Navigating Turmoil and Persecution: The Experiences of National Church Planters

They are used to all the problems that you can ever imagine.

Welcome to Asked and Answered, the podcast series that answers all your missions-related questions. With me in the studio today are Ron and Charis Pearce. Welcome back, guys. How are you?

Ron: Good, Joy.

Charis: Good, okay.

Joy: My question today is about stress, worry, and fear. I know that here in North America, we have daily worries that go through people’s minds. My question is, how do national church planting workers overseas in the spiritual hotspots handle fear, stress, and worry?

Ron: Yes, and no. It’s not quite that easy to answer that question. Let’s back up for a second here and look at the conditions over there. The conditions vary in every country, but many times the church planters are facing persecution, surveillance, threats, or something from either hostile governments or religions. But this is nothing new. There are very few countries where this just popped up a year ago. This has been a lifetime of developments and it goes back generations. So now you’re dealing with a church planter whose parents, grandparents, and everyone else has lived under this situation for so long that they have learned to look at it as normal.

Over here, we determine what normal is in a totally different way. Our normal is absolutely no pushback, persecution, or problems. We’re talking about flatline issues here, where if anything goes wrong, we’re just thrown into confusion, anxiety, and fear. We start thinking, What’s going to happen next? The stars are falling out of the sky,” and everything like that.

Over there, they are used to the stars falling out of the sky. They are used to all the problems that you can ever imagine. So in that context, let’s talk about what they go through. Every country is different, so I’m going to generalize on this, and someone might say, Oh Ron, that is not the way it is in that country.” Well, no, this is a broad generalization.

In countries where there is severe pushback, persecution, resistance to the Gospel, and so on, what happens is that they grow up knowing that they are going to have to pay the price. In China, they call it the way of the cross. They walk the way of the cross, which means they are anticipating, not hoping for, but anticipating anything to be thrown at them. And at the end of that event, that crisis, that experience, they look back on it and say, God was with me through the whole thing.” So they encourage one another, they expect resistance, and they are deeply rooted in the Word. The Spirit of God gives them peace supernaturally when the time comes.

Joy — Well, that is interesting because I was just going to say it’s not like they are supernatural beings that never have fear. So if a Chinese leader is thrown in jail and arrested, they are obviously going to have some trepidation, but it is the Holy Spirit that comes along.

Ron — Yeah, yeah, I’ve heard every story under the sun about how things develop with these national pastors in prisons and other difficult situations. Sometimes God comes for a moment, sometimes God gives peace, sometimes the torturer is removed. There are all sorts of answers to prayer. The Spirit comes in different ways to give them peace in a situation. Sometimes they are very scared and they hold on tight and make it through. Sometimes it hurts a lot because there are no answers, and they just suffer through the persecution. So, there is no simple answer to this except, alright, we’ve gotten rid of all the other ifs and buts. It comes down to this: in all these countries over the years that I have heard of persecution or worry or anxiety, it is really based on how they handle that anxiety. It is based on their depth in the Lord, their experience with God, their knowledge of the Word of God, their maturity in life and walking with the Lord.

Charis — The other thing that is interesting is that they almost prepare themselves for it by memorizing Scripture, by doing things so that when they are put in these situations, they have something to fall back on. They repeat scripture over and over again. They have it in their hearts, so it’s not just a case of, Oh no, what am I going to do?” There is a little bit of preparation for whatever comes.

Ron — I remember, Charis, years ago, we walked into this underground Bible School and we had interrupted them in their class. I would say there were about 30 or 40 students in this class. These were all young people ready to go out into ministry, starting churches, and everything like that. We walked in, and I remember our leader who was there asked what they were studying. They basically said, Today we are talking about persecution 101.” In other words, they were training them on what to expect in prison, in life, and everything like that. They had a class on it.

Joy: So there’s not going to be any surprises, they know what they are getting into.

Ron: 99% of the time there are no surprises, but there is always something that pops up, and then they get to go back and tell everybody, This is the new one that they are throwing at us now.” So, it’s not just physical persecution, but there is also spiritual adversity. This is where the person may face spiritual warfare in a way that we have never imagined. I don’t want to go into the spiritual warfare thing because it’s very broad and a long road. But let me put it this way, this is more than just suffering, a person beating you up. This includes all the emotions, all the spiritual questions, everything. It is similar, I was told, in many regards to what Jesus went through in the temptation in the wilderness when Satan came and offered him, and cajoled him, and tried to veer him off his path. That, they say, is very, very common. There are suggestions that come to their minds, their spirits, that say, You don’t have to go through this, there is another way.” Therefore, a lot of these guys were talking about how they have to be strong, going back to the whole thing of maturing in Christ. Nothing will overtake them, but something will always prepare them to go through that testing, that trial. So, we’ve got Scripture to back it up. Nothing is going to overpower you, but be prepared, like Charis said.

Joy: You know, that is really interesting because a blatant beating, persecution that is right in your face like that, for all of us solid in our faith, that would definitely strengthen our faith, you would hope. That, Oh, I’m being beaten for Christ, ok.” But it’s the insidious suggestions and the things that get in your mind that would be much, much harder to counter if you are not solid in your faith.

Ron: Well, another thing too is the pride factor. So, I got beat up for Jesus, look at me! And they deal with that in all of the groups around the world, from the Vietnams to the Chinas to the Indias, everything like that. They train them, you do not get puffed up in your spirit because you were beaten for Christ.

Joy: So that is something they address, interesting!

Ron: Oh yeah, of course, that is why they don’t want to talk about it. When we are doing interviews as to what they are going through in life, they absolutely minimize that because they don’t want to use this to puff themselves up or to have pride or conceit, sort of like I’m special.” No, they are bondservants. This is what is expected. We will go through this. They are looking at the prize, not the journey. Therefore, the prize is souls, and the journey might be rough. So you minimize the journey and you look at the souls.

Joy: You know, it reminds me of a story I think we have on our podcast of a Chinese woman who fell in love with a pastor, and he asked her to marry him, and she really waited for months to decide because she understood what that meant. She ended up marrying him, and then he got arrested, and she was on the run. So it came true, but she counted the cost and did it anyway.

Ron: I know of a couple that were married, who met in prison, both being beaten and tortured, etcetera, the husband more than the wife. We were in China, and I still remember the situation in a tea house, and they were sitting there talking about their first date, and it was touching each other’s fingers through a hole in the wall. They were meeting, and they had to whisper to each other through the wall. There were girls on one side and boys on the other side. They had an entire courtship while being tortured in prison, shall we say. I said, So how long were you in there?” And I forget, I’d have to check my notes. It was something like a year. So they had a year courtship, touching each other’s fingers in prison. That was their physical contact, touching fingers.

Therefore, the prize is souls, and the journey might be rough.

Joy: That’s a great story! 

Ron: Yeah, then they got out and they knew the price they were going to have to pay. They were good church planters in the northern part of China. I remember the whole storyline. So, at the end, I asked them, How is your marriage? Have you been happy over the years?” They said they are incredibly happy, and I could see it. Every culture has its own way of expressing love within a marriage. In their culture, it may not be public displays of affection, but you could tell by the smiles on their faces, the way they talk to each other, the way they sit, and how they reinforce one another. They had a good marriage. It had a rocky start, but it showed what their life was going to be like going forward. Joy, I don’t even know how to categorize a lot of this stuff. You live through it because your passion for Christ and for winning the lost is so great that you do whatever it takes. In that culture, they have gotten used to that. Joy: You know, there is a word for it, I think. It’s called grit,” and they say that people who have grit have the ability to get through difficult situations. It’s a way of coping and getting through. Christian grit is backed up, like you said, by biblical knowledge, prayer, and what Charis said, memorization. So that answers the question of what we should do, right? Ron: Well, yeah. We are not as mature as we thought we were in North America. Let’s just put it on the table right now. I think this was exposed during the COVID situation. We fell short in many areas. I’m not going into details, but in many areas, we fell short. That shows that we have to grow in Christ before the next event happens. I’m not talking about the next COVID, but the next thing. Many pastors I’ve talked to in North America agreed with me. They said preaching once a Sunday for 25 minutes and talking about a topic was not enough to take everybody through this crisis. We have to go deeper. We have to understand that prayer, worship, Bible teaching, personal devotions, and everything like that need to be known in a deeper form. So, I expect in the next five or ten years, there will be a real shift in the North American church, in the pastors and the strategies they employ. We are going to see a change. Joy: The sermons we listen to will hopefully change too. Ron: Yeah, I think we have to go deeper, faster, and that means everyone has to grow. Even pastors have to grow past the superficial and get deeper. The people in the pews, the adherents, the newcomers, they all have to realize that this is not a game anymore. The persecuted church, the suffering church, or as I call it, the persevering church, they know this is not a game. It’s a matter of life and death. Many people here have viewed going to church as a hobby, just something to do on Sunday morning. It’s not a dedication of their lives. But going to church is where you go to get reinforced, to be with the body of Christ, and get charged up. It’s not an add-on to life. We have to put a stop to that. We need the passion to follow Jesus, like they have overseas. 

Joy: And passion is what’s lacking here, maybe. 

Ron: And that’s how they handle anxiety and stress. 

Joy: Very interesting. Thank you. That definitely answered the question.

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