This month’s feature article in The Voice of the Martyrs Newsletter focuses on Colombia, one of the few nations in the western hemisphere where there is still violent persecution against God’s children. Our work there began almost a decade ago when I traveled to the cities of Cali and Bogota in response to requests to provide teaching on what the Bible teaches about persecution. As in other parts of the world, there was uncertainty among church leaders as to how to respond to suffering for the sake of Christ. Some saw it as an inevitable part of following the Lord faithfully. Others, incorrectly, saw any kind of suffering or hardship as evidence of lack of faith or punishment for sin. It was evident that many Colombian church leaders were being influenced by a strain of theology that suggested that it was always God’s will that His children be healthy and wealthy. Persecution and suffering for righteousness didn’t seem to fit into that theological framework very well.
I was initially invited to Cali as one of the guest speakers to a congress of close to 10,000 people who had gathered from across Latin America. It was the largest group I had ever spoken to. I was already a little nervous but to make it worse, I discovered that I immediately followed a speaker who claimed that it was the birthright of every Christian to prosper financially. With great enthusiasm, the speaker promised riches to those who followed the certain criteria he carefully laid out. As I listened, I thought to myself, “How am I going to follow up on this?” I looked at my notes and realized that what I had planned to speak on would never do. So I folded them up, put them in my pocket and asked for God’s guidance. When it was my turn to speak, I got up and spoke straight from my heart without any notes at all.
“Do you want to hear about the fastest growing church in the world?” I asked.
“Yes!” the crowd shouted back.
“Do you want to hear about the richest church in the world?” I asked.
“Yes!” they cried again.
“Good,” I said. “Let me tell you about the Persecuted Church around the world.” And for the next 30 minutes I shared about the persecution facing Christians, particularly in Sudan where I had visited only a few weeks earlier. I told the crowd of the suffering I had seen—the poverty and the sickness—and spoke to them about the courage, faith, and spiritual richness these believers gained because of their commitment to Christ and refusal to deny Him.
Then I drove home the point that I knew needed to be said.
“Don’t you ever tell me,” I said with my voice shaking, “that these dear brothers and sisters are suffering, sick, and poor because of a lack of faith! They are suffering because of their faith! And the church in Sudan is growing like nowhere else in the world today!”
I said a few more words and then sat down. Moments later, I was whisked away for a television interview I was scheduled for and so wasn’t able to witness the response to my challenge.
Apparently, it wasn’t good.
The following speaker publicly condemned me and my teaching, compelling my Latin American co-workers to walk out in protest. The next day, however, a seminar we were to teach on persecution was packed. Obviously, we had struck a nerve.
I didn’t realize how much, however, until a year later when I returned to Colombia to teach a three-day seminar in Bogota. Three pastors traveled there from Cali and gratefully told me how my teaching a year earlier had motivated them to re-examine the Scriptures and led them to abandon their previous misunderstandings about material and spiritual blessings. They had come to understand that suffering and persecution are evidence of faith, not a lack of it, and they thanked me profusely for helping them to see these things. In the face of violent persecution, being told that suffering is due to a lack of faith is not simply bad teaching; it is soul crushing and has caused untold numbers to doubt the reality of their walk with Christ.
Today, we have turned most of our work in Colombia over to our US sister mission. Ten years ago, however, few people really believed that there was persecution there. But we had seen with our own eyes what our brothers and sisters were going through and heard their testimonies with our own ears. We began the work of translating and publishing a number of VOMC books into Spanish to be distributed among Marxist guerrillas. Years later, we heard how hundreds of former persecutors had come to Christ as a result.
This work continues to this day. VOM Canada sowed the seed. Today, our sister mission is carrying on the work, watering the seeds, and we are grateful. Your support allowed us to open this nation to our ministry of serving the persecuted and so we thought that it would be good to share with you the fruit of our earlier labour. Thank you for your prayers and financial support as we continue to seek other new opportunities to serve God’s Persecuted Church where no one else is working.