Open Doors colleague, Ron Boyd-MacMillan, shares the following insight from his teaching, “Why I need to encounter the Persecuted Church.”
Wouldn’t it be wonderful to have an idea of what God is really up to in this world? One thing we can be very sure of—that the story of the world as we find it in history books and newspapers, is not to be confused with the real story of what God is doing underneath. But what is God’s story as opposed to history? What’s he really up to? Must the daily diet of wars, murder and mayhem in my newspaper always get me down? Can I ever be sure something is going on underneath? Well, we can’t know perfectly as “his ways are so much higher than our ways” (Isaiah 55:9). But we are afforded glimpses. This glimpsing really excited the early Christians. You can hear the delight in Paul when he writes, “God’s secret plan has now been revealed to us…” (Ephesians 1:9). The persecuted seem to get more glimpses than most.
I think of China. The headlines said in June of 1989 a terrible massacre took place. Five thousand young people were mown down by the Chinese army. The headlines all mourned the death of the pro-democracy movement. It was terrible, but what was God up to underneath? Out of that massacre came a remarkable turning to Christ among China’s students for the first time in history! The headlines never saw it. It’s not part of history. But “His story” went on.
I think of Afghanistan. When the Soviet Union invaded that country in 1980 the world was outraged. The headlines were all full of fierce denunciations of the action, and rightly so. But I remember meeting a missionary from Kabul who said, “Yes, what the Russians did was wrong, but the fact is it is now much easier under the Russians for Christians to evangelize than it was before under the Islamic regime.” Again, another more significant story, of God building his kingdom, was going on undetected by the world at large.
I think of Sudan. The headlines in the 1980’s were full of a dreadful civil war which isolated the Dinka people from the outside world. It was terrible. There was untold suffering on vast scale. But underneath, God was bringing the 2 million Dinkas to himself. By 1993, 80% of them were Christians and this among a tribe that was historically very resistant to the gospel.
Notice that these are all stories from the persecuted. They seem to be better placed to notice the real story. And so I need to keep in touch with them because this glimpse delivers me from despair. In 1989 in China, there was not just a massacre, but a revival. In 1980 in Afghanistan, there was not just an occupation, but new missionary opportunities. In Sudan, there was not just a brutal war that killed millions, but a new kingdom of believers among an unreached people.
So every day when I open my newspaper, I remind myself of two things, thanks to the persecuted: the story I see is not to be confused with the kingdom story; and underneath even the saddest news, God is surely up to something good. There is hope because God is always at work.