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Commission on Religious Liberty

Do Not Forget the Suffering Church

by Rev. Max Schläpfer — WAGF Religious Liberties Commission Chairman

Do you love heroes? Do you love the heroes of faith? I’m sure you do, and rightly so! We all love the heroes of faith. We also know that they are mentioned in the Bible. In Hebrews 12 the heroes of faith are called a cloud of witnesses — they have gone before us and are a source of strength and encouragement to us to live our lives with the Lord Jesus.

THREE GROUPS OF HEROES OF FAITH

We find a fascinating and detailed list of these heroes of faith in Hebrews 11. Have you noticed that this list is divided into three groups? We find the first group in Hebrews 11:29-35. They are the ones who saw the result of their faith: Moses who crossed the Red Sea, Joshua who saw the walls of Jericho fall, Gideon who delivered the people from the yoke of their enemies.

The second group are the ones who did not see the result of their faith: Abraham and Sarah, who did not live to see the multitudes promised to them, and Joseph, who did not experience the exodus from Egypt. The Bible tells us about them that these all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth.

The third group consists of people that we might not have seen as heroes of faith, but the Bible includes them in this list. These are the people who faced great difficulties because of their faith.

We love to talk about those who have actually received the promises and seen the goal. We love winners! Individuals who have reached a visible result are celebrated, which is fine to a certain degree. But we forget the silent heroes of faith, our brothers and sisters who have experienced suffering and whose names are not mentioned in the books of church history. This kind of hero of faith still exists today. Remember that they too are victors or, rather, they are overcomers. They deserve respect because they have persevered and have reached the goal. Without a doubt today’s brothers and sisters of the suffering church belong to these silent heroes of faith!

FACTS ABOUT THE SUFFERING CHURCH

Each month 322 Christians are killed for their faith, 214 churches and Christian properties are destroyed, and 772 forms of violence (such as beatings, abductions, arrests etc.) are committed against Christians worldwide!

Let’s face it: Christianity is the most persecuted religion in the world.

In order that these facts do not remain general, here a story from Nigeria:

Until six months ago Habila Adamu lived in Yobe State in Northern Nigeria together with his wife and their four-year-old son. The majority of the population there is Muslim. Besides working at his job, he was also a broadcaster for the Christian radio station. His Muslim boss disapproved of this and fired him two years ago.

By means of a loan, Habila was able to start his own business, first by opening a small shop and later opening a tent rental to continue providing for his family. His shop was destroyed by a Muslim mob and his tents were rented by radical Muslims only to be burned.

It happened on an evening in October 2014. “We had gone to bed at 10:00 p.m. after the regular evening power outage,” remembers the fifty-five-year-old. “We saw flashlights along the house and suddenly we heard a voice call out, ‘Nigerian Army, come out!’ But the men soon standing in our house were not soldiers but members of the Islamic group Boko Haram.”

The leader of the group explained, “Habila, we don’t want to kill you. We just want you to worship Allah, the true god.”

Habila answered, “And I am praying that you will meet Jesus, who loves you and gave His life for you.”

The leader asked Habila three times to deny Christ and to profess Allah. When Habila continued to refuse, a gang member shot him in the face. As confirmed later, the bullet blew away part of his lower jaw. Thinking they had killed him, the Islamists left Habila Adamu lying in a huge pool of blood. They warned his wife not to tell anyone, or else they would shoot her and her son as well.

While she was still weeping over her supposedly dead husband, she heard him whisper in a weak voice, “I’m not dead.“ After the shooting outside died away, Habila’s wife asked her Muslim neighbors to take her husband to the clinic. In the car, Habila heard the men say, “He was the last Christian here.”

That night the terrorists had killed all the other Christians in that area.

This is one of many stories of brave people who belong to the cloud of witnesses today. The testimony of the suffering church is indeed a testimony of victors. These brothers and sisters overcome because they see beyond the temporary dimension. This world is not the only existing reality. There is an eternity. If you live in awareness of this unseen reality you will have a source of strength to endure injustice, suffering and pain. The Bible clearly points to this reality when it says: “Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken …” (Hebrews 12:28).

A MYSTERY AND A STAGGERING REALITY

We have to admit that in all sufferings, mystery will always remain. Stephen was stoned, Peter was rescued from prison, James was beheaded, and Paul went to prison. Why these different results? In the end, we don’t know. But one thing we do know: By the power of the Spirit the Lord can change situations or He can turn suffering to our ultimate good and even use it to serve the spiritual progress! The Bible shows another staggering reality: It is even possible to rejoice in suffering, because suffering can cause spiritual progress in our lives (Romans 5:3-5).

When Job fell into his suffering, the Bible says Job arose and tore his robe and shaved his head and fell on the ground and worshiped. In all his sufferings, he found the strength to worship instead of becoming bitter. Why could he worship in his terrible situation? Because he knew that the almighty God could change his situation or, if not, He would give him strength and would carry him through!

We also might experience pain and suffering. For most of us it doesn’t necessarily mean persecution. But we are confronted with rejection, injustice, disappointments and frustrations because of our faith. In such situations, the testimony of the overcomers leads to patience and encouragement, because they have gone before us and overcome. Though not all of them saw the promises, they stayed faithful.

DO NOT FORGET

We do not know what the future brings. We do not know whether we will have to bear difficult situations or even sufferings. But one thing we should never forget, the Spirit of power is within us and He will comfort us. The Holy Spirit will protect the peace of God in our hearts. The joy deep down in our souls will not vanish. Our assurance is that the Lord has everything in His hands and will use all circumstances for the ultimate good of those who love God.

There is, however, another thing the Bible tells us: To remember those who are in prison, as though we were in prison with them, and those who are mistreated, as though we were mistreated with them (Hebrews 13:3).

Please do not forget to pray for the suffering church! As individuals and as churches let us not forget to pray for them. Make this a regular part of your personal prayer life and if possible part of the regular prayer life of the church!