Finding Joy and Forgiveness in the Face of Persecution
Trauma is a part of life. We all suffer. We all wish things worked out differently than they sometimes do. This truth may be even more apparent in the hostile and restricted nations where The Voice of the Martyrs (VOM) ministers. These are very difficult places to live — especially for a Christian.
I have seen firsthand the way these followers of Jesus live out their faith. When we wrote the book I Am N: Inspiring Stories of Christians Facing Islamic Extremists (David C. Cook, March 2016), we organized it around six themes that capture the essence of their faith and inspire us to stand strong for Christ no matter where we live. God is faithful. He has not abandoned them, and neither should we.
As I travel around the world to meet face-to-face with those who have experienced persecution, I continue to be amazed at the miracles that happen at the intersection of trauma and faith. These miracles are often related to the supernatural joy and forgiveness that these sisters and brothers demonstrate.
I Am N Christians say, “I will rejoice in the midst of our suffering in this world because my eternal hope is in Christ.” These believers look to the Apostle Paul as an example. Paul suffered much in this life, and was eventually beheaded. In Acts 20:24, he wrote, “But none of these things move me; nor do I count my life dear to myself, so that I may finish my race with joy, and the ministry which I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God.”
Joy is one of the most surprising themes we witness when we sit with Christians who have been persecuted, but it is almost always present. God’s grace has been clearly manifested in many of these believers’ lives — there is simply no other explanation for their mature response.
I met with a young man in northern Iraq who was given an ultimatum that many believers have been given by Islamic extremists. What really struck me as I interviewed this particular young man was the “matter-of-factness” with which he recounted the options he was given.
“They gave us three choices,” he said. “The first one is to be a Muslim, the second is to pay, or, if we refuse, they will kill us.”
And then he shrugged slightly, and continued. “It is so difficult. We are Christian. They took all our homes. … We lost everything.”
A Christian friend, who was also forced to flee, jumped into the conversation at this point to assure me, “But we didn’t lose our faith!”
The young man continued with a broad smile, “We are so proud, because we are still in this faith.”
He repeated, “We are still in this faith. We lost everything because Jesus deserves it. Jesus deserves all that.”
As he smiles, confidence, determination and eternal perspective shine through his eyes. His joy in not shaken. In fact, I would argue that his joy has been deepened by his intimacy with Jesus through this harrowing ordeal.
The other stunning response that I have witnessed from I Am N Christians is forgiveness. They confidently say, “I will allow the Holy Spirit to work supernaturally in my heart as I obey Christ by loving my enemies and forgiving others as I have been forgiven.”
Christians around the world remember the words of Jesus on the cross: “Then Jesus said, ‘Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do’” (Luke 23:34a). Jesus demonstrated forgiveness — even as He died. Remarkably, by God’s grace, many martyrs supernaturally demonstrate forgiveness today — even as they or their loved ones die.
I’ve met with widows who still live in the same villages where their husbands’ murderers live, and prayed with girls who have been been kidnapped and abused by Islamic extremists at the tender ages of 14, 16 and 19.
It is difficult to imagine forgiving someone who has wounded you so deeply. Without Divine help, it is impossible to forgive like this. That is why it is miraculous!
One young man I met worked at his mother’s kerosene stand and was taught by her to be loving and kind to everyone, Christians and Muslims alike.
One day, a Muslim man came by. Many Muslims in this market are called “hawkers,” as they carry wares on their heads and try to sell them. This man asked the boy to watch a box for him, and he agreed. The box contained a bomb, and when it exploded it blew the boy’s leg off.
The young man, who was still adjusting to a prosthetic leg provided by VOM, informed me that he has forgiven his attacker. He said, “Actually, based on Christianity, I can forgive them. It is only because Christ died for everybody. That is the only reason … just because of Christ, I can forgive.” Miraculous!
God heals. Miraculously. And God frequently uses forgiveness as a path to healing.
I Am N will introduce you to inspiring Christians facing Islamic extremists. We can stand alongside these brothers and sisters, who remain joyful and blessed by their relationship with Christ despite having lost everything they own. The joy they have in Christ is something the extremists cannot take away from them. These Christians are our family members — part of the body of Christ. We will not let them suffer in silence. We will not let them serve alone.