What do China, Nepal, India, Bhutan, Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, Iran, Sudan, the USA, Turkey, and Egypt all have in common? These are places in the world where the church of Jesus Christ is being persecuted by various degrees. And Teri and I recently had the incredible privilege of worshipping Jesus with believers from all of these nations, while being hosted in one of them - an experience that we both will never, ever forget.
Basically there were two conferences happening back to back: a Summit, and a Missions Conference. The Summit was a gathering of numerous believers from the above mentioned countries, in order to have fellowship, worship, inspiration from the Word and from one-another, and to pray for each other's churches. The Missions Conference followed, and was hosted by the believers in our host nation, the most incredible people you'll ever meet, who basically pledged their lives as martyrs if needs be, but they would not miss out on the honor of being able to bring Christ back to Jerusalem whilst sojourning through some of the most violent places to the gospel in the world today.
One of our brothers from Egypt was running a short-term trip in the Sudan, when they were accosted by Islamic extremists, and four of his closest friends were shot before his very eyes. He himself was taken into an interrogation room, and screamed at by a policeman, who said, "I have been told to deport you from our country. I don't want to. I want to keep you here, so you can see what else we like to do to you Christians here." It is a miracle he escaped with his life, but as he says today, he doesn't have his life - he has already lost it in Jesus. Everything that happens now, is for the glory of God.
And a brother from Iran, sharing about the incredible growth of the church in that country, even amidst massive oppression. While describing what it is like to worship in Iran in an underground church, he shared this: in the western nations, many a church will have a sign over their exit door, reading, "You are now entering the Mission Field", and hopefully for the parishioners, this is truth for them. However, in the Iranian church, when you leave by the exit, there is no sign. Just the Pastor of the church, shaking your hand, looking you in the eye, and as you depart, he says to you, "Are you willing to pay the price?" This is the truth for them.
I'll close with this story, of a Chinese underground church pastor who makes it an annual field trip for his little children's Sunday School class - they visit the graves of the western missionaries who would not leave as the Boxer Rebellion over-ran the nation, and millions of people were killed and missionaries were beheaded. Pointing to the tombstones the Pastor reminds them, "This is why we have the love of Christ, because these people loved not their lives, even unto death."
In some ways, Teri and I felt extremely unworthy to be at these events. We were invited by the South Africans who organized the Summit, and helped to pull-off the Missions Conference. My role was to lead worship, and bring the message of "Wear The Crown", which I had the honor of doing at both events. Teri had the privilege of giving the timeless written words of our Father to two precious women who previously did not have them. But the enriching that went on in our hearts and minds, the purification of our priorities once again being around people of whom the world is not worthy, and hearing again and again the stories of persecution, and the honor that these saints feel for being called worthy to do so, is deeply impacting in a way that irreparably changes you.
How can we be the same? We have passed from death to life! We have been made part of the family of God, having come from being outcasts in sin. We are living stones, crafted into the living temple of the Holy Spirit, having been at one point useless rubble. We were once lost, hopeless, without God in the world, but now, we have been brought near, and have been called out of the darkness into His marvelous light. Hallelujah! Amen!