Faith in the Face of Evil

I just finished reading a powerful book about the suffering of a Christian man imprisoned in Sudan for 445 days.  While I understand the concerns of Christians here in our country that we might lose some of our religious freedoms, I had to once again see that we have no idea what real persecution for the cause of Jesus Christ looks like. 

Petr Jasek,, a citizen of the Czech Republic and an aid worker, made a trip to Sudan in December 2015 to see what Christians could do to help their fellow Christians suffering at the hands of the government of Sudan.  After meetings with local pastors and other Christians he was at the airport getting ready to return home to his family when he was detained for questioning by  Sudan security agents.  They took his computer, phone and camera and charged him with espionage, waging war against the state and undermining the constitution.

After hours of no sleep and repeated interrogation, he was taken to prison and placed in a cell approximately eight feet wide by fourteen feet long.  There were already six men in the cell with only one bed. The five men without a bed slept on mattresses on the floor.  The only space he had to lay his body down was next to the entrance to the bathroom.  The shower was completely broken and the Western-style metal toilet was covered in rust.  He saw a hose coming out of the wall for water but soon discovered that the water was only on once or twice a day.  

I can’t imagine the stench of the room with seven men crowded together and no real facilities to maintain cleanliness.  

Added to that horror, he soon discovered his fellow inmates were ISIS fighters.  Although Sudan is an Islamist government, they did not want ISIS to find a home in their country because they were afraid they would win the people’s allegiance  and their own control of the country would be lost to ISIS leaders. 

He first realized who he was sharing his cell with when he was awaken at 4:30 a.m. by the call to prayer.  The men in the cell rose to their feet and began their morning prayers.  He was told that when they prayed he had to wake up and stand in the back corner of the room where they would not have to face him.  

Since they had no access to news on the outside, they asked him to share the latest news.  He immediately thought of the terrorist attack that had taken place in Paris earlier in November.  At the mention of the death of 129 people, he was shocked when they at first became very silent, then began hugging one another and shouting with great joy “Allabu Akbar!”

After weeks of imprisonment he was set for a trial.  While waiting for his trial he was moved several times to different prisons and different cells.  Toward the end of his imprisonment he was able to share a cell with fellow Christians.  

Peter

After delay and delay he was found guilty and sentenced to life imprisonment.  A fine of 100,000 Sudanese pounds ($17,000) was also imposed on him. 

For most of us I am afraid we would have been crying out to God “why me?”  Petr came to the understanding that his time and his life were in the Lord’s hands.  With confidence that God was still in control regardless of how hopeless things looked, he began finding opportunity to share the Gospel with other prisoners and with his guards. 

One of his greatest joys while in prison was when he was allowed to have a Bible.  He said 

The Word of God is not chained – even when God’s people are.  The Scripture is alive and active, and when I began feelings its activity in prison, I would not keep it to myself.  The Lord began prodding me to share the Gospel with my fellow prisoners – nominal Christians, animists, and even Muslims….In prison I truly learned to love my enemies.  I still pray for the ISIS prisoners and I pray that many Christian prisoners in Sudan might have the opportunity to share the Gospel as well.”

Thankfully the Czech government and Christians around the world continued to intercede for Petr and he was released in 2017 after 445 days.   

This story is one worth reading.  “Imprisoned with ISIS – Faith in the Face of Evil”.  

The book is worth taking the time and money to read but you can also check out his story at

Christian aid worker says time in Sudanese prison allowed him to share Gospel

Next time I hear someone complaining about how we are persecuted in this country for being a Christian, I will just remember Petr’s story and say God help us if we ever really have to suffer persecution.

My “Rights” as an American vs. My Call to be A Follower of Christ

The last few weeks I have missed a lot of Sunday morning services at my church due to some health issues.  Since I hate to have a Sunday without hearing a good sermon I have watched quite a lot of ministers on TV.

Let me start by saying this post is not meant to be a bashing of TV ministers.  I have heard several excellent sermons based on the Bible that were challenging and encouraging.

However, there did seem to be a theme running through many of the ministries on the TV which I found not biblical and disturbing.

One recurrent theme seems to be that becoming a Christian means a life of material blessings and nothing but victories in every area of your life.

One service I watched on video had a pastor praying over the offering.  I could not believe his words.

Basically he told God because the congregation were tithe payers, they were claiming:

promotions at work, increased interest on savings, great real estate deals, new sources of income.

I could not help but think:  really, this is why Jesus died on the cross?

Granted, I believe Jesus has promised to bless those who follow Him and give to others.  In my own life I have seen God provide for me and my family many times when we were in real need.

But I think Christians in America have come to think of material blessings as the main part of the gospel.  Our country has been blessed with many freedoms and for many years Christian believers have been in the majority.  We have experienced little persecution.  On the contrary, until recently, our laws protected and even encouraged the Christian faith.  Instead of recognizing how blessed we have been to be born in this country I am afraid we have come to think material blessings, freedom to worship as we please and laws that protect our way of life are all the “rights” of being a Christian.

Sadly, that is not what Christians in other countries have found to be true.  And that is not what I believe the Bible teaches.

Do not misunderstand me.  I am so grateful for being an American.  My husband, our youngest daughter and I all spend time in another country teaching in a Bible college.  As our plane touched down in Hawaii, I wanted to kiss the ground and thank God for being an American.

But these blessings of life, liberty and pursuit of happiness with all that entails is not what Jesus died for.

Jesus came to set up a kingdom but He made it clear it would not be a worldly kingdom with our own leaders.  Rather He would be the one in charge.  In His kingdom things would be much different than what we experience here in the USA.

His gave us an idea of what His kingdom would look like in His discourse we call “The Sermon on the Mount.”  The things He said would make us “blessed” or “happy” were opposite of what we as Americans have come to think are our “rights.”  

As we find our nation becoming more and more post-Christian – even anti-Christian – we are beginning to experience what the first Christians knew, what a large majority of Christians around the world know.

Jesus did not promise us “rights.”  Rather, he called us to a high standard of love and commitment.

“If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for my sake and for the sake of the Good News, you will save it.”

“If any of you wants to be my follower, you must give up your own way, take up your cross daily, and follow me.”

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? …

“If the world hates you, remember that it hated me first. The world would love you as one of its own if you belonged to it, but you are no longer part of the world. I chose you to come out of the world, so it hates you. Do you remember what I told you? ‘A slave is not greater than the master.’ Since they persecuted me, naturally they will persecute you. And if they had listened to me, they would listen to you.”

The early Christians did not demand their “rights.”  They were focused on sharing the good news with all who would listen and willing to give up any right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

I am not suggesting that we should not work to keep our government committed to the freedoms our fathers died for.  My own father fought in the Pacific in World War II and my first husband (now deceased) was a Purple Heart recipient from the conflict in Vietnam.  I honor and respect them and others who have given so much for our freedom.

But I am suggesting that we keep our eyes on God and not forget that nations rise and fall, politicians come and go, but God remains forever and His kingdom calls for us to be Christians first, Americans second.

Let us not confuse “success” as the measure of what is right.

“In a world where success is the measure and justification of all things the figure of Him who was sentenced and crucified remains a stranger and is at best the object of pity. . . . The figure of the Crucified invalidates all thought that takes success for its standard.”….Dietrich Bonhoeffer

No offense meant – but as a Christian I cannot proclaim “America first” or even “demand” my rights.

I’m a follower of Christ first, then an American.

 

Where Are the Peace Makers?

God blesses those who work for peace, for they will be called the children of God.  

Those words are from Jesus as He spoke to the crowds about what it meant to be a part of the kingdom of God.

Where are the peace makers?

We are so divided as a nation today. So many divisions.

  • Democrat vs. Republican
  • liberal vs conservative
  • Trump is “God’s Anointed” vs Trump is evil
  • CNN’s version of news vs Fox’s version
  • pro-abortion vs. pro-life
  • “We need more gun control” vs. “You ain’t taking my gun!”

These divisions in and of themselves are not wrong.  That has been one of the more amazing benefits of being an American.  Freedom to think – and to speak – as you feel.  May that freedom always be.

But over the past few years there has entered a very ugly element in our conversations.

Growing up in the America of the 50’s and 60’s it seemed to me when people disagreed the attitude toward the other party was basically ‘ “you are wrong, you don’t have all the facts, your logic is faulty .”  But there remained an element of respect for the person with the different opinion.

Today it seems when two sides disagree there is no debate on the reasoning behind the different opinions.  There is no trying to understand where the other person is coming from.

The answer to disagreement now is to call the other person names.  Names that imply the other person is stupid – or even worse – evil.

I grant you when I find myself debating an issue with someone sometimes that thought of “stupid” or “evil” does enter my mind also.

But what bothers  me is how Christians are falling prey to that temptation to call those with whom they disagree names and belittle them instead of debating the actual issues.

I see it so much on Facebook when a controversial post is made.  How quickly the two sides end up not really debating the actual issue itself but saying the other person is “crazy” or “evil.”

What ever happened to the peace makers?

No matter what the “other side” does or says, as Christians we must remember who we claim to follow.

Years ago there was a saying “WWJD”  (what would Jesus do).   It got a little overused, but I wonder if we should not revive it.

Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.

Do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, bless, for to this you were called, that you may obtain a blessing. For “Whoever desires to love life and see good days, let him keep his tongue from evil and his lips from speaking deceit; let him turn away from evil and do good; let him seek peace and pursue it.

Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

In the volatile political season coming on us as we enter into the 2020 election, may I ask my fellow Christians please remember that Jesus said the sign of a true disciple was not which side of the political fence they walked, but rather was

“By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”

By all means share your opinions, your ideas, vote as you please, but remember that Jesus died for liberals and conservatives.  He loves Donald Trump and Nancy Pelosi both – as much as He loves you!

And also remember Jesus said:
“But I tell you that everyone will have to give account on the day of judgment for every empty word they have spoken.  For by your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned.”