Perspective from Persecution|
Valorie and Kenneth Emilio
Photo Credit - Hubble.org
In a Christian Camp
On January 23, 1999, Graham brought his two sons with him to a Christian camp where Graham was ministering to others. Tired and without nearby hotel lodging, he and his kids climbed into their jeep to catch needed rest. Soon they heard shouts. Trapped in their car in the darkness at midnight, Graham and the boys found themselves surrounded by a militant mob of Hindus. Later, the boys and their Dad were found burned to death inside the jeep. Graham's arms were still around the charred remains of his two sons.
Do you remember this news story? It could have been your story or my story. The story of Graham and his boys played in the news for just a short time. Then, we never heard one more thing about this loving family. They were brutally murdered, and then the story was forgotten.
Who was Graham Staines?
To complete the picture for you, Graham Staines was a missionary from Australia who specialized in work with lepers. He and his sons were martyred for Christ in India.
Graham's wife and daughter refused to move back to Australia after the murders. In response to questions about this Gladys said, "My husband and our children have sacrificed their lives for this nation. India is my home. I hope to be here and continue to serve the needy." Her 13 year-old daughter Esther replied, "I praise the Lord that He found my father worthy to die for Him."
(Believers may contribute to a new leprosy hospital founded by Gladys through Eternal Perspective Ministries at www.epm.org).
Who are Philip and Bonnie Bustrum?
Philip and Bonnie Bustrum were a lovely missionary couple from Lakewood, California. In the 1980s they brought their children with them to the outskirts of Kenya.
Bonnie and Philip believed that the best way to reach people for Christ was to adopt their culture and embrace it as their own - to live like the natives. Bonnie grew a garden, cooked meals from scratch, and carried water from a well, water that was black from the ground sediment. Kenyan women did hard labor, and so did Bonnie. Philip taught bible at a school for needy kids. You couldn't find a more giving, lovely family.
In the late eighties, after a decade of living in the same village, hostilities against Christian missionaries began to rise. One night while the Bustrums were sleeping, a roving band of the town folk came through their property, beat them, and left them for dead. Bonnie subsequently suffered brain damage and had to undergo serious surgery. They survived. But, they had to return to the States.
The last we heard from them, they still maintained they had done what they could for poor neighbors in Kenya. They had "counted the cost" and labored for the Lord.
How Could they Say That?
As we scratch our heads in awe of how two modern families could really embrace the Biblical view of Christian martyrdom (which is so foreign to us in the USA), Hebrews 11:35-38 comes to mind:
"Others were tortured and refused to be released, so that they might gain a better resurrection. Some faced jeers and flogging, while still others were chained and put in prison. They were stoned. They were sawed in two. They were put to death by the sword. They went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted and mistreated - the world was not worthy of them" (NIV).
What Do Your Study Notes Say?
The Life Application Study Bible notes give an appropriate explanation of this passage:
"Many think that pain is the exception in the Christian life. When suffering occurs, they say, 'Why me?' They feel as though God deserted them, or perhaps they accuse him of not being as dependable as they thought.
In reality, however, we live in an evil world filled with suffering, even for believers. But God is still in control. He allows some Christians to become martyrs for the faith, and he allows other to survive persecution. Rather than asking, 'Why me?' it is much more helpful to ask, 'Why not me?'
Our faith and the values of this world are on a collision course. If we expect pain and suffering to come, we will not be shocked when it hits. But we can also take comfort in knowing that Jesus also suffered.
He understands our fears, our weaknesses, and our disappointments (see 2:16-18, 4:14-16). He promised never to leave us (Matthew 28:18-20), and he intercedes on our behalf (7:24, 25). In times of pain, persecution, or suffering we should trust confidently in Christ."
(Life Application Study Bible, NIV, 2001, p. 2656-2657).
American Christians really get "bummed-out" by this stuff. Have you noticed this? We don't want to read a magazine such as "Voice of the Martyrs" or other Christian literature which deals with martyrdom. We don't want to hear about it in church, either. It's too "unpleasant" for us to hear. We don't want our kids to "fear" violence. News items such as Christian martyrdom "upset" us.
A Marked Contrast
In marked contrast, American Christians tend to fall prey to a Disneyland mentality where the Robert Schullers of our country study "marketing tactics to lure worshippers from other congregations… to build enormous ministries focused on a generic, feel-good Christianity" (Skagit Valley Herald, 2006).
Tinker Bell Theology
American Christians tend to have a "clap your hands and think happy thoughts" vision of the Bible in their heads. This is "Tinker bell" theology. For example, if we just follow Joel Osteen we can envision great wealth and prosperity for our families. Or, if we watch Schuller often enough perhaps we can find successful contacts complete with networking among the rich and famous.
"Turn your SCARS to STARS" says the prosperous Reverend Schuller. This is our magnificent Abrahamic covenant with God: abundant blessings for us and our families. What counts is ME and my ever expanding self-esteem. Hey…how much money can I multiply with a positive mental outlook and the right contacts?
"Shut Up&Just Give Me Nice Reports"
"Shut up," American Christians scream when faced with the scriptural reality of persecution. "We don't want any more of your reports. Don't tell us the truth. Tell us nice things. Tell us lies. Forget all this gloom."
Did you notice my quotation marks around the above phrases?
Read those above quotes one more time.
There are quotations marks around those sentences because I quoted someone. That someone was Isaiah 30:10 from the New Living Translation (minus the reference to American Christians, of course).
Church in Laodicea
Frankly, our American church outlook is nothing less than a Laodicean church life:
"I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were either cold or hot! So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth. For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing, not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked." …"Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline, so be zealous and repent" (Revelation 3:15-17, 3:19, ESV).
Deal with It
How do blessed American Christians respond to Scripture verses and true stories concerning martyrdom?
The most indifferent response we have heard when we bring up the subject of persecution is: "I just can't relate to that." Another classic response is, "I only want to think about good things."
In other words, "My life is fine. Don't tell me negative things. I don't want to hear it. Don't preach gloom-and-doom stuff to my family." (Isa. 30:10).
As uncompassionate Christians might say to one another, "Deal with it." Let's learn to face reality and deal with it.
So should USA Christians feel guilty about their riches and ease living in a wealthy, prosperous country?
Our response might surprise you. The answer is an unqualified "NO!"
God's Holy Word makes it very clear that He determines when we were born and where we will live:
"And He made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined their appointed times and the boundaries of their habitation" (Acts 17:26, NASB).
Guilt is not the issue. What IS at stake for American Christians is our need for a sense of gratitude and good stewardship of God's precious resources.
Instructions for the Rich
The Apostle Paul tells Timothy to "Instruct those who are rich in this present world not to be conceited or to fix their hope on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly supplies us with all things to enjoy" (1 Timothy 6:17). Note:
"Instruct them to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share, storing up for themselves the treasure of a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is life indeed" (1 Timothy 6:18-19, NASB).
Sharing with our Forever Family
Written between 85-90 A.D. and not yet banished to the island of Patmos, the Apostle John wrote,
"But whoever has the world's goods, and sees his brother in need and closes his heart against him, how does the love of God abide in him?" (1 John 3:17, NASB).
To behave in a grateful, generous manner will enable American Christians to store up treasures for themselves in Heaven and to gain a better perspective on their own lives by helping those less fortunate than themselves.
There are many divine reasons for martyrdom. One reason is for our sake. The stories of martyrs provide profiles in courage, faith, and endurance. These stories also allow us to gain perspective upon our own lives by learning about the bravery of other Christians persecuted for their courageous faith throughout the world.
Before reading Part 2, please read Hebrews chapter 11. In part 2, we will explore the scriptural basis of persecution more fully.
Alcorn, Randy. The world was not worthy of them: Martyrs for Christ. Eternal Perspective Ministries. Available from: www.epm.org.
Penner, Glen. 2004. In the shadow of the cross. Bartlesville, OK: Living Sacrifice Books. Comment: A new and scholarly textbook on the theology of persecution for seminaries worldwide.
Voice of the Martyrs. Headquarters in Bartlesville, OK. Web site: www.persecution.com.
Postscript: Philip Bustrum and his lovely wife, Bonnie, returned to the states and Philip received his Ph.D. from Talbot School of Theology. He is a Professor of Christian Education at Cornerstone University in Michigan. One day Philip and Bonnie will probably hear the Lord's words, "Well done, good and faithful servants."