Tonight my parents and I went to the Swiss church in Whitewater. My shirt-tail relatives (see June 20 post), Dennis and Cindy Wiens were there. They work with SAT-7, a ministry that provides Christian satellite television for people of the middle east and North Africa. Did you know that 97% of Iraqis have satellite tv and about 18.8% of Iraqi's watch SAT-7?? The Christian message beamed right into people's livingrooms!!
Tonight, Dennis had brought Hanna Massad, pastor of Gaza Baptist Church, to describe the plight of Palestinian Christians in the Gaza strip. You can google him and listen to some of his sermons. I recommend that! I do not write this post to say anything against the Jewish people. I believe God loves them and has a special hand on them. But I was moved by Pastor Hanna's story of the pain Christians are going through in his country. And his story really was one of all believers and our walk with Christ - becoming like Him as we hold onto Him through the difficulties we experience in this life.
Pastor Hanna said that they live between two fires. First, the fire of Israel's occupation. Israel severely restricts travel. Israel's refusal to grant a visa to Massad's wife once kept the couple separated for 10 months.
"Also we experience the fire of the militant Muslim, who is not happy about what we do and who we are," Massad said. Terrorists twice bombed the building of the Palestinian Bible Society, and last year militants kidnapped and executed the manager of the society's Christian bookstore, Rami Ayyad. This young man had two little boys and his wife was expecting their third, a girl. The terrorists gave Rami the option to convert to Islam or be killed. He chose to die, faithful to Christ to the end. He was shot in the back of the head. This man's little 2 1/2 year old child sometimes will see his daddy's picture on the computer screen and go hug the computer. Rami's wife is glad that her husband did not give in. Although she dearly misses him, for him to have returned from captivity would have meant that he had made the decision to deny Christ.
They have had to learn to give God their fear of being persecuted, and not be paralyzed by fear. The police will not protect the Christians so they really have to trust God as their Shepherd, their Refuge, their Shield. Christ promised "never to leave you nor forsake you." We don't have to make this journey on earth alone. No matter what trial, He is with us!
Pastor Massad quoted from James 1:3 (and I will include verse 2):"Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance." The word "testing" means "to examine". Going through such trials is an examining of our faith. Am I truly a disciple of Christ? Am I willing to be faithful unto death? Am I willing to follow Christ whatever comes? "Whoever acknowledges Me before men, I will also acknowledge him before My Father in heaven. But whoever disowns Me before men, I will disown him before My Father in heaven." Matthew 10:32,33
They have had to learn to forgive as Christ would have them. When Christ was dying on the cross, He forgave men for their cruelty and hatred. And as believers, they have had to forgive the radical Islamic terrorists and also the Israelies who restrict them and have taken land away from them. "Because you experience the grace of God and love of God, you are able to forgive and move on," he said. "But if you didn't experience His grace, this is going to create bitterness and hatred in your heart. And this is why the fights between the Palestinians and the Jewish people are more intense and more and more difficult."
I was so moved by Pastor Hanna Massad. I believe in America, Christians are slowly losing the right to worship Christ freely. Will a day come when we too will be persecuted for our faith? To some extent we are; we are being made fun of and looked down on. It is minor to what believers in other countries experience for sure! But will physical persecution, being sent to prison, come too? I remember reading about 2 Chinese women who were sent to jail for teaching preschoolers Sunday School. Am I willing to go to prison for teaching little children about Jesus?
My Aunt Millie has a framed print on her wall. It is in German. It is a print I love. She has told me I am to have it one day. "Be faithful, even to the point of death, and I will give you the crown of life." Revelation 2:10