“How can we get more persecution?” That was not a question my husband had anticipated when he was fielding questions at a seminar he was leading for pastors and lay leaders living in an area of Guinea that was experiencing strong persecution. The area was on the border of two other countries that had been experiencing civil wars. Rebel soldiers had been attacking Guinean villages along the border, terrorizing the villagers by demanding food from their meager stores, taking their young women as sex slaves, killing people and leaving destruction in their wake.
The solution of the village leaders was to fight back. To ensure success, the men in the village needed to go through “anti-bullet” rituals, invoking the spirits to make the men impervious to bullets. When Christians refused to participate in the rituals that would “vaccinate” them against bullets, the persecution began. The ritual’s success was believed to depend on the participation of the whole village. In the eyes of the village leaders, the Christians’ refusal to participate was not only defiance against their authority, but also a lack of concern for the survival of their fellow villagers.
Of course, the Christians believed that God could protect them and their villages from the rebels, and that it was sin to consort with demons. But the leaders didn’t see it that way and imposed all kinds of sanctions and punishments against Christians who would not participate in the rituals.
Bob had been called into this situation by the district superintendent of the area to give biblical training on persecution and the theology of suffering. He spent time not only teaching, but also listening to the men’s stories. One man told of Christians from his village, armed only with sticks and crude farming implements, being forced to lead the charge into battle against the rebels. Everyone else had guns, but God allowed the Christian men to capture the rebel leader. Instead of being hailed as heroes, the village was angry at them because their village chief had been killed in the battle.
Others told how they weren’t allowed to buy or sell in their own villages, but had to walk for miles to other villages for supplies or to do business. Still others told stories of imprisonment. Some told how weak Christians had left the church, giving in to the pressure of persecution, but how the purified churches were growing as unbelievers saw they had a faith that they were willing to suffer or even die for! One after another, the men began to recount the good things God was doing to build His church as Christians stood firm under persecution. They began as a group to rejoice in God’s faithfulness, protection and provision. And then came the question, “How can we get more persecution in our village? Our church isn’t growing like that.”
Only God can cause persecuted people to rejoice in their suffering! Only God can bring such beauty from ashes!
Guinea is not on the World Watch List of the 50 most difficult places to live as a Christian, but life as a Christian in Guinea can be very difficult, as the story I’ve just told attests. Sometimes we think it’s difficult to live as Christians here in the United States, but how many of us have suffered anything comparable to the kinds of persecution described above?
Here are links to some sites where you can get information about how to pray for Christians living under persecution:
I confess that I give far too little attention to praying for the persecuted church. That needs to change.
Bob and Dian Harner
Directors of Missions Mobilization