Did you know that right now as you read this, there are missionaries across the planet who are having to meet with their church members in secret? Missionaries who are being arrested for preaching the Gospel? It baffles my mind that this still goes on. Here we are over here in posh America where “enough is never enough”…where a hard day at church is when someone takes “our pew” or someone passed by us without saying, “Hi”. While we are arguing about the color of the carpet or how a program wasn’t run the right way, or how awful the choir sounded during the morning service, our brothers and sisters in Christ are craving our privilege to worship the Lord publically.
We were privileged to hear from one of these “persecuted” missionaries tonight in church and take him to dinner afterwards and ask him lots of questions. This man and his wife have been “secret missionaries” in SouthEast Asia for 15 years. In the past year, word got out to their government that he was holding church services in his home. He suspected that one or two visitors over the past year or so might have been spies to report info back to the government officials. Months ago, he was summoned twice to talk to government officials. When interrogated, he openly admitted to them that He was preaching the Gospel. He even used that opportunity to witness to the officials. Both times they mysteriously released him and he was able to return back to his home in SouthEast Asia to continue the Lord’s work.
However, things took a drastic turn this past December of 2018. It was a Christmas service and 22 people were meeting together in his home to worship the Lord and to have a fun Christmas celebration. The doorbell of his home rang. He stopped the service and looked out on his balcony to see who was downstairs. Every other time this had ever happened, it was just a tardy church member. But this time was very different. It was something that he and his church called a “Code Red”. He saw 3 police officers standing on his doorstep. The members of his church sprang into action and began to put the Bibles and songbooks in their usual hiding place under a mattress that had a secret compartment. The missionary walked downstairs and opened the door and the officers came in. They went right to the hiding place and retrieved the Bibles and songbooks (further evidence that they had been spied on). They also took his computer that held all of his sermons and contacts. Then they put him in the back of their police car and separately arrested all of the other members. His mind was filled with concern for his other church members, especially his wife. He had no idea if she had been arrested or not but was concerned for her safety. The policemen questioned him extensively and gave him a final warning. He was being deported. He had a week to collect his belongings and leave the country. Any contact at all with the other church members would result in jail time. Upon his release, he took a taxi back home and tears filled his eyes as he saw that his wife had not been arrested. He still has no idea why she was spared, other than the Lord’s mercy. This woman who he said at one point would have excitedly packed for America in 2.5 minutes was weeping with sorrow over the thought of leaving their beloved people. Their hearts were so heavy. The next couple of days consisted of making preparations to leave for America. They sold everything they owned, took half of their clothes and their dog and they left. Without an opportunity for a proper goodbye and with much sadness, they traveled back to America. Unbeknownst to them at the time, their fellow church members were jailed for 7 days before finally being released. They were warned to never meet as a church again. They are currently laying low, wishing they had the freedom to worship that you and I take for granted.
These amazing missionaries now have plans to be missionaries in another communistic country. They feel that the Lord wants them to go specifically into these hard-to-reach places and their sending church in Texas unanimously agrees. They will be leaving on January 18th and I know that they would love to have your prayers as they face the unknowns of what is to come as well as recover from the heartbreak they experienced just a few short weeks ago.
My husband and I considered it a great privilege to hear him speak to us of what he had faced while on the mission field. Everything he spoke of was so foreign to us. Being in ministry together for almost 13 years, my husband and I have seen so much ugliness in our American churches: Pettiness, disagreements that led to unforgiving spirits, gossip, complaining, and even personal attacks and threats. So many people groan on Sunday mornings when they “have to” get up and go to church. When Sunday rolls around each week, church attendance is a decision instead of a determination for many Americans. For some, when they are made to stand up and sing songs about the Lord, their mouths move, but no sound comes out. They are anxiously waiting for the next opportunity to sit down. They are checking their watches, counting down the minutes until they can go to lunch. The only prayer going on in their minds is a prayer that the preacher won’t go over his “time limit”. This is many times an accurate description of American Christianity – and perhaps it has been a description of you and me. Yet, there is no room for this kind of spoiled behavior in places where the Gospel must be strategically preached in secret. They have a job to do and a short few years on this earth to do it. We can learn much from them.
As I stood on stage at church tonight singing with the music team, I watched the missionary’s face as he sang along. His eyes were closed and he was clearly soaking in this freedom of worship. Suddenly, the things that were important to me earlier today took a backseat. I felt his appreciation. I felt his tenderness toward the Lord. I wanted that. I don’t know how much longer we will have this freedom of worship in the United States, but while it exists, I want to utilize it. I want to utilize my freedom to type things about the Lord on social media, and I want to look for opportunities to share my faith with everyone I come in contact with on a daily basis. I want to excitedly walk into our church building and have a grateful spirit for the honor of publically worshipping beside my brothers and sisters in Christ.
This year at our church, our theme is “The Mission”. As the song says, “Across the street or around the world – the mission’s still the same – proclaim and live the truth in Jesus’ name.” This particular missionary started off our first Sunday of the year giving us all a unique perspective and I’m so thankful for that. On Wednesday, we will be hearing from another missionary who has recently come off of the mission field after his home was invaded and his wife witnessed men putting a gun to their 1 year old’s head. This is real. This kind of stuff is going on more than we think. So let’s pray for these fellow Christians who are on the front lines. Furthermore, let’s put aside our pettiness and preferences and let’s thankfully use our privilege to praise our Savior and proclaim His truth to the world!