When we were preparing to come to Portugal, I wrestled with many questions and personal struggles. Many of these struggles revolved around the issue of whether or not I could possibly fit the profile of a “real missionary.” One such struggle centered on persecution. Over and over, I’ve thought, “I’m not persecuted. Am I a “real missionary”?”
In a warped way, I was comforted by the fact that I have so many headaches. These headaches are the result of head trauma I received at the hands of bullies who regularly chanted, “Let’s kill ‘Jesus’!” ‘Jesus’ was their nickname for me and they delighted in causing me physical pain. I wondered, “Does this count as persecution? Does this qualify me a real missionary?”
Alyssa and Alex (our intern) are reading and discussing books on short-term missions. Once again, the issue of persecution has come to the forefront. Once again, I found myself asking the question about being a “real missionary”. Once again, I spent time praying and asking God for his perspective.
Please don’t misunderstand what follows. I am in no way minimizing the horrible suffering experienced by our brothers and sisters around the world. Many of them are my heroes and I wouldn’t want to trade places with them for a second. I simply want to share some thoughts.
From one vantage point, persecution of Christians is a worldwide phenomenon. In much of the world, Christians suffer the persecution of hateful people. They are physically, financially, and in other ways, harmed intentionally by their fellow human beings. This most definitely is persecution.
In parts of the world, including the region in which I currently live, Christians also suffer persecution, but a different kind of persecution. Here, Christians suffer the persecution of hidden opposition. Church growth occurs at a pace slightly slower than a snail’s. Brothers and sisters fight with each other causing churches to split and implode. Popular opinion views Christianity as irrelevant at best and more like a poison than healing medicine. Everything is difficult – from obtaining permits for churches to paying one’s vehicle registration. All of one’s energy could be consumed simply by trying to pay bills, eat food, and live indoors. Nothing is left for the spread of the Gospel. And to make matters worse, Satan is probably a driving force behind it all, but he remains unidentified and unopposed. I firmly believe that this is a form of persecution.
In other parts of the world, including the region where I used to pastor, Christians suffer the persecution of heart distractions. In these places, believers believe the same lies as unbelievers. They chase the same pursuits believing that fulfillment and satisfaction can be found outside of Jesus Christ. What they find instead is exhaustion, disillusionment and depression. Yet, they are blind to the real cause of their destruction and distraction. There are simply too many products and opportunities clamoring for attention. The pace of life and the persuasiveness of empty promises prohibit time to be still and hear the voice of God. These poor believers suffer a persecution of stuff and possibilities.
These three types of persecution have a common goal – the destruction of the believer’s faith and opposition to the spread of the Gospel. One attempts to do it through intimidation, the second through discouragement, and the third through distraction and deceit. May we pray for each other and encourage each other to remain pure and persevere in the face of whatever persecution we face.
PS – By God’s grace, I’ve given up trying to find my confirmation of whether or not I’m a real missionary in meeting a set of qualifications that I created. Rather, I’m focusing on the fact that I’m a missionary because of the call of God:)