Our team sat on the hard floor, muscles sore, joints stiff, and back aching from a day spent prayer walking and evangelizing. Fluorescent light illumined the dilapidated apartment that our team barely fit into. Two fans beat overhead stirring the humid air. We were there to hear a story: a story about a family’s faith amidst terrible persecution. Our team went to encourage this special family. All of us would probably say that our faith was encouraged by their story.
Through our Farsi translator, the husband, M, told us about life in Iran, the hopelessness that caused him to learn more about Jesus, and the hope that he found when he decided to follow Christ. His voice was not much more audible than a whisper and it was difficult to hear at times as firecrackers, set off in celebration of the breaking of fast associated with Ramadan, rang out like shots in the night. He told us of the persecution he faced for choosing to follow Jesus: loss of employment, being shamed by his extended family, and being threatened with his death and his wife and children’s torture. They were forced to flee from Iran and were in this country as refugees, although all they had was a piece of paper asking that they not be deported; they are not officially refugees, have no rights or legal status in this country, and could be deported at any time. They have limited employment opportunities and little money. Despite this they adamantly told us that the cost of following Christ was worth it. After our team prayed for them, his wife, S, told us that even though we prayed in different languages we were all united in the Holy Spirit; Galatians 3:28 and Revelation 7:9 coming to life yet again!
It was with somber and reflective hearts that we drove through traffic for 2.5 hours to attend a meeting on Friday. This meeting was with a national believer from the people group we are trying to reach. Our ministry partners told us that, collectively, they knew of only 100 such believers, so this was a rare opportunity. We arrived at the location and the disparity between this meeting and our previous meeting the night before could not be more pronounced. The believer’s house was spacious and lavishly decorated. We had a large meal prepared for us, which our team dug into with a voracious appetite after a car trip two hours longer than anticipated. We found out we were actually meeting at his guest house. We couldn’t eat at his actual house because it would arouse too much suspicion during Ramadan. Despite this man’s wealth he keeps his Christianity hidden from the Muslims around him.
As we ate he told us his story. Growing up as a Muslim in this country and the futility of trying to keep all the rules and regulations of Islam. In despair he decided to give up since he knew it was impossible to do everything. He converted to Christianity so he could marry his wife, a Christian from another culture, but eventually surrendered his life to Christ with his own free will. As an underground believer in this country he makes do the best he can. A small house church meets in his guest house. He tries to share his faith by living a Christ like life, one full of love and joy, that would be attractive to Muslims. He wants to be trusting, but needs to be wary as the government is known to send spies to infiltrate the churches, according to him. In 1987 several church leaders were arrested and imprisoned, and the church has been afraid to be in the open since then. This man risks a lot for his faith and it made us appreciate the freedoms we have in our country. Our time with him ended as he played guitar and sang two praise songs in his native language. As we listened to the soothing lilt of his voice a quote from The Shawshank Redemption came to mind: “Some things are best left unsaid. I’d like to think he was singing about something so beautiful, it can’t be expressed in words and makes your heart ache because of it.”
Our conversations with these families have confronted the members of our team with the issue of persecution. In America, we may experience the raised eyebrow but we don’t experience the raised fist. We have wondered what we would do if we were faced with persecution like this family from Iran. Would we continue to praise and worship God, or would we recant our faith? Would we be bold in our faith, or would we worship in secret? Our friend, Y, from the Middle East remarked that suffering is the norm for Christians in many parts of the world. What seems so alien to us is part of the Christian life for many of our brothers and sisters in Christ—especially those living under Islam, atheism, communism, or military dictatorships. Would you join us in praying for the persecuted church? Will you pray that God will give them perseverance (Romans 5:3-5) that refines their faith and draws many who don’t believe to Him? Will you pray that God will meet their basic needs for food, shelter, clothing, and safety—needs that we so often take for granted? And will you join us in self-reflection, considering how much you would suffer for the sake of the name of Christ? Would you rejoice like the apostles (Acts 5:41), or would your faith buckle? Would you be willing, at this moment as you read this blog, to pause and count the cost of following Christ? As we study Acts we see that each time the Gospel spreads to a new region or people that persecution results. Are we doing enough, in our individual lives, to share the glorious story of Christ with a lost and dying world, or are we content in our complacency? Consider this quote from Nic Ripken’s The Insanity Of God, related to him by a believer who has suffered much for his faith in Christ: “Don’t you ever give up in freedom what we would never give up in persecution—and that is our witness to the power and resurrection of Jesus Christ!” We want to close this blog entry with a question from the same book: “You and I make the decision each morning: will I exercise my freedom to witness for Jesus today or will I be silent?”