|Surviving the Time of Great Distress|
|Written by Sherry|
|Saturday, 01 November 2008 14:46|
On this All Saints Day - much to blog but also much work to do yet.
So I'll be brief.
Check out this Christianity Today article about Muslim background believers in the US. Amazing. Read the whole thing. Here's a taste:
Although Iranian churches have sprung from the same rocky soil, they are more established in the U.S. When the U.S.-backed Shah fell in 1979, pastor Hormoz Shariat was a Muslim student revolutionary chanting "Death to America!" in Tehran's streets alongside his young American bride, Donnell, a Muslim convert. Today, the couple's church of 300 in Silicon Valley is believed to be the world's largest gathering of Muslim-background believers. Arab Muslims generally do not reflect this Iranian receptivity to the gospel, where often the domino effect of one new believer turns an entire family to the Christian faith.
"In Arab countries, people see Islam as the answer," Shariat says. "But in Iran, they now see Islam as the problem."
Besides leadership training, the network's biggest need is social support for immigrants stranded between Muslim and mainstream society. Last September, JFM opened a transitional safe-house to shepherd persecuted Muslim-background believers through Bible studies and employment counseling. "We had some [who had been] sleeping in their cars and on people's couches," said executive director Fred Farrokh. "Christians talk of finding identity in Christ. But for Muslims, finding Jesus requires a loss of identity. Leaving Islam is [viewed as] an act of treason."
Most new converts have no access to fellowships. Like Samir in Kansas City, they are loners. Their sanctuary is cyberspace. Their stories, usually told anonymously, reverberate on websites like MuslimJourneyToHope.com and Answering-Islam.org. Samir helps manage the latter from his basement, tap-tapping words of counsel to Muslim seekers in closed countries. As an apostate, he's a target of fanatics—"I'd have beheaded you. Wait for your death; it will come from a source you don't know"—and a lifeline for isolated believers in America: "An ex-Muslim is always an ex-Muslim! I'll never get the new identity in Christ the Bible speaks of."
It's a bit sunnier in California, the adopted home of Iran's diaspora and about 15 Iranian churches. They represent about 9,000 Iranian Muslim-background believers in America, the only nationality cohesive enough to track, says Abe Ghaffari of Iranian Christians International in Colorado.
Missiologists say Persians have never identified as strongly with Islam as their Arab Muslim conquerors. While some studies estimate 500,000 to 1 million Iranian Muslim-background believers worldwide, Ghaffari counts fewer than 300,000—most of them isolated "secret believers." But even Ghaffari is stunned by how Iran's house-church movement of 50,000 has doubled in the last five years. "This is historic," he says.
The reading today at Mass are some of my favorites (Revelation 7!) "These are the ones who have survived the time of great distress; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb."
So it is most fitting that November Lausanne World Pulse is dedicated to the persecuted church.
The lead article is entitled Persecution: Normal and Expected. A few snippets:
First, persecution is normal for those who follow Jesus. Scripture makes this point from beginning to end. It is, quite simply, like the sun coming up in the east. Persecution is neither good nor bad—it just is. Certainly, Christians are not to seek persecution. But, at the same time, Christians need not give in to a crippling fear.
Second, conversion is the primary cause of persecution. That may sound strange, but consider this simple truth: When people come to Jesus, persecution results. And the only way to stop persecution is to keep people from coming to Jesus. Conversion and suffering for the faith are simply two sides of the same coin. Many Christians in the West hold to a missiology of suffering that is, at the very least, biblically inconsistent. They see persecution as “bad,” as “a punishment,” and as “something to be avoided at all cost.” Western Christians facing persecution would typically ask, “What did we do to deserve this?” And that question really means, “What did we do wrong?” But believers who are more at home in the world of persecution would see things differently. They might say, “We are being persecuted because we did what was right!” What a different perspective!
Third, even when missionaries do everything right, the result of a bold and culturally-astute witness will be the persecution, suffering, and martyrdom of others.
The one who has shared the good news feels responsible. And Satan can use that good feeling of responsibility for his purposes. The words Satan whispers are devastating: “You were faithful in your witness. Now look: someone is being hurt because of what you did! Your beloved disciple is now being persecuted! And it’s all because of what you did. Maybe it would have been better if this one had never come to Christ.
Sherry's note: I have certainly heard Catholics talk in this manner.
Another article makes some excellent points about the different kinds of persecution that one can face for the sake of Christ: hot, warm or "temperate". Temperate is what we in the west experience and the author makes an interesting point:
"This oppressive atmosphere shuts most Christian’s mouths when it comes to sharing faith as a way of life. We in the West try to adapt. We become educated and rich to gain approval. Or, we focus on deeds of compassion without accompanying verbal proclamation to be affirmed by the secular majority. Either approach makes Christian faith rather toothless and tasteless. I believe we in the West are perhaps most crippled when it comes to religious persecution, even though it is of only the temperate, but oh so sly, variety."
The international Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church is November 9.
Over 100,000 U.S. churches, representing nearly every U.S. denomination, are estimated to have taken part in the IDOP. Christians in over 130 countries remembered the persecuted on the IDOP.
In light of the horrors we have been hearing about in India and Iraq, this is definitely something that Catholics should be part of.