I picked up a recent copy of the International Bulletin of Missionary Research. I like to read through the whole issue to keep informed about missions, so I read an article that I thought I would not relate to me or to anything that I do. I was wrong! The article was about East Syrian Monasteries in the Ninth Century! It turned out to be a great article that related to just about everything I do and love. It was about love for God and love for learning. I was struck by one of the author’s statements (Steve Cochrane): “The East Syrian school movement…integrated a passion for learning with a passion for God and making him known. These passions were a key source for the continued renewal of the church across hundreds of years, even in environments often hostile to the Christian faith.”
The integration of learning and devotion led to an East Syrian mission movement and the starting of numerous schools, training people for service, ministry, and missions. It kept the church alive, vital, and growing over the centuries in spite of very diverse and sometimes difficult circumstances.
At VOM, we periodically get the question: “How can we prepare for persecution?” I believe that article gives us the answer—a passion for learning, a passion for God, and a burning desire to witness about Christ in the world. It will keep us developing, maturing, and growing deeper both in our understanding of God and his world but also in spiritual truths that will fortify us for the day of trial. The motto ecclesia semper reformanda est (the church is always in need of or in the process of reformation and renewal), applies to our situation as well.
In 2010 the government in a south Asia country bulldozed a Bible College building because it was running illegally, according to them. They also beat the school principal until he was unconscious. So, the Bible College relocated to temporary facilities and eventually began to build a new building. This is a church that remains vital and undeterred because of its passion for learning, for ministry, and for God. It knows what is necessary to maintain its commitment to ministry to their nation, even though the government of that nation tries its best to subdue and oppress them.
The survival of the church in Syria today is threatened because of the civil war. Hundreds of Christians have been martyred and 30-40% of the churches have been damaged or destroyed. The church continues to survive and function after all these centuries. Recently Communion services leading to Easter were canceled because of increased danger, but Good Friday and Easter services were held, showing the resilience of Syrian Christians in the face of very difficult and hostile conditions.
Do we have this kind of God-given resilience? Do we really see the value of a passion for learning, a passion for God, and a passion to witness to our nation and the world about Jesus Christ? If we truly have a passion for God then I think we will also have a passion for learning and witnessing. What is our dominating passion? Is it leading us in the right direction or weakening us from being ready to be used by God? We will find out when the time of testing comes.
Your Turn: What are you doing to increase your knowlege of God and His word?
Roy Stults, PhD, is the Online Workshop Coordinator and Educational Services Coordinator for The Voice of the Martyrs. He graduated from Olivet Nazarene University (BA and MA), Nazarene Theological Seminary (M.Div.), Trinity Evangelical Divinity School (Doctor of Missiology), and The University of Manchester (England) with a PhD (theology). A Vietnam veteran, Dr. Stults served as a missionary for 19 years and pastored U.S. churches for eight years. Prior to joining VOM, he was a Professor of Religion at Oklahoma Wesleyan University.