It was before dawn on Easter morning when I woke up to get ready for the day. My wife still had sign-up sheets to print for the photo booth. I had a collared shirt to iron, and a shower to take. That’s when I received a message from my Pakistani Christian friend who I served with during my Journeyman term. His message was all but familiar at this point: another attack against Christians.
Three years ago, suicide bombers struck a church in Peshawar on Easter morning. More than eighty were killed. Suicide bombers killed more than a dozen and injured dozens more in a Christian community last March. And just days ago, more than 75 people were slaughtered at a children’s park packed with Christians celebrating Easter. Most of the dead were women and children. Feet away from the swings.
Several Easters ago, I was given the absolute honor of preaching at a Pakistani church which had gone through persecution. Real persecution, the kind I only read about in books or watched on the news. The kind that required a police perimeter for service; and the chairs be removed so people did not sit level with the broken windows lest there was gunfire.
What could an educated American Christian possibly say to the persecuted?
I began with Saul's conversion from persecutor to evangelist in Acts 9. That in the face of trials for nothing other than our faith, we must pray for our enemies to turn from their spiritual blindness and wicked ways. And when every ounce of our flesh wants to seek revenge with the weapons of this world, we must seek God's strength to love our enemies.
Then I shared from Revelation 21. In the final verses of this book, John describes one of his visions of a new heaven and a new earth. It is a place where God "will be with them...[and] will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away. Then the one seated on the throne said, 'Look, I am making everything new'" (21:3-5)!
Since that morning in a dusty village on the Punjab, it has become easy to see events like the suicide bombing as sad, tragic and horrific. They are. But then life moves on until I am awoken again by my friend thousands of miles away. Another attack. More Christians dead. I get it...however, what can I do? It was easy to become numb to events so far away and removed from my daily schedule.
I was asking the wrong question. Instead I needed to ask: what is God wanting to teach me?
What the persecuted church has shown me is that there is a real cost to following Christ. It's not always physical but sometimes it is. To be Christian is to be persecuted is the local saying. Luke 14 tells us that counting the cost is actually the norm. Whereas our freedom to worship in relative peace (of which I am grateful for) is only experienced by a tiny percentage of Christians around the world.
Is my "following Christ" costing me anything?
What these persecuted Christians have also shown me is to always have hope. The enemy may take everything from us but we have something they can never take away: living hope in Jesus Christ. For He has conquered death, even death on the cross and rose again on the third day to demonstrate His incredible power. This is the God in whom we place our eternal hope.
Am I placing my hope solely in the One who is risen?
This month, do not forget our brothers and sisters around the world who suffer for the faith. This is the cross they carry. Let their perseverance give us the strength to carry our crosses. Because together, wherever we are, we have hope in the Only Hope who can transform the hardest of hearts, the Only Hope who can restore this broken and evil world.