On the day this blog is posted, I will be on a very long plane ride to visit some good friends who live and work in Central Asia. For security reasons, I am not able to share the specific location we will be visiting. Given the predicament of where they live, travel to and from this country is very challenging, not to mention dangerous. For obvious reasons, not too many people are knocking on their door to visit this war torn country. Yet, for my friends, this is not only the place where they live, but it is their home where memories are made, friendships are fashioned, and their lives are enriched and intertwined in this new culture that is slowly becoming their own. How they long for family and friends to visit and partake in this newfound life! To taste the foods they eat, put a face to the names they speak of, to showcase the beauty of the land, and experience their life so as to better know and understand the blessings and challenges of living in this region of the world that so few desire to make their home.
A recent article in World Magazine by journalist Mindy Belz, “Joining the Chorus”, had some great insights.
“Last year 1 in 9 Christians experienced serious persecution – a 14% increase over the previous year” and “Christians are enduring high levels of persecution in 73 countries” Belz quotes Karen Ellis, Director of the Study of the Bible & Ethnicity at Reformed Theological Seminary, who said, “Roughly 70% of the world’s Christians live without the right to worship freely. Many of us are the world’s 30%, rich with religious privilege. The 70% isn’t the portion that’s isolated from the Body of Christ; it’s the 30% that’s isolated from the global persevering chorus.”[i]
Most likely, if you are reading this blog, you (like me) are one of the 30% of Christians in the world, abundant in religious freedom and quite isolated from the atrocities that exist for 70% of our brothers and sisters worldwide – isolation; persecution; loss of livelihood; abandonment from families; forced to leave behind your home, country, and culture; and martyrdom. The sobering reality for believers such as myself is this: the norm for followers of Jesus is far less what I experience on a day-to-day basis and far more like what these 70% of Christians experience, great trial and suffering for the name of Jesus. Read and meditate upon these verses with me:
Jesus: “And he who does not take his cross and follow after Me is not worthy of Me. He who has found his life will lose it, and he who has lost his life for My sake will find it.” (Matthew 10:38-39)
Jesus: “If the world hates you, you know that it has hated Me before it hated you… ‘A slave is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you.” (John 15:18, 20)
“For to you it has been granted for Christ’s sake, not only to believe in Him, but to also suffer for His sake.” (Philippians 1:29)
“Now you followed my [Paul’s] teaching, conduct, purpose, faith, patience, love, perseverance, persecutions, and sufferings, such as happened to me at Antioch… what persecutions I endured, and out of them all the Lord rescued me! Indeed, all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.” (2 Timothy 3:10-12)
“They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were tempted, they were put to death with the sword; they went about in sheepskins, in goatskins, being destitute, afflicted, ill-treated (men of whom the world was not worthy), wandering in the deserts and mountains and caves and holes in the ground. And all these, having gained approval through their faith, did not receive what was promised.” (Hebrews 11:37-39)
Back to my trip to Central Asia – why go? According to an article from 2018, an oppressive group is active in 70% of the country we are visiting! It is unstable, unsafe, in extreme poverty, and great turmoil. Yet, in this place of great chaos, tens of millions of people call this country “home.” Millions of people who have been made in the image and likeness of God; millions of people waiting in darkness, longing to see the great Light, Jesus, such that He may also rescue them from the domain of darkness and transfer them into His Kingdom to wash them, make them whiter than snow, and adopt them as sons and daughters. This gospel – good news of His Kingdom – is for people of every nation, tribe, and tongue such that one day they will stand before His throne and worship Him, saying, “Salvation to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.” It is the Lord’s desire that none should perish, but that all would come to a place of following Him. But how will they know unless they are told?
I have many heroes of the faith, such as in Hebrews 11, but I am also blessed to have many living heroes of the faith who willfully choose to take up their cross and follow Jesus to do the hard, difficult, and dangerous task of taking His good news to all people, especially those living in the 10/40 Window, a region of the world where 3 billion people live with little to no access to the gospel. Thus, as these dear friends of mine willfully choose to go, driven by their love of God and love of neighbor, so do I choose to go and cheer on these heroes of the faith – to sleep in their home, eat their food, meet their friends, weep and cry with them, celebrate and laugh, and of course, pray for the Lord of the Harvest to raise up workers for His harvest.
[i] Belz, Mindy. “Joining the Chorus.” World Magazine 16 Feb. 2019: 18. Print.