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ROMANIA: Extreme Opposition

ROMANIA: Extreme Opposition

I admire Communists.” The words seemed strange from a pastor who spent fourteen years in Communist prisons, but Richard Wurmbrand was sincere when he said them.

“Many Communists were willing to die to defend their ‘Utopia.’ They were more committed to their cause than some I met in churches.”

In every enemy Pastor Wurmbrand saw a potential friend and a potential Christian. By loving his opponents, he not only saw many come to know Christ but also increased his opportunities to witness.

“When they called me a ‘dirty Jew’ and told everyone not to read my books, people immediately went out to see what this ‘dirty Jew’ had to say,” he chuckled. “I welcome anyone who has offense against me. Others are not always interested in what you have to say. You need to challenge them to the truth before you share your beliefs. To do this you must understand where they are coming from and be able to speak intelligently. But we must also remember to always speak in love.”

Pastor Wurmbrand’s words were not some high-minded ideal that he didn’t exemplify. He and his wife Sabina welcomed into their home a Nazi officer who worked at the very concentration camp where all of Sabina’s family had been exterminated. When the officer saw their forgiveness and love for him, he was won into the kingdom.

Note: These statements were made during one of Pastor Wurmbrand’s final interviews prior to his death in February, 2001.

Jesus taught us that others would recognize our faith by our love—especially when it comes to dealing with the opposition. How we treat our enemies is equally important as how we treat those in our own Christian family. In fact, our response to criticism often makes a greater statement for Christianity than any other example. When believers put this powerful principle of the Christian faith into practice, they distinguish themselves from the rest of the world. The natural response to opposition is to refute it or return the favor. Instead, believers strive to understand their enemies, not under-mine them. Opposition, when put into this perspective, is welcomed as an opportunity to exercise faith and imitate Christ’s commands.

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INDONESIA: Extreme Sacrifice

INDONESIA: Extreme Sacrifice

They huddled inside the room while hearing the screams of fellow Christians being butchered outside. Pastor Hendrick Pattiwael and his wife were helping to lead the Indonesian youth camp, and they felt responsible for the young people in their care.

The camp had been a joyous time of spiritual growth and worship. Then they were attacked.

When the radical Muslim mob surrounded the building where they hid, Pastor Pattiwael went outside. Distracting the bloodthirsty mob’s attention away from his wife and the young people, the pastor was attacked while the others escaped.

“Jesus, help me.” They were his final words.

His wife next saw him lying in a coffin. Ugly wounds crisscrossed his torso and arms. In shock and anger, Mrs. Pattiwael cried out to God. “How could you let this happen? Why didn’t you protect my husband?”

But the Holy Spirit reminded her of her husband’s words only days before the attack. “If you love Jesus, but you love me or your family more, you are unworthy of Christ’s kingdom.” He told her that he was ready to die for Christ’s kingdom.

Remembering those words, she refused to become bitter. She still works with her church in Indonesia. The advice that she would give Christians in free nations is simply this: “Seek God more earnestly, so that you can stand in the midst of more trouble.”

We don’t have to go looking for trouble. It already has our address. Jesus often reminded his disciples that trials are part of daily living. Seeking God more earnestly does not mean seeking more trouble for our lives. No, the benefit of seeking a deeper relationship with God is to better prepare us for the inevitable. We don’t have a choice about what troubles come our way. However, we can choose to have a relationship with God that prepares us for trouble. Some trials may mean losing our lives for Christ’s sake. Yet this is not the real sacrifice. The extreme sacrifice must come long before. We must sacrifice selfishness at every level in order to develop intimacy with God ahead of time. When we have sacrificed all to pursue a preeminent relationship with Christ, we will have already done the hardest part.

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EGYPT: Extreme Step of Faith

EGYPT: Extreme Step of Faith

“Here is the plan,” said the young Christian leader to the youth group. “At 8:30 you must begin to distribute the meeting invitations at the university. You must give them all out quickly before the secret police come and ask what you are doing. If you cannot give them to someone, just leave them lying somewhere. God will get them into the right hands.”

“You want us to pass out invitations before we have permission?” Images of being arrested by the Egyptian police flashed through the minds of the anxious men and women gathered around their leader.

“Exactly! Look, we have to exercise a little faith. We’ll take the first step, and the rest is in God’s hands.”

In Egypt, Christian gatherings are closely monitored and cannot be held without government approval. Shortly after 8:30, the youth leader called the police to request permission to hold a Christian gathering.

“You must fill out the proper forms, and we will notify you in a month or so.”

“I am sorry, sir, but we have already begun giving out invitations for the meeting,” the Christian answered anxiously.

“Why did you give invitations before you had approval? You know we must approve such meetings. Well, I guess since invitations have already been given out I will approve the meeting this time.”

Putting our faith into action is all about taking the first step on an uncertain journey. As others who have made this journey will tell us, it’s not the actual going that is difficult. It is “going without knowing” that is a bit unnerving. There are no maps on a journey of faith. We navigate by the starlight of God’s provision. It’s an off-road adventure that leads us to places we cannot see from the main highway of life. It took great faith for the believers to send out invitations to a meeting that they weren’t sure would be permitted. God honored their step of faith by blessing them with three hundred new converts that night. Are you ready to step out in faith?

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SUDAN: Extreme Pain

SUDAN: Extreme Pain

“Say it with us,” the soldiers screamed, kicking and punching the boys’ faces and abdomens. “Allah is God, and Mohammed is his prophet. Say it!”

The four young Sudanese boys cried and screamed out for their mothers but they refused to repeat the words that would mean saving their lives yet renouncing their Christianity. Their red blood began to flow across their black skin, but they would not give up their faith in Christ.

The older teenage boys looked on in horror. They had seen their Southern Sudanese families murdered by sword-wielding Islamic fighters. Now they watched as their four young friends and relatives—the youngest
only five years old—were beaten to death.

Already the soldiers had forced each older boy to lie over hot coals and ordered them to repeat the Muslim creed and join the Islamic faith. None of the boys would say the words despite the excruciating pain.

There were fourteen boys and thirteen girls abducted in the raid that day. The girls have never been located and were likely sold as slaves or concubines in Northern Sudan. All of the boys were tortured, but none relented.

The next night the older boys escaped, still bearing the scars of the previous nights. Not one renounced his faith.

Pain often plays an important purpose in God’s plan. Unfortunately, there is no other experience that equals its ability to grasp and focus our attention. Physical pain from a long-standing illness or sudden injury gets the whole attention of the human body. The brain sends signals throughout the nervous system to focus the body’s resources on the source of trouble. In the same way, emotional pain is difficult to ignore as well. The anguish of losing someone we love to cruel circumstances like cancer or disease, persecution or injustice can be nearly overwhelming. Whatever situation introduces us to pain, we have two options for dealing with it. We can give up. Or we can grow. Those who experience pain can be unique ministers of God’s grace. Like an athlete in training whose muscles must be broken down through
strain and exercise in order to get stronger, pain is our pathway to new growth.

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SIBERIA: Extreme Smile

SIBERIA: Extreme Smile

It was getting late, and the Soviet officer had beaten and tortured Paulus for many hours. “We are not going to torture you anymore,” he said, smiling brutally when the Christian looked up. “We will send you instead to Siberia, where the snow never melts. It is a place of great suffering. You and your family will fit in well.”

Paulus, instead of being depressed, smiled. “The whole earth belongs to my Father, Captain. Wherever you send me I will be on my Father’s earth.”

The captain looked at him sharply. “We will take away all you own.”

“You will need a high ladder, Captain, for my treasures are stored up in heaven.” Paulus still wore a beautiful smile.

“We will put a bullet between your eyes,” shouted the captain, now angry.

“If you take away my life in this world, my real life of joy and beauty will begin,” answered Paulus. “I am not afraid of being killed.”

The captain grabbed Paulus by his tattered prison shirt and screamed into his face, “We will not kill you! We will keep you locked alone in a cell and allow no one to come see you!”

“You cannot do that, Captain,” said Paulus, still smiling. “I have a Friend who can pass through locked doors and iron bars. No one can separate me from the love of Christ.”

Despite an uncertain future, we can be sure of one thing: Christ will face it with us. Whether we are going through a private trial or a public grieving, we are never going alone. In contrast, every human companion will fail us at some point. There will be places in life’s journey where they cannot walk with us—the water will be too deep and their understanding would be murky at best. Only Jesus has the ability to pass through the “iron bars” on our suffering hearts and share these difficult times. Although, in his wisdom, he may not choose to deliver us from our circumstances, his sure presence will see us through them. Smile, knowing you have a Friend from whom you can never be separated.

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