I’m currently in the States, traveling around speaking at conferences, at churches and at various organizations. As I do, I share again many stories of what God is doing around the world. Sharing with a pastor today, I was reminded of a powerful story, one that started a few years ago and is still ongoing. It’s the story of the incredible sacrifice that some make for the gospel and God’s incredible faithfulness in the midst of that suffering.
In one village there were five Christian families. The chief of that village decided he didn’t want Christians in his village, so he tried to force them to denounce their faith. They refused. The chief had the village members beat the members of the five families. When the denominational leaders heard about the situation, they sent two people to the area to try to negotiate on their behalf. The villagers also beat them up and burnt their motorbike so they had to run for their lives. The villagers then burnt down the houses and destroyed the crops of the five families so they were forced to flee. The chief held fast that to live in that village they had to renounce their faith. If they continued to stay there then they would be killed.
The families ended up resettling in a different area. God blessed them, their crops flourished, and they did well. One of the men that had fled had a dream in which God told him to go back and share the gospel with those in the village. He obeyed, and two more families came to Christ.
A year later the chief decided to have a village ceremony to worship the spirits and asked each family to provide a pig. The two families refused and revealed that they were also Christians. The chief asked if they remembered what happened to the other five families who refused to renounce their faith and they responded “yes”. The chief gave them a few more days to change their minds, but they didn’t. So their homes and fields were destroyed.
In the midst of all of that persecution, another family came forward and revealed they were also Christians. When the chief asked why he wasn’t afraid to proclaim he was a Christian, he said that he was tired of having to hide his faith. His family’s home was also burnt down and land destroyed.
The three families moved to the new resettlement area. As they were building their new houses, a huge wind came up and blew a sheet of the tin roof off. It cut through the neck of the one of the men, severing all his nerves. They rushed the man to the local clinic, but the staff told them, “This man is going to die. You should take him home.” They then took him to the district-level hospital and heard the same message. They then took him to the provincial hospital, where they again repeated the same message. As they were leaving to take the man home, the doctor called them back telling them he had some student doctors there who needed to practice stitching and, since this man was going to die anyway, he would be good to practice on.
The students stitched the man back together. Instead of dying as predicted or being paralyzed, he actually lived and was back out fixing houses a week later. The people from his original village (many of whom were relatives) were amazed. They couldn’t believe that there was such a powerful God that would heal someone like that. They started to welcome him back to share the gospel in their village. Throughout the area, the story got told of the God who could bring people back from the brink of death.
As we discussed that story, I was struck again by what an easy ride I have. Would I too be willing to lose everything, including friends and extended family to follow Christ? Would I be willing to go and share the gospel somewhere where I had been told that I would die if I came back? It’s easy, in the comfort of a coffee shop in the States to think “yes”. But it would be another thing to be face-to-face with that decision. In this story, I am also struck with God’s faithfulness. After they fled, God caused them to flourish in the new place they were planted. The suffering was real, but God didn’t abandon them in it. And as they prayed for and sought to reach back to those that had persecuted them, God opened the door for that to happen in ways that were unimaginable. I am reminded once again that, while suffering is real, God’s goodness even in the midst of it is even more real.