24 Nov Enjoying or Enduring the persecution
Suffer for the sake of suffering? Once I led a group of youth to distribute tracts in front of a college during noon time. It was real hot. We were standing under a tree shade. We can see from a distance students dripping in one by one and were able to give to each. One enthusiastic brother was standing in scorching sun. I called him to come under the tree shade. His reply was, “No brother, I want to suffer for the Lord” ! Then I told him, “When the Lord has given a tree for shade, we need not suffer by the heat of the sun”.
Dying or Living for Christ? In many youth camps, after hearing the biographies of martyrs which are presented in very emotional way, we hear young boys and girls testifying that they want to die for Christ as martyrs. What was the call of Christ? Which is very difficult? Is it to die for Him or to live for Him?
Why Christ suffered? The purpose of Jesus Christ coming into the world was to suffer and die at the cross as the sacrifice for the sins of the mankind- John 12:27. Christ went through physical suffering and spiritual agony for the sins of mankind. We as His followers are called to share His sufferings – Phil. 3:10.
Why Christians Suffer? God allows suffering in the life of a child of God for various purposes. 1. Christ calls to us is to bear the cross – for His sake – Luke 14:27; 2 Tim. 2:3; Mt. 5:11. “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” John 16:33. 2. We live in a world with marred values, and so we suffer for righteousness and for the values of God’s Kingdom – Mt. 5:10; Acts 14:22; 1 Pet. 2:20. 3. Oppositions come when we share the Good News of Christ – 2 Tim. 1:8; 2:3,9; Rev. 1:9. 4. Suffering shapes our character in the image of Christ – Heb. 12:10,11; 2 Cor. 4:7-11; 12:7.
All sufferings are Cross? Is every suffering a Christian undergoes is the Cross of Christ for him or her? No. When we violate the rules of nature and the authorities, we face the consequences as sickness, punishments and losses. When we deliberately do something wrong and get into problems, we cannot say that I suffer for Christ – “ But how is it to your credit if you receive a beating for doing wrong and endure it? But if you suffer for doing good and you endure it, this is commendable before God.”1 Pet. 2:20; “If you suffer, it should not be as a murderer or thief or any other kind of criminal, or even as a meddler. However, if you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but praise God that you bear that name.” 1 Pet. 4:15,16.
How do we face Persecutions? 1. When we suffer for the Kingdom and for Christ, we are blessed – Mt. 5:11, 12. 2. When we know that ours is suffering for the right cause, we will not be complaining, murmuring and weeping. We will be rejoicing as the early Apostles and Paul and Silas did – Mt. 5:12; Acts 5:41; 1 Pet. 4:13; Acts 16:22-25. 3. God enables us to face the suffering with boldness – 2 Cor. 4:8,9; Rom. 5:4.
Outcome of our Suffering: 1. When we suffer according to the plan of God, the Lord is with us in our sufferings and He saves us from our sufferings – 2 Tim. 4:18; 2 Cor. 1:10. 2. By suffering we learn obedience, patience and hope and we receive eternal glory – Heb. 5:8; Rom. 5:3; 2 Cor. 4:17. 3. Because of the sufferings we face, we are able to understand the sufferings of others and able to console others – 2 Cor. 1:4-8.
Khandhamal Reflections: In India, we see Christians persecuted in various states. They are falsely accused, beaten, killed as it happened at Odisha during the Khandhamal Riots in 2008. The Christians were accused of killing a religious leader who was actually killed by Maoists. There was a planned attack on the Christians. Around 100 Pastors and Christians were killed mercilessly in the broad day light in the presence of mobs. Around 500 Churches were demolished and around 5000 houses of Christians were demolished and the belongings were torched. Around 50,000 Christians fled from their villages or accommodated in the relief camps for weeks and months. A Nun was raped in the broad day light. All these happened not on one day, but almost for about a week without any control by the Police or the Authorities. They were only silent witnesses for the atrocities done to the innocent Christians.
When the NGOs were pouring in relief materials, our staff basically from Khandamal observed this: The Christian youth are vexed by the atrocities committed on their families. As Christians they were not able to take revenge. Using this situation as a bite, the Maoists tried to enlist the Christian youth so that they can take revenge. So according to his counsel, UESI Odisha organised 6 camps for the youth from Kandhamal.
On the first day there is presentation of what happened and what to be done. People were in full emotion saying that Our house was burnt. We want their houses to be burnt’; ’My mother became a widow. I want them also to become like that’’ etc. Then the Christian virtues were talked in a soothing atmosphere. The youth were motivated to forgive the offenders by the love of Christ Jesus. As a result of these camps, the youth went back to their villages with Christ like attitude to forgive and to work towards restoration of their affected lives. MUT – Missionaries Upholders Trust – conducted Trauma Counselling for the victims of the riots. The affected victims were brought and went back as transformed Christians. Pastors and leaders were trained to listen to the people who were affected and to give them Christian way of counselling to forgive the offenders.
Till today the cases against the offenders are getting dropped. They are acquitted because of lack of evidence as nobody dares to witness against them. But by the grace of God, most of these Christians are still continuing in their faith sincerely. God has given them grace to forgive the offenders and to continue their living in the same villages.
Forgive the offenders: Rev. Graham Stains and two little sons were burnt alive inside their car in Odisha. The love of Jesus Christ only enabled Mrs. Gladys Stains to declare that she has forgiven those who killed them. Now there is Graham Stains Memorial Hospital at Baripada and across the nation, many Christians have named their sons as Stains.
Face Persecution Joyfully: Every real Christian will undergo persecution when he stands for Christ and His Values. Paul says, “In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” – 2 Tim. 3:12. ,Not all problems we face can be considered as the cross we are called to bear. If we do something wrong and as a result we face a trouble that is not suffering for Christ. But if we are persecuted because of Christ Jesus, Kingdom Values, and for the Gospel, we know for sure that our suffering is for the sake of God. In that situation, we will not be complaining or murmuring about the sufferings we face. Paul when he writes his letter to the Philippians from the prison uses words like rejoice’ and ‘’joyful’’ 17 times in those 4 chapters. This tells us that Christian joy cannot be affected by the problems we undergo. “The apostles left the high council rejoicing that God had counted them worthy to suffer disgrace for the name of Jesus.” – Acts 5:41 (NLT).
“About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening to them.” – Acts 15:25 (NLT)
P. Jebaraj is a Field Partner of UESI based at Chennai.