Ahabs produce Elijahs, Pharaohs create Moseses, Nebuchadnezzars embolden Daniels, Goliaths motivate Davids; persecution breathes determination and intense resolve to the Church. Obstacles and trials are the learning platform for a servant of God.
Persecution is neither God’s cherished tool, nor His rod of punishment, but a steer towards Kingdom eternal purpose. When persecution struck the early Church in Acts 8, the believers were scattered and preached the Good News of Jesus wherever they went. This was the mandate Christ had given them, to go and make disciples of all nations – but it was the persecution which drove them from their comfort zones, where they had been busy with the task of distributing food (Acts 6), and forced them to engage with the great commission.
'What we see as destruction of the sanctuary, God sees as emerging opportunities to meet people in darkness.'
Throughout the life of the Church, a precursor of persecution has always been self-occupancy and self-barricading. A dear friend, Canon Dr. Albert Heuser was witness to the destruction of the one and only church ever built in Kabul in the last century, at the time of King Zahir Shah. Albert says, ‘When I saw the first large hole blown into the outer parameter wall of the church, I looked in utter desperation and panic. Then I heard the voice of the Holy Spirit say, “The wall of separation of the Church and Afghan people is destroyed!”’ Then, brick by brick, with chants of ‘Allah is great!’ every masonry was removed from the building until there was nothing left!
What we see as destruction of the sanctuary, God sees as emerging opportunities to meet people in darkness. For the last three decades, the Middle East has been sliding down into an abyss of darkness. We are witnessing a complete meltdown of reason, order, socio-political authority and respect for moral criterions. Whole cities are being destroyed by unfathomable barbarity and hope is being almost irretrievably lost. The powers of hell have unleashed their fury upon God’s crown of creation: humanity.
So too the Bride is under attack. Historical churches are being vandalised, desecrated and burnt. Centuries old Christian communities are being forced to flee by their hundreds of thousands. Yet despite this backdrop of despondency and despair God is touching tens of thousands of tender hearts who are yearning for peace in their dreams! In the last thirty years, amidst severe persecution of the Church matched in ferocity to the evil of Nero, more Muslims have come to love and surrender to Christ than the combined number in the last 14 centuries since the emancipation of Islam.
The prophecy of Ezekiel 36:26 could not be more manifest: ‘I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.’ Iran, the country where I was born and raised, was a land where people had the least interest in seeking the true God. Their passion was to succeed in life and that meant worshiping human riches and pursuing power! Iranians were totally disengaged with God and at best very content with a watered down secular-Islam, compromised and contextualised to such a degree that no one felt bothered by its presence at the fringes of society. Then 37 years ago the unthinkable happened: supported by the West, Islamic rule began, soon to be followed by eight years of devastating war.
‘I revealed myself to those who did not ask for me; I was found by those who did not seek me. To a nation that did not call on my name, I said, “Here am I, here am I.”’
Right from the beginning of this paradigm shift, people’s hearts began to mellow towards God. Dreams, visions, unthinkable miracles, love for Christ, sacrificial Christ-centred living, followed by persecution and martyrdom. Some of my closest childhood friends were martyred as well as those who had been role models for many of us. Contrary to human perception, every blow against the body of Christ brought us together in loving harmony and unity, more determined to share God’s love than ever before.
God’s promise in Isaiah 65:1 took shape in Iran: ‘I revealed myself to those who did not ask for me; I was found by those who did not seek me. To a nation that did not call on my name, I said, “Here am I, here am I.”’ The remoteness and infrequency of miracles is a thing of the past! We are living in the harvest time! Luke 5:7 portrays this story well: ‘So they signalled their partners in the other boat to come and help them, and they came and filled both boats so full that they began to sink.’
There are over 70 people groups in Iran. Over twenty are major people groups such as the Kurds, Lurs, Azeris, Turkmens, Baluchis, Gilakis or Mazenderaniz. Then smaller groups such as Qashqayees, Bakhtiyaris and even smaller such as Sanglajis. All have suffered under the theocratic Islamic rule of the plundering Ayatollahs. As a result they have come to realise that the Truth definitely lies elsewhere!
From almost every people group, many people have come to faith, yet many of them are still unreached. Those saints and pioneers of faith, such as Qurban Turani in Turkmensahra, Northern Iran, pay a huge price. Turnan did not take heed of many threats and stayed in Iran to shine for Christ. Eventually he was abducted, tortured, slain and dumped in front of his own house! The same with Rev Hussein Soodmand, married to Mahtab, born blind. Hussein was warned by church leaders to flee his hometown of Mashad, but he responded, ‘For such times I have lived.’ He was taken to prison and without being allowed to say farewell to his family, was inhumanly hanged in a prison courtyard.
'Persecution is a wakeup call to the church. There is an alarm for the immediacy and urgency of the harvest.'
There is no way to pierce the darkness prevailing on these people groups without paying the price. The ultimate price was paid by our Master, Jesus Christ. Yet Paul admonishes us in Colossians 1:24 to gladly embrace suffering for His sake: ‘Now I rejoice in what I am suffering for you, and I fill up in my flesh what is still lacking in regard to Christ's afflictions, for the sake of his body, which is the church.’ To share in Christ’s suffering? It is one of the most unthinkable invitations to join with Christ to suffer, yet do it rejoicing!
If there was an alternative way I wonder if Jesus would have still insisted on the infamy of the cross! Likewise, to draw entire people groups to Christ there is a price to be paid. A great many men and woman who have had revelations of Christ are enduring all kinds of suffering for the sake of the Gospel and transformation of their people! Because of this high price being paid by saints all over the world, darkness is being pierced and rays of hope are touching multitudes.
Persecution is a wakeup call to the church. There is an alarm for the immediacy and urgency of the harvest. Its very presence highlights extreme and unprecedented opportunities! Next the trumpets for Christ’s return will be lifted up ready to resonate throughout creation!
Until such time let’s not be weary, but join in with Paul and consider it the highest honour to suffer for Christ!
Founder, 222 Minisistries International