Saturday, January 17, 2015

5 Reflections From Being on the List Nobody Wants to Be On

Last year we were #49 and this year we are #33.

But this isn't the Top 40 chart. This isn't a list you want to move up.

Every year, Open Doors publishes a list of the top 50 countries in the world where Christians are persecuted.  It's not a list you want to be on.

And Tanzania is #33, out of 196 countries in the world.

North Korea is #1 and Nigeria is #10.  Surprisingly, countries like Algeria, Columbia, Kuwait, and Turkey are lower on the list than Tanzania.  African countries in general are moving up on the list.

As I reflect on living in a country on this list, here is what I've learned:

1.  Government religious freedom doesn't always mean community religious freedom.  We are in Tanzania on missionary visas.  Our ministry has a website.  We don't have to be careful about Christian terminology in emails.  Yet in the past couple of years in Tanzania, there have been reports of pastors being beheaded, churches bombed or burned, Christians murdered, and rioting.

2.  Westerners are ridiculously privileged, even when living abroad in countries on The List.  Of course, anyone, anywhere in the world, can find themselves in the wrong place at the wrong time and the target of a terrorist attack.  But the truth is, it's not the missionaries who are bearing the brunt of persecution, it's the nationals.  And though there are some exceptions (such as in North Korea), deportation is usually the worst that would happen to a missionary who is "found out" in one of these countries.  I stand in awe of my suffering brothers and sisters around the world.  Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.  Not, "blessed are those with good jobs and health insurance."  Blessed are those who are persecuted.  What are we missing out on?

3.  I don't want to be associated with televangelists or abortion-doctor murderers, so therefore I'm not going to associate every Muslim with a terrorist.  I see the faces of my Muslim friends and their children who are attending school side-by-side with my children, and I feel their pain for what is being done in the name of Islam.

4. God is present, even in these dark places.  In Tanzania, the place where the most persecution is taking place is on the island of Zanzibar.  Ironically, it's my favorite place to visit in Tanzania, and one of the most beautiful places I've ever experienced.  Gil recently went to language school there, and captured it's stunning beauty.  In the center of the main city of Zanzibar is a church established by David Livingstone.  It was built on top of a former slave trade market, which Livingstone helped to abolish.  Redemption is there....waiting....until the gospel once again breaks forth.

5.  It's so easy to become complacent, even when living in a country where persecution is happening.  For a while, everyone was so concerned about Saeed Abedini, who is imprisoned in Iran.  Then, it was the Christians in Iraq.  Now it's the Nigerians.  It's like we give God a whole 10 days of fervent prayer for a situation, and when He doesn't answer within that time frame, we shrug our shoulders and life goes on.  When the media forgets, so do we.  Here I am, living in a country where persecution is actively happening, and yet even I forget to continue to pray.

If only we demonstrated in prayer the same perseverance that these brothers and sisters demonstrate in beatings, imprisonment, and torture.

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