September 3, 2009
--image by Jean Leon Gerome, French artist, 1824-1905
Christians who live in North and South America, and parts of Europe may be immune from the true martyrdom that continues today in many parts of the world.
A few summers ago, at a yard party, I spoke with a woman who'd recently made a mission trip to Kenya. She traveled alone, taking food supplies and clothing, and worshiped with a local church in an open air service. She told me how humbled she was by the entire experience. The church members walked several miles one way to gather under a large tree where they sang hymns, prayed, and listened to a sermon preached by a local minister who serves other churches in the area. She said she was impressed by the honest joy and peace shown at that gathering.
I thought about how different that gathering must have been than the ones so common here in the U.S. No complaints about poorly functioning air-conditioning, no complaints about busy traffic in the church parking lot, no complaints about too-long sermons, no "commands and demands" of God to give everyone high performing stock portfolios and perfect physical health.
It sounds as if all of those things were replaced with gratitude and appreciation for the ability to know and experience God's love and care.
It must have been this experience of God's love that empowered the early Christian martyrs to go into the Circus Maximus rather than renounce their faith. I am grateful I don't live in the time or place where I have to make that type of decision. I honor their courage. Persecution of Christians continues today. The transforming power of God's love always changes people. Bullies, whether they are repressive regimes or fear-based religions, always fight that change that causes someone to stand and say, "I am a child of God, empowered always for good, and I will not be ruled by fear."