Since October, I have been on a reading spree. Ironically or planned, I'm not sure, but all three of the books that I have read in the past few months have been under the similar theme of Christian life and faith under complicated environmental situations. In other worlds, these books depicted the real life of Christians living under oppressive governments and places where Christianity was considered a threat and menace to society. These stories came full circle as in the midst of reading, David and I had the privilege to share a meal with man who has lived under such circumstances.
God's Smuggler, written by Brother Andrew tells of his unique conversion and call to be a missionary to the former Soviet Union. After being a unique kid in his village, he decided to leave the comfort of complacent society and visit fellow believers living under the Iron Curtain. He first visited Poland and could not be stopped from raising funds and bringing hundreds, if not thousands, of Bibles to these hurting countries. He not only shares his experience as a Bible smuggler, but he also shares the struggles of the church oppressed by the communist government. His visits to these nations not only provided needed literature, but also brought hope and encouragement to believers who, in their nation, were only exposed to the death of the Church. It is also interesting seeing how the devil uses the government to disenfranchise the church in a subversive way. Even tough his story takes place in a different time and place, the methods used by the enemy are still very poignant and relevant to life in comfortable and free America.
The next read was Total Abandon by Gary Witherall. Gary and his wife Bonnie decided to go live and love their neighbors in Lebanon during the height of the Middle East terrors (as we American's knew it to be). The moved to Lebanon and became part of the people there - serving at a local medical clinic and sharing the love of Christ to their neighbors. Gary recalls the relationships and passion that was put into Lebanon. Then, one morning, a few months after September 11th, Gary wakes up to a horrifying voicemail. He rushes to the medical clinic where his wife worked and saw his bride laying lifeless. Bonnie was murdered in the place she loved most. In midst of this terror, Gary chose to forgive and love instead of hate. This book is not only about the love Gary and Bonnie shared with Lebanon, but even more so about the love that transformed this dark situation into hope and restoration. Gary's testimony not only shows the beauty in the power of forgiveness towards others and what effect it has on them, but even more so about the healing power of forgiveness within oneself.
I believe it and it was confirmed.
In December, David met our new neighbor, who happened to be a refugee from Burma. This man was living evidence of the situation believers find themselves in across the world. For proclaiming his faith, he spent 5 years in prison. He was able to share his experience with David and I, and later at a Thanksgiving with my family. His experience definitely puts our comfortable American life to shame. Despite being beaten and abused for years on end, this man remains strong in his faith. He isn't bothered or interested in various denominational differences that we so frequently debate and fill our minds with. For him, the beauty is that wherever he went he was able to encounter other believers. To him a believer isn't one denomination or another. In his mind, if you believe in Christ, you are Christian.
Such simplicity, as our neighbor and the many people of the books I previously read have is beautiful. It is a shame to worry about whether or not Adam and Eve had belly buttons when there are believers who are risking their very life as they gather in the middle of the night with their brethren to pray. Sometimes they can sing, but most likely they will get arrested before the song is over.
These books and conversations, have definitely left me thinking. Our faith is precious, and it is not guaranteed to come this easy.
For further chewing, I recommend watching Francis Chan's recent sermon: