Persevering (Not Persecuted) Church: Lessons Learned

Those that live Godly lives in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution.

Welcome to Asked and Answered,” the podcast series that answers all of your missions related questions. With me in the studio are Ron and Charis Pearce.

Joy- Welcome, guys!

Ron, Charis- Hi, Joy!

Joy- Okay, so my question today involves the persecuted church, and I’m wondering in all your years of travel Ron, and I know Charis you’ve been traveling the last several years as well, can you tell me something you have learned from the persecuted church?

Ron- Well, first of all, Joy, remember this, that persecution varies from country to country and, therefore, nobody can be really the authority or an authority on it. We just take glimpses, pictures of it as we travel around and it’s something that you just try to put into context of the time you’re living in, of the country you are in, the situation. But some people want to be the authority on it and it’s because there is this love affair that we have of hearing how Christians are persecuted. I don’t know why it’s there, but it doesn’t build up the body of Christ sometimes. It more separates it and it’s a little gruesome.

Joy- It’s a sensational thing.

Ron- It’s a sensational thing and overseas the pastors in these various countries, they don’t want to be known as the persecuted church as I’ve told people before, they want to be known as the persevering church because they recognize our love affair with hearing about their suffering and it’s something they want to put aside. In their view, they want to get the job done of preaching the Gospel, having people accept Christ, and having them established in quality churches that replicate, multiply, with more people coming to know God. That is their goal. If that involves persecution or rules that constrain them from preaching the Gospel, whatever this may be, harassment, anything like that, they take it in stride and they will operate through it, sometimes around it a little bit or whatever, to get the job done. But they don’t harp on it. In fact, you have to pull it out of them when you are interviewing them many times as to what they have gone through and the price that they have paid to preach the Gospel. So, therefore, we approach this subject a little bit differently than probably other organizations simply because they just say, Don’t ask us about that, let’s leave that behind. We know that people want to know.”

Joy- North Americans seem to be quite obsessed with the persecuted church in that way and so let me rephrase the question then. Can you guys tell us what you have learned from the persevering church?

Ron- Ah, now that is a different story! There is all sorts of things and Charis, jump in here at any time but I’ll start with this one so that we get the ground rules correct. The persevering church is a church that is growing under the persecution shall we say, and they are growing both in numbers and in depth and in their enthusiasm and it appears that all the problems that are thrown at them, all the negative forces to try to restrict them is only adding fuel to the fire! One time, I’m sitting in China with one of these leaders of the house church movement, and this was quite a few years ago, he says to me, Rather than pouring water on the Gospel, they don’t realize it but they are pouring gas on the Gospel.” That is really what we see over and over again. The more that they get persecuted the more that they are determined to go out and share the Gospel. One time, in Ethiopia I was interviewing this one brother and they beat him up every time he went out. And you know, he had broken arms, cracked ribs, black eyes, you name it they did it and this one time he came in and he was a little battered, I’d met him on several occasions and he was a little battered more than usual and I said, So you’re out witnessing again,” and he said, Yeah, how can you tell,” sort of thing. And I said, So, who does this and do they ever get upset at what they have done? Do they feel remorse about it?” And he says, Almost always. Almost always they come to me afterwards and they will in one way or another apologize, not ask for forgiveness but just sort of say I didn’t like what I did.” And they say, Well, I didn’t like it either but at the same time I am willing to do this because the message that I have about Jesus is worth taking a few bumps and bruises for you as someone who is lost for eternity.” Therefore, they say, That is the way we explain it and that sort of makes them listen and they sort of perk up and say what do you mean lost for eternity? What do you mean you are willing to suffer for me even if I hit you while you’re telling me this?” And then they explain the Gospel. So the one thing I’ve learned is that persecution for many of these brothers is a good jumping off point to get into why am I not upset about you beating on me? Because I love you and it gives me an opportunity to explain. So that is one of the things we have learned.

<p>Chinese believers praying.</p>
I’m sitting in China with one of these leaders of the house church movement, and this was quite a few years ago, he says to me, “Rather than pouring water on the Gospel, they don’t realize it but they are pouring gas on the Gospel.”

Charis- I think one of the things that I have learned especially here in North America is that difficulties and difficult situations that we are in become a distraction for us and we feel like we need to focus on that and we need to tell everybody about what is going on and how difficult our life is and it takes away from our testimony whereas, overseas, like you said, they don’t focus on that, that is their motivating factor to keep going whereas, for us it’s a distraction.

Ron- Exactly, and another one on top of that would be that the persecution that is thrown at them is more than just an opportunity, it is a badge of showing Jesus that they are determined. Nothing will stand in our way and the anointing that comes upon these soldiers for Christ by the Holy Spirit is rather astounding! And you can tell the quality of the anointing that the Holy Spirit has given them according to, many times, how many times they have been in prison or how many lashes they have taken or all these sorts of things. It appears that is a mark upon them about we are determined, we are determined.” This is true in China and I’ve been told this many times, the fact that you really do not rise in the hierarchy of the house church movement in China until you have been in prison or suffered for Christ to the extent that you have proven your loyalty. Therefore, somebody walking in and saying I’ve never been in prison, I’ve never been in trouble, I’ve never done this, I’ve backed off on this, they don’t look down on the person but they say, no, you haven’t quite been there yet as to paying the price that is necessary to lead others.

Joy- It’s almost an expectation that it will come.

Ron- Yeah, it is, it’s an expectation and it will come. Those that live Godly lives in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution. There is no doubt about it.

Joy- And do you feel like North Americans, certainly not in comparison we don’t suffer any of the same kind of persecution for our beliefs and I wonder if we had the same kind of trouble, would our faith be strengthened? The logic says yes.

Ron- The logic says yes but let me put it this way, many people are persecuted for their faith now and they go to work, they live Godly lives and they may share Jesus, they may be demoted in their job, rank, etcetera, whatever the case may be, they may pay a price that way. Or they may lose friends or family members that won’t talk to them because they are believers and that is true persecution for their faith, there’s no doubt about it. Many times we love to tell the story as to how we have been persecuted, going back to our original thought, rather than take it in stride, don’t talk about it, move on. Therefore, I think over here, I think we’ve got to go through another level of purification shall we say, or preparation before we encounter real persecution of that type that they are experiencing overseas. Because I can just see it now, everyone is going to be writing a book on my five years in jail for Jesus. It will be a mark of pride and it will be a money maker and it will be maybe all sorts of things that go right to our ego. Whereas overseas it doesn’t do that, it’s the other angle like Lord, I’m not worthy to suffer for you in this way. I have heard that over and over and over again. They don’t consider themselves worthy to be suffering in such a way. I wish I had a dollar shall we say for every time I’ve heard that from a national believer! So there is a humility that is built into them before they really go through the suffering.

Joy- And the persecution, kind of what you guys are saying, is its own witness to the unbelievers. I remember you tell this story of a young girl, I think she was in Vietnam, I’m not sure, and she was paraded throughout the streets with the common prisoners and they did that to humiliate her but what ended up happening was just a big massive following of Christ from people that just said, Why are they persecuting her?” And all she would say is, I’m a believer.” So would you agree with that that really it pushes more people to follow the Lord?

Ron- Oh, it is, a similar story to that is in China where all the Bible School students were stripped naked and paraded through the city, chained together, taken to prison and I remember talking to the young lady, like you said it was a young lady who gave her testimony but there was a young man sitting beside her was in the same thing, she says, Yes, they tried to humiliate us, they took us through town tying us up like horses shall we say, parading us through, then they took us to jail, we spent time in jail, we came out,” and she said the strangest thing happened when we came out, she says, there was a church that popped up because they humiliated us,” and she says, we didn’t realize it but we were church planting by being humiliated in that way.” Because as you said, the people noticed what their reaction was to the persecution. Our reaction is we fight back and demand our rights, theirs was a different model by where they went to jail, they didn’t fight, they went in there, they paid their time, I don’t know how many months or whatever, I don’t think it was years but it would be months, and then they got out from that, they came back, the people had said why, why, why, somebody else had come into town, explained the Gospel to them, a church popped up and it was because of their example.

Joy- The reaction, that is exactly, it reminds me of that story you tell in Ethiopia where the man burned down the church and then he snuck back to the burnt down church and he found them praying for him and he became a believer.

Charis- And a church planter.

Ron- A church planter and one of the best who is so excited about the Lord right now. He is beaten all the time now by others that would persecute him. Oh yeah, he was quite a piece of God’s work shall I say. I still remember he got up, he was in a room with about, oh, 12 other people and this guy jumped up to preach at us about the Lord, etcetera, not preach bad, not condemning, but preaching with enthusiasm and then we figured out from his testimony who this guy was because we didn’t know where he went to, he disappeared. We had heard about the guy who burned down the church and here he surfaced in our meeting! He was a church planter and I think at that time it was a couple of dozen churches he had planted. Therefore, the persecution, it depends on how you handle it. It will be there for everybody and it’s just one of the things we go through as believers. Now, a lot of people, let me put this one in here Joy, and this is a lesson we have learned as well from around the world, there are a lot of people who will never be persecuted, who go to church, call themselves believers, maybe are believers and they will never be persecuted because they don’t make a stand or they dodge the bullets in such a way that they don’t want to offend anyone. Just being a Christian sometimes in the midst of other people who are antagonistic to the Gospel, you will draw attention, you will draw criticism, you will draw bullets and there is just no doubt about it. Therefore, these people don’t want to stand that tall in the crowd. Those are the people that, let’s be honest, I feel sorry for because they are in many ways ashamed of Christ. Now there are some people on the other side of the coin who want to be persecuted and do their best

Charis- They seek it out!

Ron- Oh, they seek, it’s like a guided missile! They want to be persecuted, please hit me, please hit me, I want to suffer for Jesus. In other words, they are looking for an opportunity to raise themselves above the crowd so they can have attention and they will be as obnoxious as they can be for Jesus so that they will be persecuted. Because to them that is the goal.

Joy- That’s the badge.

Ron- They want it for themselves, it’s not for Jesus, they want the attention.

Charis- Our partners overseas though, by no means do they look for the persecution.

Ron- Oh no, it comes automatically, they don’t have to look for it. And they handle it differently. It’s not a badge of their own worth, it’s the fact that they feel unworthy. They don’t look for it and they don’t dodge it either. So they walk that path in the middle. Over here, we’ve got people on both sides.

Joy- Right, so really what I’m hearing is for us here in North America, if we live for Christ there is no doubt we are going to face some form of persecution. It may not look like what our partners overseas face, but the way to handle that is to carry on with grace, not to brag, not to talk, just to carry on through that. That is a great lesson.

Ron- And therefore, we get the word persevering. We have to be a persevering church, persevering believers, no matter what. Not arrogant or proud because we are persecuted, but we just persevere. We’ll keep on going.

Joy- Okay, well thank you, guys, that was great!

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