We were blessed to participate in an incredible, humbling, and eye-opening experience this evening. Our pastor has a true heart for the persecuted church of other nations. As I imagine most believers have, we have “heard” the stories of believers and missionaries in foreign lands being threatened, arrested, jailed, tortured, and even killed for their faith. Yet, here in our spoiled, rich nation, comfy homes, and lavish luxuries, these persecuted believers seldom get a second thought. There are organizations dedicated to making their plights known–such as Voice of the Martyrs and others. When we really feel like being “Christian,” we might even pray for the folks mentioned by such organizations. Otherwise, though, it is far too easy to go about our daily lives, complaining about our loss of freedoms, and skipping out on church because we are just too tired that day (and I am as guilty as anybody!)
A couple months ago, our pastor came to us, and asked if we would host and help plan an evening event in honor of the persecuted church and believers. The idea was to give our congregation a simulated “typical” day of worship as experienced in a foreign nation where believers are heavily persecuted, and where gathering in general without government oversight is strictly forbidden. We were the only members of our small church that live in the country and in the forest, which is why he asked us. So we put our heads together, and the following is a (too lengthy) account of what occurred.
First, I must set the stage. We discussed our plans with all our neighbors, all of whom were more than happy to allow cars to park in their driveways, and to have folks walking through their land. Everything else had to be done “secretly,” in an attempt to stay under government radar. So, the pastor made everyone aware of the basics of the idea behind the event a couple weeks prior so they could pen it on their calendar. Then, the week of, we sent out a carefully written invitation to a simple and humble “celebration in honor of a Dear Friend.” Parking details were then sent, carefully worded with no addresses, and using only word-of-mouth when necessary. The instructions also were designed in such a way that no more than 2 vehicles were ever parked in the same area. All this was, of course, to “prevent drawing attention” to our event. Because of the parking set up, attendees had to find a way to walk through the woods to our house, but without being detected by “patrols.” The pastor asked a policeman-friend of his to be the patrol, and to stop and question anyone he found. The attendees were reminded in the instructions to be prepared for such an interrogation, but also, because they were believers, they could not tell a lie. They also could not say anything that could potentially risk the safety of their fellow-believers or the worship location (our home). Of course, the event itself must not draw attention either, so we had to cover all windows, use only candle light, and remain fairly quiet for the duration of the worship meeting. The time was set for just after dark, and attendees were asked to look for the single candle in the window to direct them to the correct home. They were to enter by a certain door, quietly remove their shoes, and then make their way quietly to the “safer” basement location where the meeting would take place. We would then remain reverent during the worship and prayer service, before leaving quietly, one family at a time. Of course, being a much poorer nation than the U.S., we had no furniture or electricity, so everyone sat on the floor, the room was as cold as we could make it, and the service was done entirely by candlelight and flashlight. The service itself consisted of a short prayer time and soft, reverent, acapella sing to open us, followed by any man of the house speaking his thoughts or a scripture that had been laid on his heart. Later, we watched a short, child-friendly, video re-creation of a true story of a man being tortured and persecuted for his faith (yeah, I know, we had to cheat a little on the electricity thing to run the DVD player). Finally, we wrapped up with a lengthy prayer time that resulted in a number of folks falling prostrate at the sheer power of God in that room.
The event turned out to be such an amazing experience for everyone, I believe! There really is no way to explain it. You had to be there. Three grown men wound up in tears at the realizations that were discovered this evening. One spoke of the realization he had as he tried to wrangle his 5 children, several being very young, quietly through the woods. He realized the critical importance of obedience, when a simple spoken word or disobedient mis-step could result in detection by the patrols. At the same time, he became thankful for the fact that we live in a nation where it is OK and even perfectly safe for children to be children and not have to fear such things. Another family was caught and questioned by the patrols, and managed to answer in a way that they were released, all the while, knowing they were carrying our written songs for the evening–a strictly forbidden item in the country! This of course, made them thankful for the blessing we have to carry and sing whatever we desire in relation to our worship times. Yet another family got lost in the woods on their way to our home. At one point, the wife slipped in our freshly fallen snow and fell. The temperature was around 19*, and they were cold (though nothing dangerous mind you, as there was a fence bordering our property, so they were never very far away, but remember, the house was dark!). Just then, through the trees, they spotted the faint glow of our candle in the window and began walking towards it. At the same time, they realized that the simple beacon of light was such a perfect parallel to Christ himself–our beacon of light and hope in times of trouble.
By the time the evening was over, I think we were all ready to be finished with complaining about our current government, recent election, or loss of our freedoms. Rather, we were ready to be more thankful for the incredible and countless blessings we have in our country. We still have the freedoms to let our children act like children, to drive right up to our church and fight over the best spot on a cold morning, and to safely use electricity and sing at the top of our lungs to our Savior if we desire to do so. We didn’t have to fear when the “patrol” policeman walked in and sat in our midst to join in our service. And certainly, we all left with an intense desire to do more to help others suffering persecution. Just like our sons, daughters, and local brothers and sisters in Christ are important to us, we should care more for our foreign brothers and sisters who are suffering tremendously on a daily basis, with hundreds of thousands being arrested and otherwise persecuted every single year.
The only thing that didn’t really go according to plan was the very end, when all were supposed to get up and quietly leave, one family at a time. I think the service was just too powerful, and there seemed to be a tremendous and overpowering desire for everyone to spend a few minutes in heartfelt, enjoyable, fellowship, where we could talk and embrace and say our goodbye’s the American way–just because we had the freedom to do so!
After the guests had all left, S and I began discussing our thoughts of the evenings, and he suddenly remembered the final episode of the fictional sitcom M.A.S.H. (for those of you old enough to remember). In this episode, one of the characters, Capt. Hawkeye Pierce had been sent to a mental institution. In trying to get to the bottom of what was troubling him, the doctor helped him come to terms with a situation that had occurred during the war. He was on a bus with some South Korean refugees, when the bus came to a stop and they were suddenly warned to be quiet as there were enemy patrols nearby. He quickly became annoyed at a particular woman in the back of the bus who had brought along a chicken that wouldn’t quit squawking. Worried for his safety, he finally admonished her to shut the chicken up. As the story continues, the doctor discovers that as the event unfolds, it turns out that she was not carrying a chicken at all, but her beloved baby. Realizing that her baby’s noises were endangering the lives of every person on the bus, she made the difficult choice to smother it instead.
Of all the things said tonight, that story hit me hardest as I realized that is EXACTLY what Christ did for us. Christ IS our Candle in the Window, and our Beacon of Light and Hope in a world of darkness BECAUSE He loved us and cared for us so very much that He gave His only Son so that we might be saved. Wow! How profound a parallel! As a parent, I cannot fathom such a love greater than for that of my spouse or children, and yet, our eternal life was so important that Christ gave His life so that we might have eternal life.
“Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” –1 Thessalonians 5:18
“For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten son, that whosoever believeth in Him shall not perish but have everlasting life.” –John 3:16