Some years ago I met a pastor in China who’d been arrested on numerous occasions by communist authorities. Two things I will always remember about that pastor: his fearlessness and his packed bag.
The bag was packed with a change of clothes and a blanket. It was packed for prison. He was ready to go. His church was growing, new people were coming to faith in Christ and he was excited about the blessings his church was experiencing. The “price” of those blessings, he knew, was persecution; a price he would willingly pay. Thus, the packed bag.
I thought of that dear pastor recently when I read of the arrest of another Chinese church leader, Elder Zhang Chunlei of Ren’ai Reformed Church in Guiyang, currently imprisoned awaiting trial for alleged “fraud.” He is one of many Christians in China paying a high price for choosing to place loyalty to Christ ahead of loyalty to the Communist Party.
Like the pastor I met years ago, Elder Zhang was prepared for persecution. He and other church leaders agreed that they were willing to suffer rather than step back from their faith or ministry. They also agreed to see any future imprisonments not as a grave injustice or impossible difficulty but rather as an opportunity to witness for Christ.
When Chinese Christians speak of “prison ministry,” this is what they mean: A Christian gets arrested, goes to prison and shares the gospel.
The church leaders made one final agreement: Every day, imprisoned or free, they would pause at 5 p.m. to pray for each other. So wherever Elder Zhang is being held, he knows people are praying for him every afternoon at 5 p.m.
One question I often ask persecuted Christians when I visit and interview them is this: How did you get ready for persecution?
It’s a question I ask to delve into details of their own story, of course. But it’s also a question American Christians are asking: If persecution is coming, how can we prepare our hearts, our minds and our children to stand firm in faith?
Some consistent themes in answers I’ve heard over the years:
1. Persecuted Christians get ready because they decided to get ready.
Part of getting ready is acknowledging that persecution may come, that I, myself, may have to pay a price for what I believe.
We like to think of the cross as a beautiful symbol we wear on a chain around our neck, but when Jesus told his followers to take up their cross and follow him, (Matt. 16:24) they understood the cross as a method of brutal torture and execution. Jesus also told his followers to “count the cost” (Luke 14:28) ahead of time.
2. Persecuted Christians get ready by knowing God’s Word.
Glenn Penner, the late director of VOM Canada, wrote that “The Bible (especially the New Testament) was written by persecuted believers to persecuted believers.” What better textbook to prepare for persecution could there be?
The Bible speaks directly to the trials Christians will face, and it instructs us on how to respond — by loving our enemies and praying for those who persecute us.
3. Persecuted Christians get ready by watching and learning from those who’ve already suffered.
Chinese Christians like Elder Zhang are familiar not only with Biblical examples like Peter and Paul but also the faithful examples of their own countrymen, like Watchman Nee, Pastor Samuel Lamb or Pastor Allen Yuen.
Every time we read the story of a persecuted Christian, the simple question, “What would I do in that situation?” can help us think and pray and grow strong in our faith—strong enough with God’s help to endure any coming trial.
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