Last weekend’s church bombing in Pakistan reminds us that being a Christian is no guarantee of an easy life. Pakistan was formed as an Islamic state in 1947; the five million Christians there are about 3% of the population, and it is illegal to preach the Gospel to Muslims. A few years ago, a mission organization offered Pakistani church leaders a new translation of the Gospels, designed to soft-pedal the concept of the Son of God, which is specifically denied in the Koran. The idea was to make the Gospel "less offensive" and more approachable to Muslims. The reaction of local Christians was dismay and rejection--following a watered down imitation of Christianity is useless. It is precisely the truths that separate our faith from the rest of the world that make the difference.
One of the most amazing Christian communities in the world is in China. There were Nestorian Christian traders there about 600AD, but the churches were later overrun by invaders and disappeared. There were missionaries back in 1600, 1800 and 1900--and there are now over 100 million Christians in China, despite all that war and Mao could do. We will never know on this earth how many Chinese Christians were imprisoned, exiled or executed during those years. Even during the worst of it, refugees who got out to Hong Kong looked for churches and told of underground believers. When the Red Guard boasted of having burned the Baptist Bookstore in Shanghai, the Hong Kong believers noticed that the Red Guard knew where to find the bookstore—but nobody outside China had heard from them in years.
My father's brother was a missionary who had been in China before World War
II, and after the war went back to a new mission field in West China. By 1950,
our State Department was advising American missionaries to come home, but my
uncle and aunt stayed because it was under persecution that their church grew: when
it made a difference to be a Christian. When the Communists took over the area,
he was arrested and spent more than four years in a Communist prison. Part of
their failed attempt at "re-educating" him was to order him not to
pray, and the guards beat him when they caught him at prayer. Do we value prayer enough to risk a beating??