I recently read a deeply thought provoking blog written by Pastor Eric Foley, the CEO and Co-Founder of Seoul USA. As I read what he wrote, I was reminded of a chapter in Corrie Ten Boom’s book The Hiding Place. It is in this part of her story that she tells of a night when she and her family stayed up late into the evening to listen to a live radio address from the Prime Minister of Holland. Her family listened intently as the Dutch people were told they need not worry about war. He announced to the nation that both sides had agreed to accept the neutral stance of Holland. Upon hearing this, Casper Ten Boom rose to his feet, and abruptly turned off the radio. He knew that war was imminent, and he was deeply disturbed by the false hope being given to the people.
It was a mere five hours after that announcement that the Ten Boom family awoke to the sounds of explosions followed by flashes of light. Bombs were being dropped on their homeland. They had been invaded, and war had rudely erupted in the Dutch nation. Further reading of Corrie’s story reveals the deep concern Casper Ten Boom had for those who would not be ready for the hard times ahead.
I too, sense this deep disturbance as all my senses are bombarded by knowledge of the suffering Christians are enduring all over the world today. I am troubled as I see and hear evil men taunt the world, both verbally and visually, with their hellish threats. Something in me shudders when I hear a narrative that portrays us as a people removed from harm, and safely secured. It is not a fearful self-preservation I feel, but rather a concern for those who are not ready. At the same time, I believe this begs a deeper look from within from all of us.
If we have edited our faith to such a degree that suffering has no place, how will we be prepared when it arrives on our doorstep?
I remember reading The Hiding Place many years ago and thinking to myself: surely God knew I could not suffer as those whose stories line the pages in this book. I told myself – that is why I was born in this time, blessed, and in America. I am ashamed to admit that my world view was distorted and self-absorbed at best. My understanding was one in which Americans somehow were not privy to suffering for their faith; certainly not in today’s civil society. Keeping with the comfort level I sought to surround myself with I also believed that all persecuted Christians must have been supernaturally spared the physical and mental pain of torture. If I dared to allow my mind to contemplate their suffering, I did so only to a point. Generally those thoughts ended with my rationalizing how God must have intervened before the physical pain touched them. I also entertained the thought that perhaps there was something those who suffered for their faith could have done to avoid the punishment they were dealt. Maybe if they had prayed a specific prayer, avoided hostile people groups, or perhaps simply stayed home.
It would be years later at The Voice of The Martyrs conference that I would come face to face with my distorted understanding. I heard stories from all over the world of suffering happening to Christians. The first evening I listened as a man from Pakistan explained the hardships the Pakistani church endures, and then described the torture and eventual murder of a young Christian boy. This young man died at the hands of his torturers simply because he was a Christian. For the first time in my life I contemplated the possibility that God does not intervene in every situation and take the suffering away from His people.
That evening I went back to my hotel room and had a heart-to-heart talk with the Lord. Up until that time I had been crying out to the Lord to “Send me!” Now I was asking Him to not fulfill those prayers. The burden in my heart for those who suffer was greater than I felt I could bear. I spoke to the Lord again from the neatly-crafted package of comfort, safety, and control I wanted to create for my life. He graciously listened to me try to tell Him what to do.
Day two of the conference began with me feeling assured—certainly my talk with the Lord was successful and I had effectively canceled out all those “send me” prayers. It was then that a young man from the Middle East began to share about his work, which includes traveling great distances into hostile territories controlled by militant Islam. These are places where Christians die for their faith. He shared his family’s pleas not to do the work God had called him to.
Pictures were displayed on a screen behind him of people receiving the Bibles he delivered. Their expressions of curiosity and delight captivated me. As he spoke, he seemed puzzled by those who ask why he goes to such dangerous places. His response was simply, “Since when has the gospel been safe?”
I felt as if I were alone with the Lord in the room. This statement seared my heart, and I knew the Lord was speaking directly to me. I recalled the list of demands I called “prayer” the night before, and heard Him say to me, “I did not create you that way.” At that moment, I said “Yes.” to His way in all my life.
Today I still hear this young man’s words – “since when has the gospel been safe?” Perhaps it is the omission of this gospel message that disturbs me most. If we have edited our faith to such a degree that suffering has no place, how will we be prepared when it arrives on our doorstep? After all it is in the Bible that, “In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted,” (2 Timothy 3:12).
Corrie Ten Boom goes on in her book to describe how as bombs were falling from the sky over Holland, she and her sister knelt on their knees and prayed. They prayed for those who would mourn the loss of loved ones, they prayed for those who were injured, they prayed for the ill prepared, and they prayed for the German soldiers. Today Christians in hostile and restricted nations continue to pray. They are praying in the West Bank, as the minority Christian communities open their churches as places of refuge to Christians and Muslims alike. Some of the places where they are praying include Syria, Iraq, North Korea, Nigeria, and South Sudan. They are praying in underground meetings, in fields, deserts, and homes. Some will pray alone, silently, without the utterance of a single word. While others are praying in chains confined to their prison cells. Yes, suffering has always been the mark of the Christian church. We have much to learn from our Christian family who suffer for the sake of the cross.
“And they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb, and by the word of their testimony; and they loved not their lives unto the death.” Revelation 12:11
Tami Yeager was first introduced to the ministry of VOM through a newsletter she was handed in 2003. As she began to read the stories shared within those pages she was confronted with a reality that did not fit into the package she had unknowingly wrapped her knowledge of God in. As she began to learn of the suffering of Christians around the world a desire grew to serve them. Today she serves as volunteer Community Coordinator in the Be A Voice ministry of VOM.