It’s not too often that we think about suffering.
It was a sunny day, and the mountainous village church was half-full that Sunday morning. We had come with the youth from another city to visit the small church and encourage our brothers and sisters. Few of the locals understood Russian, so the service was translated into Kyrgyz. My husband stood behind the pulpit, preaching a message on joy in Christ when he saw them jumping the fence, opening the gate, and walking into the yard. A police officer, angry neighbors and people with video cameras rushed into the church, causing a ruckus that turned heads and started whispers. Our group looked at each other and at the unwelcome visitors, frightened that they would start asking us for our documents and causing problems. Yet the locals in the church kept singing, kept praising and worshipping and trusting that God wouldn’t let the enemy bring them down.
“Every Sunday, they keep us awake. They come and cause problems. They try to shut down the church and scare us away from the faith. But really, they’re reminding us of what’s the most important thing to the Lord, and we don’t fall asleep,” the church deacon told us in quiet conversation. We later found out that a few months ago, their pastor was taken at night, was threatened and beaten all night, and warned to stop gathering with the “traitors” who’d left the true faith, the other Kyrgyz believers.
And we traveled to more villages in the southern area, and met with other Christians who’d been threatened and beaten and harmed, and whose church buildings had been burned and damaged. We spoke to pastors who were dragged out before their families and almost drowned before their eyes. We looked at their faces and listened to their hearts. We ate plov and we talked and laughed. We sat on the floor and sang songs with them long into the night, together praising the One who suffered so much more.
And and all the while we learned something. They suffered pain and often lived in fear. They were under attack, but their faith was unwavering. They shined brighter, they grew stronger, and they prayed harder. We’d thought to encourage them. But the faith and commitment that we saw in our brothers and sisters stirred our souls and spoke more than encouragement to us.
There IS a persecuted church. They are our brothers and sisters and friends. They live in harsh conditions among hostile neighbors, and they fight the battle everyday. They fight it on their knees. They fight it with the Word. They fight it with their faith.
And they need our prayers.
We were fine that day. The officials didn’t ask us anything, didn’t request to see our documents or threaten us in any way. We were fed a delicious lunch by the local members, and after some fellowship and songs, we left that church and city.
We left, and there wasn’t anything we could do to stop the officials that would come again next Sunday.
And come again the next Sunday, and the next…
“Remember those who are in prison, as though in prison with them, and those who are mistreated, since you also are in the body.” Heb 13:3