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Persecution: Normal and Expected

By Nik Ripken
November 2008

“If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also.” - John 15:20

They admitted to being confused, these pastors and lay leaders who had endured decades of persecution within the now-failing Soviet Republic. Yet they agreed to share their personal, family, and church stories with the broader Christian community, hoping to help churches, mission organizations, and missionaries in the West develop a more biblical missiology of suffering. These pastors and lay leaders were intimately conversant with persecution, suffering, and martyrdom.

The confusion surfaced near the end of a series of interviews. Life histories had been shared, stories of persecution recited and documented, and tears shed while events were dissected. The testimonies were compelling. It seemed to the interviewer that this was the stuff of scripture—that he was hearing Bible stories come to life in his own time.

And that’s when the moment of confusion came, when the interviewer asked some questions that weren’t very professional or well planned. After hearing story after gripping story, he was compelled to ask this group of pastors and lay leaders, “Why have you cheated us in the West? Why haven’t you written these stories down? Where are the books that chronicle your faith and persecution? These stories are worthy of a movie. These are Bible stories come to life! Why have you not shared these lessons learned?”

As Common as the Sun Rising in the East
His outburst was greeted with confused silence. The pastors and lay leaders were dumbfounded. Most of the people simply ignored the embarrassing questions and the harshness of the challenge. Finally, one brother stood up, took the interviewer by the arm, and drew him to the end of the large room by the eastern window of the dwelling. Looking out at the horizon, the man spoke calmly to the interviewer: “Sir, when your sons were growing up, how many mornings did you take them to the window of your house and say to them, ‘Look, boys, the sun is coming up in the east this morning?’”

The interviewer found the question silly. “Well, I never once did that,” he answered. “Had I done that, my sons would have thought I had lost my mind, because the sun always comes up in the east!” Gently, the wise brother made his point: “Sir, that is why we talk little of our persecution and suffering. That is why we have not written our stories down. And that is why we have not made a movie. Our persecution is always with us. It simply comes as we walk with Jesus. It is like the sun coming up in the east.

“Besides,” he continued, “when did you Christians in the West stop reading the Bible? Our stories have already been told. God has already told all of us what we need to know about persecution and suffering.”

To say the interviewer was deeply humbled belabors the obvious. But the truth found a way into his heart and he was changed that day.

What kind of person sees persecution as biblical, expected, and hardly worth mentioning? Clearly, a person steeped in the story of scripture and well-acquainted with God. We would be wise to listen and learn the lessons.

First, persecution is normal for those who follow Jesus. Scripture makes this point from beginning to end. It is, quite simply, like the sun coming up in the east. Persecution is neither good nor bad—it just is. Certainly, Christians are not to seek persecution. But, at the same time, Christians need not give in to a crippling fear.

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Dr. Nik Ripken (pseudonym) is a mission veteran of twenty-four years with the International Mission Board, SBC, having served in Malawi, South Africa, Kenya, Somalia, and Germany. Currently, he and and his wife serve as strategy associates in Northern Africa and the Middle East with specific responsibilities for the Horn of Africa and some Gulf States.