The sense of being behind enemy lines began when we got off the plane. Immigration was immediately suspicious of us and it took a favor from the US Embassy to be released from the airport. A friend and I came to this North African nation to meet some very interesting people. They call themselves workers. They have jobs, genuine and profitable businesses and services, but in their minds and hearts they are all about another work. What kind of people are these workers and what gives them the courage to live in a place like this?
A ladies’ Bible study has been meeting at the house of our hosts. At some point in its growth, the question was raised as to whether or not a secret church should sing out loud. Worshipping together in this manner, they decided, was well worth the risk of being caught. But the decision to sing was costly. Before we had arrived, a hostile neighbor, suspicious of the workers’ true intentions, lifted a cell phone over the wall and recorded some of the singing. As we pulled out of the driveway on our way to visit another worker, we received word that a radio broadcast across the city had exposed the meeting and several ladies had already been kicked out of their homes and beaten. One lady’s five-year-old son was missing. We heard that the police were coming and would arrest any woman attending the study, and in light of this news the next meeting was canceled. We continued on, riding in the back of a pickup truck, wondering what was behind the eyes of the masked women and robed men we passed along the street.
Persecution for your faith is not a light burden, but there is one far heavier for these foreign workers. They believe in the Gospel of Truth so strongly that not only are they willing to risk their own lives for it, but, grasping tightly to the knowledge of eternity with a loving God, they are willing to risk the lives of the people with whom they share their faith. “The war for souls is very real here,” I thought. I felt it as tangibly as the blazing sun on our backs. “This whole country is caught in one of Satan’s greatest deceptions. And here, I am the enemy.” Just then, as if to confirm my thought, a wad of spit landed with a smack in my friend’s face.
We’ll be talking about that one for a while, my friend and I. Knowing him, though, there will come greater injuries in the war for souls than merely being spat on. Later that day, as we sat and talked to another worker, a sizable rock came sailing over the wall and landed inches from her feet. She didn’t even flinch, but smiling knowingly looked up at us and brushed it off saying, “we get these “gifts” all the time.”
The next day, relieved to hear that the believer’s five-year-old boy had been found, we visited a local woman who was a friend of our hosts. In studying the culture they have found that a mark of an honorable rich person is the giving away of food to the poor. So, they went out this day to give, and we went with them. It was a quick visit, and we had been invited to bring our cameras. Shortly after we left, the neighbors, suspicious of us and angry over the cameras, came and harassed the woman, dumping out a large gunnysack of flour she uses to earn a living.
We talked to a group of men about Islam and their country. They claimed religious freedom, but it was easy to see that only the foreigners have that freedom. Anyone from this country naturally has to be a Muslim. I asked if they knew any local Christians. “No,” was the simple answer. How would it be for a person of their culture to become a Christian? “It would be very bad,” I was told, “I’m sure you would feel the same way if a Christian became a Muslim. If a person is a Muslim they should stay a Muslim.” But what if a person of their culture, I asked, had come from somewhere else and had always been a Christian? Would he be accepted? An icy pause was the response followed by a resolute, “They would never come here.”
So who does come here? Who are these “workers” who so willingly leave the safety of their homeland and embrace great risks for their faith – risks that missionaries have not regularly faced since the early days of Missions when death from malaria was so common? Who are these that find in their heart an ability to love the people as God loves, who grieve the sight of so many lost souls, who value faithfulness to God’s truths more than anything?
They are surprisingly ordinary. They have no more ability than an average person. They have no more courage than what God gives them for any given day. They are very simply those who have responded wholeheartedly to their Father’s instruction for them to Go. They are Christians.