I remember making my first bowl of cereal.
The cabinet with the dishes was so high. I pulled myself on top the counter and swung open the cabinet door, ducking so it wouldn’t hit me in the head. I jumped off the counter, gripping the bowl with both hands. Landing on both feet, I rushed over to the table and set the bowl down next to the box of Cheerios I had already pulled from the pantry. As I tipped the box over, the familiar sound of cereal falling into a glass bowl resonated throughout the room and my anticipation grew. I took the milk gallon out of the refrigerator and carefully, slowly poured the white cream over my O’s. With one spoon, I dunked each “O” to ensure each one was covered in milk. With a second spoon, I lavished one, then two overflowing spoons full of sugar over my cereal.
My mother had warned me against too much sugar. I ignored her warnings; I like my cereal sweet.
I was so excited. I lifted a large spoonful to my mouth. The next thing I remember, I was standing over the sink furiously spitting everything out. Sometimes in our rush to accomplish things, we end up with something we didn’t really want. Sometimes it takes accidentally eating salt to realize that not everything is sugar.
Those who support The Voice of the Martyrs are often awed when we hear of our brothers and sisters in Christ dying for their faith. It is heroic, and it is also tragic. They’re beheaded. They’re shot. They’re persecuted. But there is beauty in this tragedy. Those martyrs spend eternity in God’s presence, their death glorifies His name and their witness may win others for Christ.
But with the inspiring sugar of those stories, there are stories of bitter saltiness in the persecuted church. It’s time to see some salt.
In Kiangsi, China, two Christian girls, Chiu-Chin and Ho-Hsiu-Tzu, and their pastor, were sentenced to death. As on many such occasions in church history, the persecutors mocked and scorned them for being so foolish as to die for an unseen God. Then they promised the pastor that if he would shoot the girls they would release him. He accepted.
The girls waited patiently in their prison cells for the moment of their execution. They prayed quietly together. Soon guards came for them and led them out. A fellow-prisoner who watched the execution through the barred window of his prison cell, said that their faces were pale but beautiful beyond belief, infinitely sad but sweet. They were placed against a wall, and their pastor was brought forward by two guards. They placed him close in front of the girls and put a pistol into his hand.
The girls whispered to each other, then bowed respectfully to their pastor. One of them said:
Before being shot by you, we wish to thank you heartily for what you have meant to us. You baptized us, you taught us the way of eternal life, you gave us a holy communion with the same hand in which you now have a gun. May God reward you for all that you have done for us. You also taught us that Christians are sometimes weak and commit terrible sins, but they can be forgiven again. When you regret what you are about to do to us, do not despair like Judas, but repent like Peter. God bless you, and remember that our last thought of you was not one of indignation against your failure. Everyone passes through hours of darkness. We die with gratitude.
They bowed again to their pastor, closed their eyes, and stood silently waiting.
The pastor had obviously hardened his heart – he raised the pistol and shot them. No sooner had they fallen to the ground, then the communist guards put him against the wall for immediate execution. As they shot him, no one heard words of repentance, only the sound of screaming.
Some people recant their faith, and not every Christian stands firm. At VOM we often talk about those who come through persecution triumphantly. But for every person like that, there are many who don’t, and God still works through those failures.
Sometimes we have to accidentally eat salt to realize that not everything is sugar. Sometimes we have to see failure in order to appreciate the great faith of those who overcome persecution. Pray for the people like the Chinese pastor, that even though they deny Christ, that they might embrace once more the forgiveness and love that God offers. Pray that every person that has denied Christ might become a Peter, that their testimonies be examples of God’s forgiveness.