As part of the International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church (IDOP), I was invited to share with a thriving youth group. This creative group changed their entire routine to create an environment which simulated a house church meeting. The usual hubbub of bright lights, games, snacks and laughter was replaced by dimly-lit rooms, with screens showing videos describing real-world persecution events. As each student walked in, they were handed a pamphlet describing a prisoner to pray for, and they were given the opportunity to write a letter to that prisoner. It was a powerful, thought-provoking interaction for each student.
As students huddled on the floor (all of the chairs were removed for the evening), I shared about “Pastor M” from the Nuba Mountain region of Sudan. He is an excellent example of faithfulness in the midst of suffering. When Pastor M was a young man, he went to Sunday Schools started by Australian Evangelical missionaries, who brought the Gospel to his area. The church in his area was weak—most people still followed tribal religious beliefs.
In 1962, the missionaries left, because of what he calls “the first war,” and Pastor M carried on their work. As Pastor M boldly continued the work of the missionaries, and planted churches, the Gospel spread very powerfully in the region. But, along the way, Pastor M faced, and by God’s grace, was able to overcome incredible challenges!
Using his story as an example, let’s consider two specific tactics that can be used to distract us from our calling:
TACTIC #1: TORTURE. As soon as it became clear that Pastor M was not going to slow down his ministry work, he was taken to prison, and interrogated for 1 year. Then, he was taken to a prison in another city, and tortured severely. His tortures included beatings with wooden slats and metal rods, electro-shock and other unimaginable cruelties.
Even 26 years later, he still has physical problems from these tortures. He said, “During torture, when my fingernails were being pulled out and I was being whipped with wires, God showed me, "I am with you." God reminded me that the body can die, but the soul cannot. Once, I said to my torturers, "You can torture me, but if you kill me, I will just see Jesus Christ!" Pastor M was given a life sentence when he refused to turn away from Christ and embrace Islam.
But his captors had another approach in mind, and that leads us to the second tactic:
TACTIC #2: TEMPTATION. When the torture did not work, Pastor M’s guards tried to tempt him to convert. There were many powerful temptations. They offered him release, reunion with his family, a house, a job, and money if he would recant. They knew that if Pastor M turned from Christ, it would affect many others because he was the spiritual leader of the area, and the leader of the Christians in the prison.
Pastor M spent over eight years in prison. He said, “The guards eventually became happier to have me outside the prison, where I could not cause them problems.” Today, Pastor M oversees four pastors, 16 evangelists, and 700 believers in the main church in the area!
YOUR TURN: What are some specific ways that the enemy has tried to discourage you? Are there unique temptations that the enemy uses frequently to attempt to pull you off course? Once you have identified and analyzed these tactics, develop a course of action which will help you to “press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 3:14)
Dr. Jason Peters serves in VOM’s International Ministries department, traveling frequently to meet with our persecuted brothers and sisters around the world. He has ministered in 35 countries, as diverse as Cuba, India, Nepal, Saudi Arabia, Burma, Sri Lanka, Colombia, Kyrgyzstan, Bangladesh, Thailand, Indonesia and Nigeria. Before joining VOM’s team, Jason was a faculty member of the US Air Force Chaplain Corps College, where he directed Crisis and Trauma training. Jason, his wife, Kimberly, and their five children are actively engaged in standing with their persecuted sisters and brothers.