I don't deal well with persecution.
What I mean is this: I care deeply about the persecuted church. I am bothered by apathy in the Body about it, and I burn with anger when I read of Christians being mutilated in Turkey, burned to death in India, or being tortured with power drills in Pakistan. I am consistently dismayed by the deliberate lack of coverage this receives in the media, which attempts to portray Christians as bigots and buffoons at every turn.
Apart from these cases of overt, barbaric, physical persecution, closer to home, the more subtle oppression of Christians in Eastern Europe is a pet peeve of mine. I have written about society and governmental perception of Bible-believing Christians in Bulgaria and the more hard-line regime against them in Belarus here before.
Widely considered cultists, loonies and heretics, the Church in Eastern Europe experiences a uniquely passive-aggressive form of persecution which is the result of smear campaigns, media propaganda and jealousy from the Eastern Orthodox Church. In the 19th century, this took the form of Orthodox-led riots, pogroms and burnings of Protestant property; nowadays registration permits are denied, rumors are spread, and the mass media are used to publicly discredit evangelicals.
This infuriates me.
But here's the interesting thing: it seems to bug the Christians caught in the fray far less than it does me.
When I was in Bulgaria again last summer, the elderly congregants at the Baptist church were the most joyful, contented individuals I noticed the entire time we were there. Half of the 2.5 million people in Sofia look angry; the other half look clinically depressed. But not the Christians. They don't seem to give a rat's patootie that they are still a maligned minority; they've got Jesus, and He's all they need to be joyful.
When I spent time interviewing my former pastor, he passionately said his years in prison were the best gift God could have given him. Most of his books center around the theme that as disciples of Christ, we must expect persecution and be ready at all times to make sacrifices for our faith. He related anecdotes of recent media attempts to cast Christians in a bad light - most of them instigated by the Orthodox Synod (itself the center of a political controversy). Despite the slander, he held not a hint of animosity.
Recently, I posted a review of an earlier Bulgarian pastor's 13-year ordeal at the hands of the Communists. When I read details of how deranged men tortured, beat and starved Christ-followers within an inch of their lives, I seethe. My anger is all the more intense knowing how this evil, godless ideology has sucked in naive people. People who are close to me, and are thoroughly brain washed. Pastor Popov prayed for and warned against hating the Communists. But you know what? I hate the Communists. HATE them. I hate extremists in India who slice open pregnant women and pour kerosene on Christians, just to watch them burn. Two years ago, when I read of the attack on the Australian missionary family whose father and sons were burned to death, I felt rage.
And then the widow forgave the killers. The Indian believers continue to praise God, knowing each service might be their last. The Belarussian Christians hold their illegal meetings surreptitiously, and the Bulgarian evangelicals doggedly continue to feed the hungry and counsel the prisoners.
In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. 7These have come so that your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. (1 Peter 1:6-7)
They get it. I struggle to rejoice, because according to my human logic, it's just so wrong.
Even closer to home, I do not do well with the even smaller, also annoying barbs that come from my parents for my being a Christian. Part of the reason I am so well-versed in Scripture and apologetics is to be able to give a ready response to the attacks my father makes on my faith. (Oh, he likes to be sneaky about it - I call it back-door antagonism). To be sure, as Beth Moore once wrote, "I'm not sure we can really relate to religious persecution in this country, and it's rather nauseating when we try." (That's the one and only time I'll quote Beth Moore on this blog. In this case, though, her point happened to be well-taken.)
I keep a calm demeanor and a rational tone when countering attacks, but inwardly
Here's Peter's advice (I dearly love the apostle Peter; especially that sword episode with Malchus' ear):
I want to slap the snot out of I am a bit irritated. Why don't people open their idiot eyes already and just believe on Christ? The Bible's authenticity has been proven many times over; how hard is it to get a library book on apologetics?!?
Finally, all of you, live in harmony with one another; be sympathetic, love as brothers, be compassionate and humble. 9Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult, but with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing.
But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed. "Do not fear what they fear; do not be frightened." 15But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, 16keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander. 17It is better, if it is God's will, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil. (1 Peter 3:8-9; 14-17).
Lord, change my heart. Somewhere deep down inside, there's a quiet and gentle spirit just dying to get out.
Yeah, I just am finding the balance between righteous anger and the acceptance of suffering with joy (especially other people's suffering, when they don't deserve it) hard to find. Amazing that those in the midst of it handle it with so much more grace and acceptance than I can find possible.
Below is a September 2008 posting from the Russian Christians in Siberia:
Dear brothers and sisters! We ask you to pray for our ministry to the Far East Russia.
«With all prayer and petition pray at all times in the Spirit, and with this in view, be on the alert with all perseverance and petition for all the saints, and pray on my behalf, that utterance may be given to me in the opening of my mouth, to make known with boldness the mystery of the gospel…" Eph. 6:18-19
1. Following a week September 18th in our city will the big Christian concert.Please pray, that the government our city to open their hearts to cooperation and to not interfere in carrying out of a concert.Also that it is a lot of people which not know the God could to come on this concert and to hear the gospel.
2. In the begun October Nika will organize regional Christian conference for women .Please pray, that the God to give her a wisdom and Holy Spirit to change a life many women through this conference.
3. In connection with event in Georgia and South Ossetia the government has changed attitudes to Christians. The main religion Russia - Orthodoxy. Many Christians Protestants cannot spend public a meeting and cannot openly preach the Gospel.Please pray, that the government has changed the attitude and has opened a door for the sermon of the Gospel.
4. Pray, that the God has given new work (jab) for Zhenya that he had more time for our ministry in Birobidzhan. Time for personal preparation a pray and reading the Bible, also for a meeting with people for the Bible studying. That the God has filled our financial need.
5. Pray for greater Christmas meeting that much our friends have come to our house and to learn about love the God who was given His son for them.
6. Pray, that the God has given us a building for church.
Your in Christ Zhenya and Nika Aksutin