Persecution of the Unsaved

by Ethan Moore on November 21, 2013 · 11 comments

My name is Sammy.  I’m 24 years old, and I live far away from most of you.  I don’t have a car, a passport, or a Judeo-Christian cultural background.  I do, however, have a story.

I remember the first time I saw Mr. Robert and his wife Sarah.  As usual, I was hawking my father’s special tea from a small metal cart containing a small brazier of live coals, simmering water, and an enormous bag of aromatic leaves for the beverages I sold.  The American missionaries stood in the market surrounded by my people, an island of khaki and plaid in a sea of solid-colored shawls and scarves.  Bright pinks and oranges and lavenders flowed around them without interruption as they purchased spices and onions and things for which they had no English name.

Americans, as a rule, do not drink from anything that lacks a sealed cap, so Sarah’s request for two cups surprised me.  Her spoken language was serviceable, but not excellent.  She paid in local currency and offered me the most curious blessing: that the god would illuminate my path and open my mind.

Ms. Sarah bought many cups of tea from me in the market, always punctuating her purchases with a strangely worded something.  Her statements struck me as an amalgam of an Eastern proverb and a hopeful wish.   I never asked what she meant; these things are to be accepted as gracious gifts from others regardless of their lack of clarity.  Besides, I marketed in tea not philosophy.

Mr. Robert initiated our first discussion.  Conversation with men flowed with greater ease than with women, especially an American.  Robert and I debated sports at first  - soccer.  In the coming months, we moved on to banter about spiciness of cuisine.  He staunchly supported, much to my surprise, the hottest chilies and their derived sauces.  My family moved here from the northern hills two generations ago, and as such we obviously use such things with greater trepidation.

Mr. Robert and Ms. Sarah met my family.  They invited me to their home.  They showed me their ceiling fans and bookshelves.  Mr. Robert walked with me as I sold tea, meeting my friends and neighbors and enemies alike.

I watched them shower grace on everyone.  They forgave without rancor.  They welcomed everyone without outward reservation.  They extended peace to everyone.  For all my culture’s talk about inner peace and outward pacifism, Mr. Robert and Ms. Sarah embodied those characteristics more than anyone I knew.

We often fatten our lives on the mundaneness of daily living.  We absorb attitudes and words and events without thought, without realizing the degree to which these things inform and flesh out who we are.  At other times, though, single moments arise and we know with all certainty that we have encountered a hinge in life – a fulcrum on which our futures swing gently until we decide to go this way or that.

The day I asked Mr. Robert what made them different was my hinge.

He said many things I did not understand yet which resonated within me on levels I did not realize existed outside of poetry and philosophy.  Before I left that day, Mr. Robert gave me a small book, a new testimony of some kind about his god.

And so I read.  Day and night, I read.  I did not understand, nor did I commit to anything.  Ms. Sarah continued with her purchase of tea and bizarre blessings, and still I read.  I read and read.  I read because I knew that soon another hinge would present itself; I needed to know what to do when that moment came, but I lacked the understanding of what my choices would be.

I was reading the day my father caught me, the day he snapped a broom handle in half, the day he beat me as one beats a mule who has tipped his load once too often.  Oh, how he beat me.

And so here I stand in the street, bruised and bleeding, looking at the flowered-covered walls of Mr. Robert’s front gate.  People pass and stare at the clothe-torn, heart-broken tea vendor who sniffles and shuffles without going anywhere.  With the gods or God as my witness, I know not what to do.  I want to bang on the gate and scream at the house and ask why they gave me this book without warning me more thoroughly that this might happen, that my father and uncles would react in this way as my mother cried in corner about betrayal and shame while I tried to explain that I was only searching for the truth and peace that had eluded me and my family and my friends and my enemies and my entire world.

I want to ask Mr. Robert why he taught me without protecting me or at least without truly convincing me that such protection was needed.  I have no experience with this thing that they do, this Way that they live and act; despite Mr. Robert’s words, I never realized my father – my supposedly freethinking, philosophizing-over-tea-with-old-men, truth-loving father would do this.  Did Mr. Robert?  Did he know this would happen here in this place, this world that is nothing like his?  I don’t know if he was prescient enough to predict my father.

Is this why I have heard of but never met others in my city who follow Mr. Robert’s Way?  Does he shelter them from whatever storms he foresees?  I suppose that once he led them to their own personal hinge-moments he felt responsible for them.  They were his sheep and goats, sheltered from raging fathers and splintered broom-handles.

And me?  What duty did Mr. Robert have to protect me?  None, I suppose.  After all, I am still an unsheared, woolly mountain ram, untamed and untaught.  I’ve not yet entered the pen for feeding and protection.  I had my chances, I guess.

I read of a man, Nicodemus, who sought to understand this Jesus.  He feared reprisal or something and so approached the Jesus by night.  Would others have beaten him just for asking?  Only for being curious?  This man Jesus said something about his followers being repaid for all they lost because of their faith.  What of my loss?  I don’t even have faith yet and I’ve already lost blood and blood-kin.

Should I be angry with Mr. Robert?  Did he owe me warnings and protection?  I don’t know.  Any good teacher must protect his students, but I am not sure if I was a student just yet.  My hinge is still swinging and squeaking, and I’ve not yet decided whether to open the door or close it.  I suppose I thought there would be no repercussions so long as I did not commit.

I was wrong.

In much of the world, there’s a price to pay for being a Christian, a heavy price that takes an emotional, spiritual, and physical toll.  Here in North America, it is easy to forget such things.  However, even more casually set aside is the notion that there are repercussions simply for asking the wrong kind of questions, queries that predate salvation by weeks and months.  There are a million Sammys out there trying to decide if it is worth the risk.  Alongside them are a million Mr Roberts desperately trying to decide whether Sammy is seeking to know Christ or to persecute Him.  

1 Jeremy Parks November 21, 2013 at 1:10 pm

I was hoping to generate a discussion of sorts, perhaps relating to how someone like Mr. Robert can open the kingdom to Sammy without endangering those who have already entered.

2 David Rogers November 21, 2013 at 1:23 pm

Jeremy,

I just now read it. There is a lot there to think about. I think perhaps some of us are a bit hesitant to jump in and give our opinion since we haven’t been in Sammy’s place, and, for many us, haven’t been in Mr. Robert’s place either. It is good to think about these things, though. The answers are not easy. Thanks for opening our eyes to realities like this that many around the world have to deal with on an everyday basis.

3 Dave Miller November 21, 2013 at 3:14 pm

Your posts are always thoughtful – and quirky! Both qualities I admire.

I keep holding out hope that one of these days people will be as interested in posts like this as the more controversial topics.

4 Clark Dunlap November 21, 2013 at 4:46 pm

So happens Mr Robert is my bro-in-law who is visiting with us for the holidays before returning to large unnamed country. He is not an IMB’er but works with one with a specific people group in mind. He labors to build relationships because track-bombing and impromptu evangelistic conversations with strangers can put him and others in jeopardy. But try as he may he can’t get to know everyone’s situation and sometimes someone gets mistreated for their interest in Christ.
Sometimes his IMB friend feels the need to meet some kind of quota regarding sharing the gospel w/ “x” number of people and Mr Robert tries to tell him to be ever so careful with that because A) it could get him expelled, B) it could mean reprisals on the sharee, and C) it could mean more persecution for Christ-followers in their country. And yet both Mr Roberts and his friend believe that ‘as they go they are to make disciples.’
Apparently there is no “one size fits all” when it comes to evangelism. Much wisdom and even finesse is required to bring the gospel to hostile areas. Like Earth.

5 Jeremy Parks November 21, 2013 at 5:15 pm

OK – let me ask about your opinion of all of this: do you think Mr. Robert has a duty to protect seekers? I mean, I imagine he’s encountered folks who are not really interested in Christ; they just want to find out where the church meets so as to inform the government or community leaders.

Or does his paternal care only extend to those he knows are Christians?

You’ve made an excellent point: “…try as he may he can’t get to know everyone’s situation and sometimes someone gets mistreated for their interest in Christ.” He can’t know everyone, or everything. He can’t predict, regardless of Sammy’s feelings, whose family will react in what ways. Good call.

Thanks for interacting. My heart breaks not only for Sammy, but for folks like your brother in law who have to ask “Can I say this? To him? Or not?”

6 Jim Hedrick November 23, 2013 at 5:17 pm

Quotas are dangerous comforts for modern purpose driven believers. Bonafide witnesses are not cut and paste dialogs or quotient conversations. I pray our cross cultural ambassadors for Christ will be led by the Spirit to converse with discernment and overflowing wisdom as they make Christ known in the earth. God please help us.

7 Casey Wallker November 21, 2013 at 4:48 pm

Great article. Sammy’s story is pretty relatable. On our college campus we have an incredibly high percentage of international students. One of the biggest heartaches we, students involved in Collegiate ministries, faces is hearing about the international student who’s interest for the Gospel was peaked while they were with us, but has been quickly and sternly dismissed by their families upon returning home. Those who do become believers, we do everything we can to prepare them, to try and equip them as best we know how to be self-feeding from the Word, as well as try and help them find a body of believers in their city. At the end of the day, it’s all about discerment. It is hard to interpret the level of interest a student has for what I’m talking about, versus the risks I am exposing them to. There is that part of me that says “Do I really want their first experience of the Kingdom to be the side I still have never really had to face?”

8 Greg Harvey November 21, 2013 at 6:52 pm

It’s interesting that the Roman Catholic church usually has much better answers to these questions than Southern Baptists do…they have a very well defined concept of “sanctuary” and recognize the value of continuing “physical” helps ministries in a way that Southern Baptists generally don’t.

In Indonesia there was a very strong sense that the church was the family for believers. They especially tended to be ostracized by the majority (who were nominally Muslim.) It’s gotten rougher over time and included riots and church burnings directed specifically at Christians though it’s my opinion that the majority of those stories are in the periphery.

One area that has tended to be somewhat difficult is the Aceh region in North/Northwestern Sumatra. It is notable (and interesting) that the tsunami that came ashore on the western side of Sumatra hit the Aceh region very hard. Some of the people who went to help–many of them part of the IMB extended “family”–reported that they saw a softening of hearts that had never been nearly as pronounced in previous work with people in the region. That is purely anecdotal, of course, so you can take it as you will.

I don’t think we ought to intentionally either expose believers to danger OR shield them from the social implications of their decisions to follow Jesus. But we should encircle them and we ought to provide the family that is lost to them when they make that decision. And the extent to which we can provide a full disclaimer–even at the risk that they choose not to take up the cross–we should feel very comfortable doing so and trust God to work out the details regarding conviction and sense of security in his protection.

Who is to say that God might not have a very specific plan for every single martyr that dates literally to “eternity past”? Can we or should we shield them from that tremendous difficulty or from the honor it means when God chooses one of us to suffer greatly? No. But praying for them fervently seems to me to be an effective spiritual response both for visible and invisible spiritual difficulty.

9 Bob Cleveland November 21, 2013 at 7:43 pm

I know whenever I tell someone something that might result in their becoming more dangerous to satan, I remind them that satan will almost always attack those people who are about to become more dangerous to him (satan). At least they can prepare for, or expect it. And when it happens, it makes the Christian testimony even more credible.

10 Jeremy Parks November 21, 2013 at 10:25 pm

And Bob walks into my carefully constructed trap….

You said, “it makes the Christian testimony even more credible.” I agree with you, by the way, that facing and surviving the attacks of the enemy do strengthen and support the Christian testimony. Our friend Sammy, though, is not a Christian. He has no “Christian testimony” to strengthen.

How does your advice help him?
(and thanks for playing)

11 Strider November 24, 2013 at 12:14 pm

The best work done on this topic is found in ‘The Insanity of God: A True Story of Faith Resurrected’ by Nick Ripkin.
You have a couple of issues here to address. One is methodology. Could truth have been shared better. The answer is probably. Our own team working in a Muslim country under a Communist dictatorship tries to not share with individuals. We share in groups and whole communities if we can. We would not have given a book to Sam without his family’s knowledge. Or, more correctly, we have done that and we will not do it again! But, at the end of the day people still suffer- believers and non.
The second issue is a good theology of suffering. This one is harder. The bigger picture is that Sam was suffering in a broken community, in a broken family, spiritually dead, in bondage to sin, without hope, and heading for an eternity in Hell. I hate to hear anyone got beat up but can we really say he is worse off than before? If this path leads him to eternal life then this is the path he must walk…. or perish forever.
And while we are on the subject we, as today’s Church, need to face this issue as well. Is our primary consideration as we proclaim the Gospel health and safety for our families? Let me say this clearly- and it answers the quota question and the fear issue brought up earlier: I serve at Jesus’ discretion. He is my Boss, my King, my General. I do not work for the IMB- I am supported by the IMB as a Southern Baptist who is called by God to work where I do. I am very grateful for your support and I am accountable to some good brothers in Christ but my Boss is Jesus. I never do anything out of fear except for fear of God: not fear of getting hurt, not fear of losing my visa, not fear of man ever. Quotas do not exist officially on the field but we are continually spurred on to love and good works which is proper and right. There is more to say but I am supposed to go read to my son now.

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