Eve* is from Mecca, Saudi Arabia, and came to Jesus at great personal cost. Her journey started when she began to seek out information about Him online. Her father found out and beat her. Eve was then forcibly married to an older man, and he too beat her for her faith. Eve is brave—each time she was beaten she remarked, “Your beatings just prove your faith is flawed!”
One day she went with her family to visit a sick relative in the local hospital in Mecca. The attending nurse was a Christian Filipina who took wonderful, loving care of Eve’s relative. Yet Eve’s family mocked the Christian nurse, calling her a dog and worse. In her heart, Eve said, “Whatever spirit is in this Christian nurse, I want. Whatever spirit is in my family, I want no part of.”
Persecution and beatings followed, including murder attempts. At one point Eve and her young child were locked in a car and pushed off a high cliff. Miraculously they survived, even though the car was totaled.
When Eve’s family couldn’t force her to give up Jesus, they called in Abraham*—the most loving and gentle family member who was also a devout and sincere Muslim. Abraham was tasked with returning Eve to Islam. Unknown to the family, Abraham had his own questions, and brave Eve was used to bring Abraham to salvation in Jesus. Abraham began to protect Eve and her children, risking his life to get her to safety. This did not go over well with the family and great suffering followed.
What Does it Mean to Walk Alongside the Suffering Church?
Abraham was imprisoned and sentenced to 900 lashes, 400 of which were applied. Abraham lost his job, home, personal savings, and reputation. His car was firebombed, his house was looted, and his wife and two sons were threatened. Lawsuits, beatings and accusations became his daily experience.
How can those who do not suffer for their faith understand and come alongside people like Eve and Abraham?
Fear and disunity are favored weapons of Satan, all around the world and across time. He is the enemy of our souls and of the gospel, and wants to keep us silent. Jesus-honoring, gospel-focused living refuses to be silent and refuses to divide.
In the Saudi Arabian context, fear has long ruled and is, unfortunately, what global workers have often modeled to new believers. We are incorrect if we sit in positions of secrecy and safety while challenging new believers to fearless living and faith-filled proclamation. We must walk united with the suffering church, demonstrating that we are just as willing to risk our freedoms, health, visas and longevity as they are.
Very practically, this means we must meet with suffering believers, open our homes to them, be willing to celebrate and participate in their baptisms, visit them, be seen with them, invest in them and in their families, text them, pray with them, and study the Bible with them. We must associate with them at every level—embracing whatever fallout that means.
Very proactively, this means we must model bold proclamation and wide sowing of the gospel, even if that threatens our lives or our ability to live in difficult contexts. We must practice what we preach, especially in contexts of suffering.
Why Does the Suffering Church Matter?
There is no glory before suffering. Because our goal is the glory of Jesus among and from all peoples (Revelation 7:9), suffering should be rejoiced in, not rejected. We rejoice in our sufferings because in them Jesus is lifted up as worthy, and because after them Jesus is exalted as glorious.
When the Church does not suffer, it thrives. But it thrives on itself—its own programs, growth, accomplishments, performance, numbers, power, wealth. A non-suffering church focuses on and celebrates what it can do with its resources, status, connections, privilege and health. The result is usually some form of subtle vanity, and often outright arrogance. Simply put, a non-suffering church tends to glorify self, whereas a suffering church tends to glorify Jesus.
A suffering church is often devoid of all power, wealth, status, program, and human agency. The result is a centering on Jesus, a reliance on the Holy Spirit, and a genuine humility found only through pain and loss.
Suffering matters because it strips all vanity from us, making it impossible for us to glorify man, self or church. Suffering, if we endure it faithfully, magnifies Jesus and His power—a resurrection power that only can be experienced on the other side of death. Suffering matters because it reminds us that the Church needs martyrs, not heroes. Heroes like to be lifted up, but tend to wiggle off the cross. They earn fame but steal glory. Martyrs remain on the cross, and then Jesus gets glory and resurrection power is released.
The suffering church matters because without suffering, there is no glory.
What Does Suffering Mean in the Context of Scripture?
In Philippians 1:29, we are told that suffering is a gift. It has been granted to us. Philippians 3:10-11 explains why: There is a sweet knowledge of God that cannot be gained until we join Him in His suffering for the redemption of the world.
Paul boasts: “I want to know Christ and the power of His resurrection.” The non-suffering church agrees with Paul. We are attracted both to intimacy and to power.
Yet Paul goes on: “ … and the fellowship of His suffering, conformity to His death.” The obvious context, so easily overlooked by the non-suffering church, is that Christ’s suffering and death was and is interlocked with His dying for the sins OF THE WORLD. This is missions-related suffering. Jesus suffered so that the Revelation 7:9 missions vision of all peoples worshipping around the throne could be fulfilled.
When we join Jesus in His suffering for the nations, there is a sweet, sweet knowledge of God that cannot be experienced in comfort. The testimony of Scripture is that suffering is both necessary for the fulfillment of the Great Commission and a great gift. The scandal is that so many of us are reluctant to receive and embrace suffering for the nations.
The Invitation of Suffering
Suffering within the context of missions is a gift because it makes Jesus real to us in ways we can never know while living safe, secure lives. Suffering in the global church is intended, in part, to give us a holy jealousy. Those who suffer for Jesus—like my friends Abraham and Eve—glow with His glory and have a joy unspeakable. Their glow invites us to a closer walk with Jesus. It is an invitation paid for at great price and with great love. Let us not be slow or stupid in refusing the gift.
*Names have been changed for security. Sunday, November 6, is International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church. This article originally appeared in Worldview magazine. Used with permission.