Today is Good Friday. It is a day for Christians which marks reflection and mourning but most of all hope. For Christians in restricted nations, Easter is a time which carries an increased risk of persecution.
On Easter Sunday 2016, in an attack targeting Christians, at least 75 people were killed and over 340 injured in a suicide bombing in Lahore, Pakistan. Holy Week 2017 began with more attacks on innocent Christians. In Tanta Egypt, a man wearing concealed explosives passed through a security checkpoint outside St George’s Church, and detonated himself. At least 28 people were killed, and 77 were injured. At the Egyptian port city of Alexandria three hours later, another bomber tried to enter St Mark’s Church. When the man was stopped by an officer, he also detonated his explosives. This time 17 people were killed and 48 left wounded.
Jesus offers a living hope to our persecuted brothers and sisters due to His victory over death. Because of His resurrection, death is nothing to be feared. It is this hope that inspires so many Christians to endure persecution, rather than renounce their faith in Christ.
“We have peace in our hearts so that whether we are poor or persecuted, we have this peace. It is the hope of heaven that keeps us going in the midst of persecution, so whether we are persecuted, beaten or not, it is the hope that we will be in heaven that keeps us moving forward.” – A believer in Burma
In Australia we often take our freedom to worship for granted. As you meet today to remember our Saviour’s death and again to celebrate His resurrection on Sunday, please say a prayer for our brothers and sisters in restricted nations who are doing the same, at great risk.
“When he calls to Me, I will answer him; I will be with him in trouble; I will rescue him and honor him.” Psalm 91:15
In the bottom drawer of my dresser, carefully folded and organised by type, are stacks of clothes to mend. One blouse just needs its sleeves hemmed. Somehow, I can never find the time to fix the clothes. I am so busy staying up late to study for finals or rushing off to work at six in the morning that I struggle to make time for the little things I know need help.
In the timeline of eternity, the life of a human is a minute speck. Nevertheless, the Being who sustains all space and time not only knows about the smallest problems of one human, but also promises His children that He will take care of them. My “when I have to, I’ll do that” allows me to push away responsibility indefinitely. God’s “when he calls to Me, I will answer” is His commitment to His people. My “I will” is often a reason to forget. His “I will” is a promise to act.
God does rescue. He does answer, though not always as we expect. God has no bottom drawer stuffed with projects to complete at some later date. He is at work now, providing Bibles to those who long for His Word, safe passage to those who escape death, joy and peace to those who suffer, and grace to those who at times doubt Him. When I cannot understand what Christ Jesus is doing and when it seems that He has forgotten His people, in His promises I trust, for He will not go back on His word.
J G Spires
“Oh Lord, what are you doing to our family?” cried the 20-year-old son of Pastor Stephen when he heard that his father had been killed.
His mother, Leah, collapsed on the ground, weeping in deep shock and grief.
“I find it too hard to believe that this happened to my husband. He was a good man,” she cried.
Her eldest son, at just 20 years of age, is a pastor like his father. The other children, aged 18, 11 and 9, also wept when they heard the sad news of their father’s death.
Before Stephen became a Christian, he was a Communist Party member for five years. His commitment to the party made him popular among the members.
However, a family friend was a pastor. He prayed for Stephen for some time and eventually led him to the Lord. Stephen left the Communist Party and his old friends behind to follow Christ.
As soon as he became a Christian, Stephen wanted to tell everyone about Jesus. He served faithfully in the church, and after a time he set about training to become a full-time pastor. He loved serving God.
Farmer and pastor
Tragically, Stephen had only been a pastor for 12 months when he was killed. His death shook the Christian community where they lived.
To support his family, like many pastors, Stephen worked on the family farm and continued his pastoral duties as well.
On 14 November 2015, Stephen was working on his farm when a large group of about 80 communists arrived, started a debate and finally bound Stephen up and dragged him away from his coffee plantation. Some of them were known to Stephen, regularly harassing him to return to communism.
One of the members of Stephen’s church was among some witnesses who hid nearby. They clearly heard the conversation between the communists and Stephen.
Keeping quiet for fear of being seen, they watched as one of the communists threatened Stephen with an AK-47 rifle pressed against his cheek.
“We will see if your God can help you today,” he menaced.
Stephen replied, “If you kill me right now, I will be with my Lord!”
Immediately, another angry communist, standing beside Stephen, shot him three times with his M-16 rifle. As Stephen slumped to the ground, he cried a single word with his dying breath: “Hallelujah!”
Stephen was 55 years old when he went home to be with his Lord. He paid for his faith with his life, and the communists ran into the jungle. The coffee plantation workers who had witnessed the event remember the final word of the man of God who never denied his Lord.
On the day of Stephen’s funeral, Leah determined, “I’m going to continue to serve the Lord.”
VOM Australia representatives met Leah at a pastor and leaders’ seminar in February of this year. She was encouraged to attend the event with one of her son’s friends, another pastor.
It was clear Leah was still grieving for her husband and struggled to participate in the seminar. When we realised the family’s poverty and lack of clothing, two of the senior pastors’ wives took Leah to the market where she could buy clothes for herself and her children. The next morning her whole countenance had changed. Although the clothing was a small gift, Leah was encouraged by the love of God’s family. VOM also plans to help Leah further with a small business that will provide a regular income besides the family coffee plantation, which requires a great deal of work.
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