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Imagine getting this newsletter from one of your overseas workers. The newsletter says this:

Our brother, whom we love, has been arrested in Egypt and is in prison. Family whom he loved and trusted sold him into slavery and betrayed him to the authorities. We know that he has remained faithful to God, and has refused to pay bribes that would help him escape from prison. Because of his faith, he has been transferred to the dreaded central prison with the rest of the nation’s worst enemies.

How would we respond as the church? What actions would we take? Typically, the Western church would rush in to rescue Joseph. It’s a good impulse.

  • We would write and forward emails.
  • We would flood social media with appeals.
  • We would contact our political representatives.
  • We would highlight Joseph’s plight on radio and television.

The goal of our activity would be the release of Joseph from his unjust imprisonment. And we would feel justified in almost any action — perhaps even military intervention — to have Joseph set free.

The High Cost of Extraction

And maybe Joseph would be released. Followers and friends of Jesus would rejoice! We would thank God that our Joseph has been saved from prison. And we would even be satisfied that one of the conditions of his release would include Joseph’s relocation to another country where he would be safe because he’s no longer a thorn in the nation’s side.

Imagine then, years later, that a great famine hits Egypt and the surrounding countries. Because of his rescue, Joseph is not in prison when Pharaoh has strange dreams. Joseph is not there to interpret Pharaoh’s dreams concerning seven years of plenty followed by seven years of terrible drought. As a result of Joseph’s absence, Egypt squanders the food harvested in the seven good years. As a result of Joseph’s absence, Egypt is completely unprepared for seven years of famine.

The famine is so devastating, in fact, that Egypt does not survive.

And because Egypt does not survive . . . the Jews in Egypt do not survive, either.

And that is the end of the story.

A Better Plan for Freedom

Of course, the real story ends differently. Evidently, God knows when to leave Joseph in prison. God has a larger agenda in mind. God knows exactly what is necessary for the salvation of both Egyptians and Jews.

Do we?

Do our churches, our sending agencies, and our organizations that study persecution know when to leave Joseph in Egypt? Despite our affection for Joseph, do we understand that ultimately Joseph belongs to God, and that God can do with him whatever he desires? Is it possible for us to become emotionally, psychologically, physically, and spiritually strong enough to know when to leave “our Joseph” with God in a seemingly dangerous place?

Advance or Extract?

Believers in persecution had much to teach my wife and me as we traveled among them for more than fifteen years. We listened to their stories. We learned that when Western workers become personally and emotionally connected to believers in persecution, extraction of these believers often becomes the main objective. In almost every case, we are desperate to get Joseph out of the hostile place, and away from persecution.

The apparent explanation for this is more than anecdotal, and less than statistical. It appears that Western workers who become emotionally attached to believers in persecution will attempt to extract about fifty percent of those believers to a safe country. This observation seems to apply to situations of persecution all around the world. In the Islamic world, the frequency of extraction seems even higher, approaching seventy percent. Imagine trying to start a church, even in the Bible Belt of America, if seventy percent of the believers were pulled out and taken to another country.

For God, conquering through persecution, rather than extracting from persecution, is the norm. The Western church typically takes the opposite approach. For us, extraction is the norm. Rescuing believers from persecution feels good. Significant funds can be raised to extract a family from persecution and resettle them in a safe country.

But if we gave as much energy and attention to spreading the gospel in hostile places as we have to extracting persecuted believers from them, the Great Commission may have already been finished by now.

The End of Extraction

Why is our view so different than God’s view? Here are some possible answers to that question:

  1. We don’t want fellow believers to suffer for Jesus in ways we are unwilling to or can’t relate to.
  2. We can’t imagine that prolonged suffering might be part of God’s plan.
  3. We do not truly believe that Jesus is worth suffering for.

And because those truths drive our actions and attitudes, we replace a biblical theology of suffering with something less challenging. As a result,

  1. We demand that persecution of followers of Jesus stop.
  2. We demand that those persecuting followers of Jesus be punished.
  3. We strive to install Western forms of democracy, human rights, and civil rights in foreign lands, believing these will usher in the kingdom of God. (Though, much to our surprise, there is no historical correlation between these Western forms and the kingdom of God!)
  4. We make emotional appeals to raise huge sums of money to rescue more believers from persecution.

What is outcome of all of our seemingly good efforts? Critical masses of believers are removed from the environments where God has planted them.

In some places, the birth of the church is halted; in other places, the multiplication of the body of Christ is hindered. New followers of Jesus (perhaps people from Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu, or Communist backgrounds) come to believe that living in a safe, Christian country is necessary in order to live for Christ.

After long days of interviewing, we often asked followers of Jesus in persecution what they learned from Western workers. They typically looked at one another and refused to respond.

When we pressed them for an answer, they would reply, “Western workers teach us to be afraid. Western workers teach us that it’s possible to follow Jesus only in safe places.”

This is not simply a mistake. This is sin.

Not My Will, but Yours, Be Done

Before Jesus was betrayed, he prayed a prayer made up of two parts (Matthew 26:39). First, he asked his Father for the cup to pass. He prayed for the suffering to be relieved. He asked if there was a way to avoid the crucifixion. He wanted to avoid the pain and public humiliation. But then, he prayed something else. He asked that the will of the Father take precedent over his desire to avoid suffering.

Following Jesus’s example, we must pray both parts of his prayer. It’s only natural to pray for suffering to be avoided — for ourselves or for others. But it is then essential to pray that God’s will to be done, whatever the cost to us.

For the rest of the post…

 

Unity With the Persecuted

Faith J. H. McDonnell directs the Institute on Religion and Democracy’s Religious Liberty Program and Church Alliance for a New Sudan and is the author of Girl Soldier: A Story of Hope for Northern Uganda’s Children (Chosen Books, 2007).

<img src=”http://b.scorecardresearch.com/p?c1=8&c2=15579784&c3=65203&c15=&cv=2.0&cj=1″ />saAddressing the “In Defense of Christians” (IDC) summit on Wednesday morning, September 10, U.S. Representative Kerry Bentivolio (R-MI) declared that every “freedom-loving man, woman, and child must be engaged” in the fight to defend persecuted Christians and other religious minorities in the Middle East.

Would that members of the media, particularly Christian and/or conservative journalists, had actually been engaged in this fight to defend religious minorities for a while! If they had been, they would be able to write more knowledgeably about the scourge of global jihad. They would have had experience with U.S. political leaders that have actually given more than lip service to the issue of religious persecution. And they would have known that Texas Senator Ted Cruz is regarded as a strong advocate for persecuted Christians, as well as for Israel, by those of us who actually spend our days and years working on behalf of the persecuted.

If that had been the case, IDC’s Wednesday evening gala with Cruz as keynote speaker might not have become such an issue. As it was, though, the messages given by other speakers in the remaining hours of the summit such as the terrific keynote on Thursday by Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy author Eric Metaxas, have been all but ignored by the media. They preferred to go after Cruz for what they perceived as his insensitivity to Middle Eastern Christians. Metaxas’ speech (sermon, really) was important in its own right, but was also important as a response to what took place the night before, over the gala dinner of braised short ribs of beef and Chilean sea bass.

For the rest of the post…

Gallery Image

By Dick Andersen
For the Herald/Review

With the last Christian being driven out of Mosul, Afghanistan, by the vengeful ISISsect this week, and innumerable other incidents of discrimination against Christians in Africa, Asia and even the Americas plaguing the planet, one wonders if being a Christian is worthwhile?

Wouldn’t it be better to be nothing than to be tracked down and slaughtered as has happened to Christians recently in Egypt, Nigeria, Sudan, India and Pakistan?

The answer is a decided, NO!

While respect for Christianity has diminished in large measure due to pedofile clergy, immoral televangelists and other scoundrels occupying some prominent pulpits, the Gospel is still needed for this century and all the others following it. It has declined because families find other pleasures more attractive than teaching their children Christian values. TVand movie comedians may mock us, atheists may seek to dull our witness by banning crosses and creches, and novelists may fling every indescribable insult in our direction they wish, but Christianity is God’s empowered force for good — therefore cannot be so casually dismissed as inconsequential.

The Jews have suffered for their faith for centuries, yet their strength remains in those who remained faithful to it despite pogroms and the Holocaust … often at the hands of Christians regrettably.

Where would institutions of mercy … hospitals, children’s homes, homes for the aging and many similar caring facilities have originated … if it had not been for the Church centuries ago? Schools, from kindergartens to universities, were made available to the poor as well as the rich under the sponsorship of the Church. Many agencies that provide assistance to the disadvantaged got their start led by Christian men and women who originated such ministries.  And the Jews, too, have provided similar care for their people and others, while often cooperating with Christians and financially supporting their institutions to alleviate human suffering.

Many of America’s refugees came to these shores due to the ministry of Christians and Jews.  After World War II, the United States gained an exceptional benefit from those fleeing what was left in battle-worn Europe.  After Vietnam’s war, the same thing happened. So, yes, it is still a worthy goal to be a follower of Jesus no matter what naysayers tell us.

But then being a modern day disciple of the Lord Christ is not simply for assisting others in their dilemmas. That’s a prime target in the attempt to love others. There is, however, a very important personal element that comes first. There needs to be a living relationship with God, a common walk with Him in order to love one another and to sense the love that is returned. Besides, our earthly life is not the end of the journey. It is merely the prelude. Eternity is worthy of our devotion and faith now. It’s not “pie in the sky bye and bye,” but a promise made by Him to those who believe. Here and now we take the first steps to accepting the life without end.

On Aug. 4, some people will observe the 102nd birthday of Raoul Wallenberg, a Swede renowned for his rescue of up to 120,000 Hungarian Jews from the Final Solution being promulgated by Adolf Eichmann. Raoul was a Christian. He went to Budapest in the last months of World War II to rescue as many Jews remaining in the last corner of European Judaism. He served the Swedish king as a special ambassador, and was financed generously by President Franklin D. Roosevelt … two Christian leaders who cared enough to send the very best to facilitate the rescue.

Wallenberg died at the hands of the Russians in one of Moscow’s notorious prisons, but before that he fooled the Nazis by inventing, printing and distributing false passports identifying the Jewish recipients as being under the protection of King Gustav V of neutral Sweden.

His girlfriend: while Raoul studied architecture at the University of Michigan, Berniece Ringman, was a friend of mine, who toured Scandinavia and Russia with me during one of my Christian heritage tours.  While in Stockholm, she met with Raoul’s sister. In Moscow, she visited with the American ambassador about getting Raoul released from the Gulag where he was thought to be imprisoned.  It was not known until later that he had died in Moscow near the war’s end.

At any rate, Wallenberg put his life on the line for people he didn’t know. He knew, however, they were children created by God. His obligation was to God, as well as to his king, to save as many as he could. He provided safe houses for them who lived under his patronage, even a hospital, and collected very scarce provisions to feed them in a very difficult time. Why?  Because he believed it was not just his duty, but his privilege.

He was an ambassador for Christ. He did not preach. It was not his intention to convert, but it was his prerogative to serve his Lord by saving lives.

There were many Christians who lived out their faith in the face of Nazism’s threats.  Theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer and his brother-in-law, Hans von Dohnanyi, a businessman, were among them. They stood up against the Nazis for their inhumanity toward Jews and others, and lost their lives by order of Hitler just a week or two before the war’s end. A new book, “No Ordinary Men,” was recently published by the New York Review of Books to underscore their mission.

For the rest of the post…

Meriam Yehya Ibrahim and The First World Problem of “Religious Persecution”

Recently, a Sudanese court imposed the death penalty on 27 year old Meriam Yehya Ibrahim, who at the time was pregnant. Ibrahim, a Christian, was legally considered a Muslim though she had been raised a Christian. Ibrahim was given the opportunity to officially reject her Christian faith prior to sentencing, but refused. As a result, she was sentence to 100 lashes plus death by hanging.

Thanks to an international outcry on the part of governments, world leaders, and human rights organizations, Ibrahim had her sentence overturned and was subsequently set free– for a time.

Yesterday news reports broke that she was re-arrested while she and her family were attempting to leave the country. One could almost hear a collective gulp of shock reverberate across the entire internet, as all those who had hoped, prayed and advocated for her release began to let the news sink in. With her own brother denouncing her release and calling for vengeance to restore the family’s honor, there was simply no telling what would happen. Thankfully, within a few hours of her arrest, news broke that she had been freed from custody and would be allowed to depart Sudan for the United States, where she will have complete freedom to practice her religion without fear of death or detainment.

Meanwhile in the United States, we’re going about our daily lives panicking with cries of religious persecution as well… although, they’re not the cries one would think. Instead of a collective focus on wide-spread human rights abuses and religious persecution in places like Sudan, North Korea where an estimated 33,000 Christians have been incarcerated in prison camps, or the estimated thousands who actually die for their religious faith each year, we’re focused on a first world version of persecution that’s not really persecution at all.

When A&E temporarily made the decision to disassociate with Phil from Duck Dynasty over anti-gay comments he made in the media, it was labeled as “persecution”.

For the rest of the post…

(UPDATED) Outspoken Cuban activist Mario Felix Lleonart Barroso now under house arrest.
Melissa Kimiadi
Cuba Case Study: Bonhoeffer-Inspired Pastor Arrested After Blogs, Tweets, and D.C. Trip

CHRISTIANITY TODAY

Travel keeps getting easier for Cuba’s surging Christian community even as practicing their faith keeps getting harder. Case in point: Mario Felix Lleonart Barroso, a Cuban Baptist pastor who once appeared on CT’s cover and has since become a Bonhoeffer-inspired activist blogger.

Last fall, Lleonart Barroso made an unusually high-profile trip to Washington, D.C.,visiting the Congressional Caucus on Religious Freedom and issuing a 30-point challenge to his Communist government. Last weekend, he found his house in central Cuba surrounded by security police, according to Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW).

Security agents quickly seized the pastor as his wife and two children watched from inside the house. They held him in detention until night time, after which he was returned home and placed under house arrest. [He discusses his detention in Spanish here.] In a sign of the times, his wife Yoaxis has been live-tweeting their house arrest.

Lleonart Barroso, pastor of Ebenezer Baptist Church in Taguayabon, has been an outspoken voice against the Cuban government’s mistreatment of pastors and human rights defenders for at least four years. CT interviewed him during a 2009 Holy Week road trip on Cuba’s improbable Christian revival and how Cuban Christians have more freedom yet are not free.

During the detention, authorities took prints of his fingers and toes, a scent sample, and DNA samples from his nails and teeth by force. He refused to sign an Official Warning (Advertencia Oficial), which is often used as evidence in the Cuban judiciary system.

According to CSW, the pastor’s sister, Mirka Pena, remarked that the arrest of Lleonart Barroso is “part of a larger crackdown on political dissidents across the country … in anticipation of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) summit, due to take place this week in Cuba.”

Lleonart Barroso is gaining support from U.S.-based Baptists, who helped sponsor his first visit to America last September. Utilizing social media, he communicates with his supporters as well as further drumming up awareness for a pro-democracy Cuba. His Twitter account is regularly updated with up to 10 tweets a day. He has also blogged his experiences (sometimes translated into English) since 2010. His wife Yoaxis is also active on Twitter.

His self-description from his blog:

Inspired by the paradigmatic example of the Confessional German Churches which rose during the dreadful Nazi period, and by one of their most sublime expressions—the passion of Dietrich Bonhoeffer—I also stand over the gash which is the broken bridge of my village which carries an indigenous name: TAGUAYABON. And I stand here to DENOUNCE the causes which contaminate its water, which is scarcer by the day, and to ANNOUNCE rivers of live water, because Jesus came to bring good news to the poor. (Luke 4.18-19).

The pastor has faced setbacks before.

For the rest of the article…

Until now the world had always granted them (Christians) a lodging-place by allowing them to work for their own food and clothing. But a world that has become one hundred per cent anti-Christian cannot allow this private sphere of work for their daily bread. The Christians are now forced to deny their Lord for every crumb of bread they need. Either they must flee from the world, or go to prison; there is no other alternative. When the Christian community  has been deprived of its last inch of space on the earth, the end is near.

Dietrich BonhoefferThe Cost of Discipleship1961 edition, 299-300.

The older the world grows, the more heated becomes the conflict between Christ and Antichrist, and the more thorough the efforts of the world to get rid of the Christians.

Dietrich BonhoefferThe Cost of Discipleship1961 edition, 299.

If the world despises one of the brethren, the Christian will love and serve him. If the world does him violence, the Christian will soccour and comfort him. If the world dishonours and insults him, the Christian will sacrifice  his own honour to cover his brother’s shame. 

Dietrich BonhoefferThe Cost of Discipleship1961 edition, 289.

The messengers of Jesus will be hated to the end of time. They will be blamed for all the divisions which rend cities and homes. Jesus and his disciples will be condemned on all sides for undermining family life, and for leading the nation astray; they will be called crazy fanatics and disturbers of the peace.

Dietrich BonhoefferThe Cost of Discipleship1961 edition, 239.

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