In tonight’s meetings at Cape Town 2010, they took a lot of time to highlight the suffering of the persecuted church. But what was unique about this gathering is that some of the persecuted were among us and gave testimonies.
It is one thing to hear stories from missionaries, or even to read about this in magazines. It is quite another thing to listen personally.
The Korean Church
An 18 year old North Korean girl told her story to the entire assembly. She related how her father used to work as an assistant to the president of North Korea. Through an amazing series of events he became a Christian and then a missionary and was later executed for treason. The young girl was orphaned when her mother died of cancer. The young girl labored to keep a stoic Korean composure while reading her story.
She gave a powerful testimony of how God spoke to her in a dream, and how his love came to her through an adoption. The love of Christ had transformed her life and eventually transformed her attitudes too. But as she voiced her heart for the North Koreans and spoke of her determination to return there after completing her education, she finally broke down. She then issued an impassioned plea for the us to remember and pray for the people of North Korea. Her story brought the packed assembly to their feet in thunderous though somehow reverent applause. We then prayed for the people of North Korea.
The Nigerian Church
But there was an even more powerful moment for me tonight. I was late for supper and got in right before they shut down the food line. After getting my plate, I walked over to another late comer—an African pastor. I can’t tell you his name or it might further endanger his life.
When he introduced himself to me, and said that he was from Nigeria, I said to him with deep interest that our church had often prayed this past year for Nigeria. We had prayed for the persecuted church in that land, but I had never known anyone by name to pray for. I asked him if he knew anything about the trouble many Nigerian Christians are experiencing at the hands of radical Islam. He looked at me knowingly and started to tell me about the recent “crisis.” That’s the word he used.
He is from Jos, Nigeria. Earlier this year many women and children were killed in what the major news media describes as on-going “ethnic violence.” After talking to this pastor I got the rest of the story. He said there are on-going attacks on the Christians where he lives. There has been a systematic attempt by Muslims to exterminate the church. The problem, he said, is that many Muslims had been burning the churches in the area. He related how his own life had been threatened many times.
How, I asked, does he deal with this? What is it that makes him so hopeful to go back and be a pastor there, in that place? He said that there are two things that encourage him. The first is the love of Jesus, and the second thing are the miracles done in Jesus’ name. He said these are the two most powerful weapons against the on-going threats and violence of Islam. These are the spiritual weapons the church has, which Islam does not know how to deal with.
I told the pastor that I lead a seminary in America, and that we are doing a study of Islam. When I asked him what we should tell our students about the realities of Islam, he replied, that Islam flexibly uses many strategies to gain control. Its first strategy is deception. It attacks at first without coming out in the open. Then it uses terror, but it hides the terror so that people are never sure who is behind the violence. They want to intimidate Christians and destroy the church. When they are exposed, they move to the next strategy of jihad—outright opposition and violence against Christians. And when they gain control, he said, they use yet another strategy—Sharia law, where you do not have rights unless you are a Muslim.
He said that the government has been so unreliable in stopping this violence and standing for the rights of Christians.
What else, I asked, should our students know about Islam? This godly pastor, (and by this point in the conversation, I was very aware that I was talking to a very godly man), said that we should know three things. First, he said, tell them about its violent founder. He practiced violence and deception right from the beginning. Second, he said, tell them about Islam’s goal—it is, in fact, world domination. This is how they see it all across central Africa. In Nigeria, they want to gain control and to make everyone a Muslim—by force if necessary.
But the third thing he said our students should know is this: our greatest weapon is the love of Christ. Yes the government must fulfill its God-given role in protecting the citizens, but he said things get messy when Christians take matters into their own hands and violently strike back at Muslims. And things get wrong headed, he said, when Christians do battle for Christianity instead of focusing on Jesus.
Why are you so hopeful, I asked him? He replied that God had miraculously protected him time and again. He related one story about a group of Muslims who were going to burn his church. But he said that his church for a long time had shown the love of Christ to everyone in his village. When the religious arsonists approached the church with torches, the oldest man in the village, a Muslim, came forward and said that if they are going to burn the church, they must burn him first. He said that this church was a place of goodness and had done so much for the people that the villagers, Christian and Muslim alike would not let the antagonists come forward. Children also came forward in his defense, both Christian and Muslim children. So the arsonists left and did not burn the church.
The church leader told me another story about those who had come to murder him because he was a pastor. “I was walking with my two daughters,” he said, “when some armed men appeared out of the bushes. But when they looked at me, they were frightened. They ran off.” Why? They reported to the police that the pastor had two armed soldiers with him. So the pastor went in to talk to the police chief who questioned him about having armed guards. The pastor insisted that he was simply walking with his daughters. He looks back on it now as a divine moment of angelic protection.
After hearing his story, I wanted to pray with him. After all, our church had prayed for nameless Nigerian Christians who were persecuted this Spring. Now I knew one of their names.
It was a great privilege to ask for God’s continued protection and anointing on his life.
As we parted and walked into the meeting, he looked at me and said—“it is the love of Christ that makes the difference.”
That was my supper time. Then in the meeting the entire assembly focused on remembering the persecuted church. Only tonight, we not only got to learn about, but were blessed to sit with, the persecuted church.