The death of Rev Lawan Andimi, the chairman of the Christian Association of Nigeria met me with shock. I watched another video where a young student of the University of Maiduguri was shot in the head by a child-terrorist. I was shocked, the person with me and I were silent and sober almost throughout the day. I was short of words, trying my best to stay concentrated on other things.
It took me some level of courage to write this seeing how our emotions have been boiling over the week as a result of the gruesome killing of Christians by the armed terrorist organisations Boko Haram and ISWAP.
These terrorist organisations have become one of the most dreaded Islamic extremists in the world and our brothers in Northern Nigeria are the ones who are being hit the worse by this.
I have taken my time not to speak out of anger because if I would, I was truly bitter and resentful about the killings and at a point, I wanted to point fingers not just at the Nigerian government and the world leaders but also at the Christian leaders and organisations for being what I felt was weak. But, I decided to keep calm and never let anger get me to say things I may try correcting in the future.
This morning, it came heavy in my heart to write this. We should stop acting surprised when Christians are being persecuted. That’s part of the parcel of what it is to be a Christian. When we live in Christian communities and enjoy security, we often don’t know how other believers are living in hostility elsewhere. Jesus said
“A brother will betray his brother to death, a father will betray his own child, and children will rebel against their parents and cause them to be killed. And all nations will hate you because you are my followers. But everyone who endures to the end will be saved. When you are persecuted in one town, flee to the next. I tell you the truth, the Son of Man will return before you have reached all the towns of Israel.” – Matthew 10:21-23 NLT
Persecution can not be separated from Christianity, families who aren’t believers will always persecute members who are believers. Of all the options Jesus gave to us, there was no option that says we should revenge persecution. In fact, Jesus said we should rather flee from it if it is possible.
Christianity makes us less responsive to the things of the flesh and very alive to the things of the Spirit. This in some ways looks like weakness, cowardice and foolishness to the undiscerning. Paul wrote
“Dear friends, never take revenge. Leave that to the righteous anger of God. For the Scriptures say, “I will take revenge; I will pay them back,” says the Lord.” – Romans 12:19 NLT
Revenge isn’t just when we kill those who kill us it is also when we hate those who hate us. While it is normal to get emotional about what is happening to believers all over the world, we have to be cautious as to the level we let emotions come into play. Those who were killed because of Christ are surely in a better place, better than we ever know.
Intensified persecution of Christians always serves as a pointer to a greater move of the Church. We know the story of Stephen and how he was stoned to death. The killing of Stephen was an injustice not just to a person but to an organisation. But Stephen didn’t call for an act of revenge, he didn’t pray for same when it was right to say “God will avenge my death”, he rather followed the laid down an example of Jesus and prayed “forgive them for they know not what they are doing.”
Isn’t it amazing that Paul who was once a “terrorist” and an advocate against Christianity became one of the biggest voices in Christianity? Same Paul who witnessed the killing of Stephen and was ready to mastermind and replicate killings of Christians became one of the men God used in bringing order to the Church.
When believers are being persecuted, Jesus is the one who is being persecuted and if someone must fight, Jesus has to fight his fight. To take up this role from him and start avenging the death of Christians is to assume God’s own position. This is not to say we can’t defend ourselves, it is not even to say we can’t mount surveillance and intelligence to curtail how much we are hurt by extremists but we simply cannot stop persecution because it is part of what being a Christian entails.
Christianity and persecution are inseparable. Christianity can’t happen without persecution. No matter the degree to which it happens, every believer in Christ Jesus as the saviour must be persecuted.
Persecution is ugly on the outlook but this is our reality, we are not of this world and therefore we will not only witness attack from the religious extremists, but we will also witness attacks from those who are even less religious. We must stop trying to find a way out of persecution because it will keep coming. Paul wrote in 2 Timothy 3:12
“…everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution.” – 2 Timothy 3:12 NLT
Persecution is a founding element of Christianity. It is not going to stop and the earlier we know this, the better we approach persecution from the right perspective. No matter what happens, we prevail by God’s word. We are like seed and when you think you buried us, you only gave us more opportunity to grow stronger. Pull a tree full of fruits down, the seeds in the fruit will grow to make a forest.
While we don’t necessarily call for persecution, we must always expect it every day. Jesus was persecuted and he said his followers cannot escape it too! Every single Apostle and founding members of the Church were all heavily persecuted.
Understanding this very hard truth makes us value persecution and even rejoice in it. This is not what you want to hear and I personally don’t even assume that I am a stronger believer who would want to face persecution to the degree that many other people are facing it all around the world.
Persecution, on one hand, makes believers understand what they share in common. We aren’t being persecuted for our diverse doctrines and differences, we are being persecuted just for one reason which is Christ! Christ is what we all share in common and he is why we are together as a Church despite our individual difference. Many times, in the face of persecution, we learn to stand for one and another in prayers and support.
When we are faced with persecutions, it is hard to say but we should yield to it in all sense of humility. Sometimes, persecutions are also an avenue through which our faith can be shared with the stubborn. When we are persecuted, it shows that we are greater than our enemies and this greatness is what they are scared of. Challenges often train us to be tough and when a greater challenge hits us, we stand stronger.
Peter made a profound statement that tells us a lot; a lot we may have never wished existed. Let’s read
“For God called you to do good, even if it means suffering, just as Christ suffered for you. He is your example, and you must follow in his steps. He never sinned, nor ever deceived anyone. He did not retaliate when he was insulted, nor threaten revenge when he suffered. He left his case in the hands of God, who always judges fairly.” – 1 Peter 2:21-23 NLT
Look at the above again carefully. We have been called by God to do good and in doing good we may receive a reward of hardship and suffering from men in the same propensity as Christ received it. We are clearly told that Christ is the perfect example in whose steps we must follow when we react to these persecutions. How?
Christ never went out of his character in the face of persecution, he looked weak and did not fight back to insults even when he had all the rights to do so. Jesus did what we mock today, he left his case in the hands of God who always judge fairly! Many of us find “leaving it in the hands of God” very annoying these days.
Many of us don’t understand that God judges in a way that may dash our own expectations. The fairness of God is what produced Paul! Paul was once a “terrorist” but because he was left in the hands of God who is the fair judge, God brought Paul into the number.
That armed robber you told “God will judge” will definitely be judged but don’t expect God to judge in your own terms. He sees the good in the armed robber and he would definitely give that armed robber several opportunities to turn to light and beam same to others.
Next time you leave it in the hands of God, don’t peep through your window every morning to see if he or she is dead. In the fairness of God, they may live longer and achieve ten times result!
God doesn’t judge using the same principles that we use. When we report cases to God, he may judge these cases in ways that are very disappointing to us. How do you deal with it when God blesses your enemy? This can be God’s character! He knows how best to handle your persecutors! He knows how to get them to do what you do or get them out of the way.
Persecution should not discourage us! Paul recounted many of his sufferings but these things birthed in him even more hunger to reach lives. Just like Jesus, we must keep praying for our enemies, we must keep loving them even when it becomes very difficult.
When we see ways to escape persecutions, we can do so. Paul recounted escaping persecution. Let’s read
“When I was in Damascus, the governor under King Aretas kept guards at the city gates to catch me. I had to be lowered in a basket through a window in the city wall to escape from him.” – 2 Corinthians 11:32-33 NLT
Now that we have known this, we can be ready to face it squarely without getting disappointed. Those of us who live in safer areas should not just relax in our comfort zones reading the news how believers are suffering all over the world. We can key into that suffering by sharing our all with them. They need our love, our support and our encouragement.