Last night I read through a recent issue of Voice of the Martyrs magazine (about 15 pages). It is my practice — a personal discipline if you will — to read through every new issue of this magazine. In all honesty, I am often a bit reluctant to do so, but the reason I open and read is because I have come to recognize the importance of this practice in my life. The discipline of reading this magazine is also one small way I can obey the Lord’s instructions in Hebrews 13:3: “Remember those who are in prison, as though in prison with them, and those who are mistreated, since you also are in the body.”
I was reminded, as I read, that ten years ago, two suicide bombers set off bombs in Peshawar that killed 127 people in a Christian church and injured many more. (Yes, one hundred and twenty-seven; that was not a typo.) I learned about one Christian brother who lost two children in the attacks and whose wife was seriously injured. I followed his story through shock, grief, struggling with unforgiveness, actually forgiving, having to forgive again, and finally to his life-long commitment to minister to others who suffer.
A second article focused on a Nigerian pastor who regularly travels to Northeastern Nigeria — often walking because “he doesn’t own a motorcycle, and taxi-cycles won’t go where he wants to travel.” He frequently treks into this perilous region so he can minister to people who have been displaced by Boko Haram, an extremely violent Islamist terrorist group.
A third article drew attention to the long-term service of an elderly Hmong evangelist in an unnamed country in Southeast Asia. This brother shares the gospel with at least one person every day and has planted 12 churches since 2011. The article also recounted some of the dreadful persecution he has endured, both inside and outside prison ( … so very hard to read!).
Hebrews 13:3 instructs us to remember those who are mistreated “since you also are in the body.” While reading about the physical abuse endured by this faithful Southeast Asian brother, I could almost feel his pain, since, as this verse observed, I also have a physical body and can imagine what such pain might feel like.
Hold on, Ken! Must we expose ourselves to such descriptions?
I’m a bit unsure how to answer this question. I know that when we insulate ourselves from topics that make us uncomfortable, we gradually mold our understanding of the Christian life around our own levels of comfort instead of around what the Bible teaches about suffering. Consider how many times biblical writers warn about and offer counsel regarding suffering. Think only of the writings of Peter (1 Peter 1:6-7; 3:13-17; 4:12-19), James (1:3-4), and Paul (2 Corinthians 1:3-11; 4:7-12; 6:4-10). Think about the teaching of Jesus (Matt 10:17, 21; 24:9; John 16:2); Jesus who said, “In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).
I finished reading, put down the magazine, then commented to Trudi: “Whenever I read this magazine, I feel like my life as a Christian in comfortable California is illusory. The lived experiences of so many of my brothers and sisters overseas are so much more … gritty … even real.”
I know, of course, that my final comment — about my life being less “real”—is theologically incorrect. I am just as much in Christ as are these faithful brothers and sisters who have been imprisoned, beaten, driven from their homes, and publicly humiliated for their faith. Still, how deep is my faith (really) when I’m not forced to dig deep into trust through persecution? What am I actually sacrificing for Christ?
This morning, Trudi and I prayed alongside two college-aged friends for the nation of Laos, a nation where Christians regularly suffer for their faith. We didn’t personally know any of the people we prayed for — we used Pray for the World to guide us — but we sensed the Lord’s presence as we pleaded with God to minister through his Spirit to our suffering brothers and sisters in Laos. I may not have to endure what they endure, but I can pray for them.
Receiving updates and praying are two ways to remember those who are mistreated as Christians. I do want to remember them. I am keenly aware of how easily I forget. I want to be obedient to God’s Word in passages such as Hebrews 13:3 where I am instructed to remember.
So, by God’s grace, remember I will.
This post and other resources are available at Kindle Afresh: The Blog and Website of Kenneth Berding.