I deny Jesus, and I could not do that.”
After playing the video Sean spoke to our teens about the cost of being a Christian. “This is not a game,” he said. “We’re not playing around here.” He then had the teens bow their heads and asked who in the room, if they were to be put in Susan’s place, would stay on the mat for Jesus. Instantly, without missing a beat, about 8-10 hands went up. I found that hugely encouraging. Those young people get it.
But what about us? Do we get it? Later, Sean and I talked more about this over coffee. The problem with Christianity in the West, we agreed, is that it’s too easy. There’s no real cost. The only discomfort we suffer is perhaps social shunning – like being ignored or mocked (if even that). Compare that with what is going on in the rest of the world. According to research done by Open Doors, every month somewhere in the world:
• 255 Christians are killed
• 104 are abducted
• 180 Christian women are raped, sexually harassed or forced into marriage
• 66 churches are attacked
• 160 Christians are detained without trial and imprisoned
All told, 900,000 Christians were martyred for their faith in the past decade. That’s more people in 10 years than all of church history. Meanwhile, Christians in the West sit in air-conditioned sanctuaries, sipping coffee while listening to a worship band playing through a $10,000 sound system, wishing they were fishing or at the mall. I hate to sound sarcastic, but I’m afraid that’s often the reality.
The problem is our faith doesn’t cost us anything. We read the statistics like the one’s above and shudder, thinking “I’m glad I don’t live there.” The ironic thing is, Christians in these areas hear about the condition of the church in the West and say, “I’m glad I don’t live there.” They don’t enjoy the pain of being persecuted, but they like the purity persecution brings.
While I was thinking about all this I stumbled across something else quite remarkable. It’s the story behind the song, “I have decided to follow Jesus.”
150 years ago, there was a great revival in Wales, England. As a result of this, many missionaries came from England to northeast India to spread the Gospel. The region was known as Assam and composed of hundreds of tribes. The tribal communities were quite primitive and aggressive. Naturally, they were not welcomed. One Welsh missionary finally succeeded in converting a man, his wife, and two children. This man’s faith proved contagious and many villagers began to accept Christianity. Angry, the village chief summoned all the villagers. He then called the family who had first converted to renounce their faith in public or face execution. Moved by the Holy Spirit, the man sung his reply, “I have decided to follow Jesus. No turning back.”
Enraged at the refusal of the man, the chief ordered his archers to arrow down the two children. As both boys lay twitching on the floor, the chief asked, “Will you deny your faith? You have lost both your children. You will lose your wife too.”
But the man replied, again singing, “Though none go with me, still I will follow. No turning back.”
The chief was beside himself with fury and ordered his wife to be killed. In a moment she joined her two children in death. Now he asked for the last time, “I will give you one more opportunity to deny your faith and live.”
In the face of death the man sung, “The cross before me, the world behind me. No turning back. No turning back.”
He was shot dead like the rest of his family. But with their deaths, a miracle took place. The chief who had ordered the killings was moved by the faith of the man. He wondered, “Why should this man, his wife and two children die for a Man who lived in a far-away land on another continent some 2,000 years ago? There must be some supernatural power behind the family, and I too want that supernatural power.”
In a spontaneous confession of faith, he declared, “I too belong to Jesus Christ!” When the crowd heard this from the mouth of their chief, the whole village accepted Christ as their Lord and Saviour.
I encourage you to watch this video from Open Doors. In it Pastor Richard Kannwischer of St. Andrews Presbyterian Church, tells this very story. It’s very moving and a sober reminder of the call of Jesus to count the cost of following him.