The Church Forged in Persecution
This week I received a mailing from The Voice of the Martyrs (VOM). For those of you who don’t know, VOM is an international ministry organization whose goal is to heighten awareness of and advocate support and services to the persecuted church around the world. I often include persecuted Christians around the world in my personal prayer life. So the work of VOM is something I am interested in and try to keep up with.
Anyhow this most recent mailing in particular was noteworthy because of a world map that was included. This map was color coded to portray two things. The first category was what was called “restricted countries.” These were countries in which government policy and practice prevented Christians from obtaining Bibles, other Christian literature, and assembling for worship. In these countries laws may allow or even promote harassment, imprisonment, or even assassination of Christians. This category includes Egypt, China, Cuba, and Iraq among many others. The second category is what VOM has labeled “hostile countries.” These are countries in which Christianity is technically legal and laws may even protect them, however Christians continue to be victimized by violence because of their witness. These countries include Columbia, Ethiopia, Mali, and Turkey among others. This map struck me because no matter how many stories I hear or books I read on Christian persecution, American Christians have no idea what communities of Christians around the world face. In a world of religious freedom, we have nothing to fear as we gather to worship and read the Bible together.
This week, however, as I looked at this map and read the stories that came with it I started wondering if we could learn something from these persecuted Christians. In many instances these countries and regions where the Christian Faith can get you incarcerated or killed are precisely the places the church is thriving and the gospel is being spread like wildfire. Perhaps this is because when faith remains something worth dying for, it becomes increasingly something worth living for.
Throughout the history of the church, the places where it faced resistance are also the places where it was strengthened. We do not have to go all the way to the early church or the Acts of the Apostles to see this is true. As a matter of fact in much more recent world history we can see how the church was blessed by many faithful leaders during the regime of Adolf Hitler in Nazi Germany. There are three well known church leaders who are still remembered and celebrated and whose work was essential to the “confessing church” (i.e., the name given to the segment of the European Church that continued to resist Hitler’s rule): Karl Barth, Martin Niemöller, and Dietrich Bonhoeffer.
The life and work of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, especially, have continued to provide inspiration and faithful witness to the church. I am happy to provide Christ Hamilton with an opportunity to explore that life and work during the season of Lent. On Wednesday nights, I would like to invite you all out to come out and learn about this amazing martyr. We will watch a portion of the film Bonhoeffer: Agent of Grace each week followed by a presentation/discussion. In the midst of this time together, I also hope to introduce you to his work entitled Life Together. This book remains to be an authoritative text on Christian community and came out of his experience directing an illegal seminary for the confessing church in Finkenwalde. Although we shouldn’t wish persecution upon anybody, I pray that the faith of the persecuted church can bless and inspire us as we explore what it means to be disciples of Christ.