As I was updating the site this morning, I happened to glance at the IMBNews block. (This shows the stories that are active on the International Mission Board's homepage, BTW.) As I was doing that, I noticed this story about stopping persecution, is it always right.
Erich Bridges sets up the story this way:
The e-mail arrived marked “urgent request.”
“We got word last night that ‘R’ and three other believers were held and beaten over an extended period of time,” reported the sender, a missionary who works with “R” and other Christians targeted for preaching the Gospel.
“The persecutors told R and the others to stop sharing the Word. As you can imagine, R and the other men are bruised, battered and wondering what to do next. This was not the first time R has been beaten.”
The message was sent from a tribal area in South Asia, but it could have come from any of hundreds of places where Christians suffer for their faith.
Multiple-choice question: If you were the missionary close to this particular situation, what would you do?
1. Assure R of your prayers and mobilize spiritual support.
2. Protect R and his co-workers from their persecutors.
3. Ask the national government to stop such abuses and guarantee religious freedom.
4. Remove the believers from danger and take them to a safe place.
Erich goes on to say:
On Easter this year, a mob attacked a church in northern India. They dragged two church planters outside and beat them savagely, tore their Bibles to pieces and threw stones at people attending the Easter service. The church’s flimsy roof collapsed under the weight of big stones tossed onto it. The attackers warned the church planters they would be killed if they were seen in the village again.
The church planters responded: “You can kill us, but as long as we are alive, we will continue to share the Gospel and worship the Lord Jesus Christ.”
The more anti-Christian campaigns intensify in Hindu- and Muslim-dominated regions of India, the faster the church grows there. The persecution, often abetted by local authorities, flies in the face of India’s claim to be a free society. But it’s not stopping the Gospel’s expansion.
“In some of these high-persecution environments, you have believers being pulled out for their own safety,” acknowledges Scott Holste, IMB associate vice president for research and strategy services. “Our concern is every time you gain a foothold into a people group, you basically eliminate it by pulling that person out. It’s going to be very difficult for them ever to go back.
“Maybe that person, under the leadership of the Holy Spirit, feels like, ‘Even if I die, I’d rather stay here and continue to be a faithful witness.’”
The key is sensitivity to God and to the situation.
“One option is to pull out,” Holste says. “Second is to go underground. Or you can go public, even though it’s a high-persecution environment. Outsiders need to realize that all of these may be legitimate possibilities. The early believers got (the Apostle) Paul out of town when there were real threats against his life. There may be times that leaving is strategic, times for allowing the church to grow quietly underground – and times to go ahead and assume a public face.”
Here’s what the missionary who wrote about R and his fellow believers requested:
“Ask God to heal these men and strengthen their faith, even in the midst of this physical persecution. R asked specifically for your prayers.”
I know missionaries wrestle with this all the time. What happens when the government starts giving them flack? What happens when the government interrogates you? What will you do?
As Americans, the answers to these questions are relatively easy (at least in my mind): Stand up for Christ, Keep the Faith, and Don't give Info that will hurt local believers. Why do I say that? As the holder of a US Passport the worst that will happen is you get deported. I seriously doubt that a foreign gov't would ever actually kill an American.
But a bigger question is what about the people you leave behind when you pull out? Where do they get to go?
In the end, all we can do is option #1: pray and motivate others to pray. But pray for what? The believer to make it through? The persecution to stop? I don't think either of those are the right answer. We should pray for God to be glorified, exalted, and lifted up. We should pray for His kingdom to grow. The Bible is clear on this: "Seek ye first the Kingdom of God…" Mathew 6:23. If we do that, God will guide us how to pray in-line with His will for our brother or sister in persecution.
Certainly we can, and we ought, to petition the foreign government, petition our government, write letters of encouragement to the believer in the situation, etc…. But, in the end, everything is in God's Hands. Let's leave it there and pray for Him to be exalted among the nations!