I trust you had a good holiday celebrating the birth of our Lord Jesus. I’m looking forward to a number of new opportunities and partnerships for TWR Canada this year. I’m on my way this week to Asia to do just that, but I wanted to share with you a story that came to me from one of our partners in Central Asia.
A 2014 PEW research study found that religious persecution, restrictions and harassment dramatically increased around the world in the four years they’ve done the study. Christians were the most targeted group and are persecuted because of their faith in 151 countries.
Before we can help those living in persecution we have to know how to help, what their needs are, and what they struggle with. One of our on-the-ground partner shares some insights on these issues from a recent trip to meet with house church leaders. Please pray for our brothers and sisters living in countries where expressing their faith makes them a target for discrimination, persecution, and prosecution.
In the last year or so I have been asked repeatedly by house church leaders to be introduced to other house church leaders. They have many struggles and challenges and hope to learn from someone in a similar position.
I invited 20 plus men, being very careful about who and how I invited, to gather with me over a few days. The first challenge to overcome was that the men did not know one another. Even though they wanted to meet another leader they did not want to meet as a larger group.
At first, I created small groups of only three or four men. The men started to build limited relationships over many cups of tea and broad discussions. It was very hard for them to talk about their role as a house church leader with someone they were just getting to know.
The Power of Fear
I began to doubt the wisdom of arranging these meetings, but realized the men were afraid. This fear was not unfounded. One of the men who came testified that there were some from outside Christianity trained in the role of house church leaders. They know the scriptures very well and act like they are pastors — but they are false. These imposter-pastors get Christians to come to their meetings and encourage them to bring other believers. In this way the government “traps” believers, arrests them and tries to control the growth of house churches.
Living under these circumstances, where much of what you do is monitored, it was understandable that the men were afraid to open up to one another. They could not trust one another even though they trusted me. I wondered since the power of fear was so apparent in the leaders, then how did the members of their various groups function? Were they equally afraid?
Lack of Solid Teaching
The second challenge to overcome was the various levels of spiritual maturity, knowledge and understanding of the scriptures. Some of the men had been introduced to Christianity through TV programs. Whatever they could understand or appealed to them, they passed on to those in their fellowship. False teaching is a bigger problem than I realized.
One of the men, rather than study the Word of God, believes the Holy Spirit directs him through his dreams. Another man, who has been leading a house church for four years, does not own a Bible. He listens to his favourite Christian TV program and then teaches what he has learned from the program. I asked if he had been baptized and he said he baptized himself in the shower.
I reassured the leaders that people in the West are praying for them. Then they asked, “Who will help our family if we are arrested and imprisoned because of our Christian activities?” Many are the sole income earners in the family and once they are in prison their families have no way to pay for rent or food. I had no answer for them.
These leaders do not know how to grow in their own faith, never mind helping those under their care to grow in their walk with the Lord. These men want to serve the Lord, but are so limited in their abilities and resources.
As I took them to the airport for their departure, after we said good bye, I could see the fear returning. Fear of the unknown. Fear of the challenges in leading their small flocks. Fear of the pressure of being monitored. It was hard to say goodbye knowing there are some who may die or be exiled for their faith before I am able to gather these men together again.