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When Persecution Gets Personal

January 20, 2015

A Nigerian church, after last weekends attacks.

Over the past few months our small New England church has watched international crises touch uncomfortably close to home. First was news that our own missionary, Dr. Rick Sacra, had contracted the deadly Ebola virus disease while serving in Liberia. It’s a strange thing to see your friend and missions partner plastered all over every major new station in the western world. Of course we were already praying and concerned, but the Ebola crisis was no longer theoretical or ephemeral; it became personal. We gathered to pray and hung on the news stations as our friend fought for his life.

And the Lord was merciful. Not only has Dr. Sacra recovered, but he arrived back in Liberia last Thursday in order to provide care at ELWA hospital in Monrovia, and help lift the burden in a country whose entire medical system has been brought to its knees. (Click here to listen to Rick and Debbie Sacra tell their story at Westgate Church last November.)

Then news came just days ago about the attacks on Christians in Niger. Niger—where not one, but two of our missionary families have been serving long term. Over the past weekend the BBC reports that 45 churches were burned, resulting in 10 deaths and 170 injuries—many of these in the capital, Niamey, where our friends live.

They shared the following pictures on their Facebook page:

Before (Dec 14, 2014)

Before (Dec 14, 2014)

After (Jan. 17, 2015)

After (Jan. 17, 2015)

We praise God that things appear to be calming down. But we’re scared and hurting for our friends. One of them reflected yesterday:

A day full of grief. Very somber atmosphere in the office with many tears and much prayer. Quiet around town as well with many neighbors wishing to communicate their own sadness for the weekend’s events. Continue to pray for wisdom for local and mission authorities as rumors fly. Continue to uphold those staggered to have lost so much that they would know the comfort and provision of Jesus. We’re praying that something beautiful will come from the flames.

It’s hard to know how to process these things from our relatively comfortable and safe position in the West. My initial emotions are anger and fear. Anger that people would terrorize and kill Christians in Niger in protest to some foolish secularists in France. And fear of what might happen to our friends as a result.

But when I think of these events through the lens of the gospel—the good news that Jesus left the glory (and safety) of heaven to lay his life down for treasonous rebels like us—those emotions are slowly replaced with humility and gratitude. Humility in remembering that but for the grace of God, there is no difference between me and the blind zeal of rioters and terrorists. And gratitude over the privilege of being partnered with such courageous missionaries, men and women who are willing to follow the model of their Savior and leave the comfort and safety of home to give their lives away for the gospel.

I’m also reminded of Hebrews 10:32-39, which speaks honestly about the sorrow and suffering that sometimes comes with our witness, but then calls us to a defiant joy and a persistent hope. Read these lines and reflect on them:

But recall the former days when, after you were enlightened, you endured a hard struggle with sufferings, sometimes being publicly exposed to reproach and affliction, and sometimes being partners with those so treated. For you had compassion on those in prison, and you joyfully accepted the plundering of your property, since you knew that you yourselves had a better possession and an abiding one. Therefore do not throw away your confidence, which has a great reward. For you have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God you may receive what is promised. For, “Yet a little while, and the coming one will come and will not delay; but my righteous one shall live by faith, and if he shrinks back, my soul has no pleasure in him.” But we are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who have faith and preserve their souls. (Heb. 10:32-39, ESV).

Please join me in praying for these dear men and women—for the safety, and for their hearts to be filled with joy and hope in our Great High Priest and Victorious King, Jesus Christ, to whom belongs all power and all glory.

And pray that God would indeed bring something beautiful from the flames.

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