The following article was written by Floyd Brobbel, VOMC’s Chief Operations Officer
Two stories recently came across my desk that caught my attention. Every now and then, out of the numerous stories of persecution that I see on a daily basis, one will assault my emotions with the weight and force of a sledgehammer breaking up concrete. It’s not that one story is more worthy or better than any other because they aren’t. If fact, after awhile, being exposed to so many stories of persecution, my defences tend go up and my heart becomes hard. But then God uses certain stories to make my heart soft again so that I can continue to be an effective servant for the Persecuted Church.
The first story was particularly hard to take and not for the faint of heart. Tears flowed freely as I sat at my desk and read the following report:
A nine-year-old Christian girl in Pakistan was reportedly gang-raped before being killed and dumped in a canal and outrage is growing amid reports that almost a month later no arrest has been made. Nisha Javid was walking close to her home when she suddenly disappeared, prompting her parents to mount a search for her. Barely two days later, with a police-led search underway, her body was found in a canal not far from the Javids’ home in Essangri village, outside the town of Jaranawala, Faisalabad. A post mortem revealed Nisha had been gang-raped and had died after repeated blows to the head.
The next story hit a little closer to home in that this could be me or any of my friends who work for The Voice of the Martyrs and minister in difficult circumstances.
Al-Qaeda has reportedly claimed responsibility for shooting and killing an American aid worker, Christopher Leggett (39), on June 23 in Nouakchott, the capital city of Mauritania. On June 25, Al-Jazeera TV reportedly received an audio statement from al-Qaeda which stated that "two knights of the Islamic Maghreb succeeded Tuesday morning at 8:00 a.m. to kill the infidel American Christopher Leggett for his Christianising activities." Leggett worked for a non-governmental organization in Mauritania involved in training and equipping prisoners to re-enter society. He also oversaw a microloan program which fostered the growth of small businesses. He had been a resident of Mauritania for the past seven years along with his wife and four children.
With each story I read, I sift through my emotions searching for an answer that will make sense out of all this madness. What I have come to discover is that the answer is not so hard to find but rather that I would rather not know it. The answer demands that it bring a profound impact on how I live my life. It requires that I change.
You see, the real issue that I wrestle with is not so much the injustice, persecution, or martyrdom of the brothers and sisters I read about. It is about my own willingness, as a follower of Jesus, to be willing to be used for the glory of God; by life or by death. That’s what is hard to embrace. Yet, what choice do I have?
This has been reinforced by what I have recently been spending my devotional time studying. Going through the Psalms, I came across this quote by John Calvin from a book entitled Heart Aflame – Daily Readings from Calvin on the Psalms. The quote is in reference to Psalm 10:6 where the psalmist summarized the thoughts of the wicked, “Nothing will shake me; I’ll always be happy and never have trouble."
“There is a very great difference between a despiser of God who, enjoying prosperity today, is so forgetful of the condition of man in this world, as though through a distempered imagination to build his nest above the clouds, and who persuades himself that he shall always enjoy comfort and repose, - there is a very great difference between him and the godly man, who, knowing that his life hangs only by a thread, and is encompassed by a thousand deaths, and who, ready to endure any kind of afflictions which shall be sent upon him, and living in the world as if he were sailing upon a tempestuous sea, nevertheless, bears patiently all his troubles and sorrows, and comforts himself in his afflictions, because he leans wholly upon the grace of God, and entirely confides in it.
The ungodly man thinks himself sufficiently strong and powerful to bear up against all the assaults which shall be made upon him. The faithful man says that although he may even fall and sink into the lowest depths, his fall will not be fatal, for God will put his hand under him to sustain him.” (emphasis added)
What a powerful statement and one that has started to bring some clarity for me. As Christians, we should not be surprised when suffering, in whatever form it comes to us in, assaults us. Not only should we be willing and ready to suffer, we must accept the fact that these things will happen. It’s inevitable. It’s unavoidable. This, as a result of the Fall, is what life in the real world is. Understanding that allows us to see that God had better plans for us and has a better future in store for us that goes beyond our personal comforts. This is where we live, like it or not.
We do not easily accept that, however. Our western culture especially resists suffering of any kind and seeks to avoid it as much as possible. I wonder how much time is wasted trying to build a life free from trouble and suffering instead of embracing life as it comes to us. Living a life that seeks to live in obedience to God and following Him in the midst of the thorns and thistles. Living for God and following after him often means walking through a brutal desert wasteland with no foreseeable provisions. It always involves actually picking up a cross in order to effectively communicate the Gospel to others. That type of living calls for a readiness to suffer and sacrifice rather than seeking after personal peace and affluence.
The early Christians understood this. I wonder, what changed? How is it that we, as Christians in Canada, find ourselves where we are today? How is it that we as Christians can believe that we can have our cake and eat it too, that we can hold onto this faith yet seek to live a life of pleasure and ease? How is it that we expect all our needs to be taken care of, that every sickness will be healed as we request, that we will lack for nothing and will be satisfied with a warm home and a full belly, and that any affliction or pain that comes our way is from the devil and with the right amount of faith we can bypass these inconveniences and live a life nestled above the clouds?
In “Choruses from the Rock” T.S. Elliot wrote:
O world of spring and autumn, birth and dying!
The endless cycle of idea and action,
Endless invention, endless experiment,|
Brings knowledge of motion, but not of stillness;
Knowledge of speech, but not of silence;
Knowledge of words, and ignorance of the Word.
All our knowledge brings us nearer to death,
But nearness to death no nearer to God.
Where is the life we have lost in living?
Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge?
Where is the knowledge we have lost in information?
The cycles of Heaven in twenty centuries
Bring us farther from God and nearer to the Dust.
“Where is the life we have lost in living?” Seeking a life devoid of suffering is futile and in the end brings us further from God. Living a life running from the desert, running from our cross, brings us nearer to the dust. Living a life seeking only the good, at the expense of the inconvenient and walking a path of least resistance is not only futile, it is folly. Paradoxically, the very life we try to avoid is the life that will bring us closer to God and to finding life itself.
To truly live is to embrace the day with all that it holds and to bring glory to God in the midst of it, because it is the righteous will see His face. Again, paradoxically, in that sense, we can have our cake and eat it too. But not according to conventional wisdom.
I have also been inspired and blessed by my friend and colleague, Glenn Penner. I have witnessed many servants of God humbly accept the suffering of a deadly disease that slowly laid waste to their bodies. I have stood in utter amazement to witness the gold that suffering has revealed in each one of these saints and passed on to those around them. Glenn is no exception.
The following is an excerpt from an interview “Faith Today” conducted with Glenn in their May/June edition:
Q. Glenn, what is the one message you would like to give to the evangelical church in Canada?
A. The fact of the reality of suffering Christians around the world. That suffering is normal for Christians. I was a pastor before I joined VOM. I don’t understand how people can run away from God in the midst of suffering but they often do. When we need God the most, we often run away from him. I have been so blessed, so honoured to work with our suffering brothers and sisters. They are so thankful that we come and serve them and show them we care. If the Canadian Church could see how improvised we are because we have robbed ourselves of the part of the Body of Christ...
Q. We’re not very good at suffering are we?
A. We see suffering as the worst thing that can happen whereas our brothers and sisters in the Persecuted Church see disobedience as the worst thing. I couldn’t have gone through this time without having my life enriched by them, by their faithfulness and trusting even when things don’t get better. One of our problems is we expect God to protect us.
Q. And God is not doing that?
A. He has greater priorities in our life than keeping us safe from harm. His priority is to make us into the image of His Son. We serve a suffering God.
“Where is the life we have lost in living?” I can say I see that life being lived by my friend and I pray that I can say that is the life I am living as well.