Meet Roy. When he was 15, he and a group of students were attacked by a Muslim mob. Instead of renouncing his faith, the young Indonesian boldly declared: “I am a soldier of God . . . ready to die for Christ.” The last word he said was “Jesus.”
Nineteen-year-old Mee had been a Christian scarcely two months when a Communist guard in her Laotian village approached her, pointed a gun to her head, and said: “If you continue to be a Christian, I will kill you now.” Mee replied: “You can kill my body, but not my spirit.”
Over the past few years, new regulations in China have made it illegal for teens to attend church and for teachers, pastors, and parents to teach religion to anyone younger than 18. For disregarding these regulations, many have been arrested and imprisoned.
I’m 19. I’ve considered myself a Christian for almost all my life. I’ve never been persecuted, threatened, or imprisoned for my faith.
And I can’t help wondering: if I were Roy, Mee, or a teenager in China, would I follow Christ so faithfully?
Changed My Walk with God
Over the past few years, I’ve intentionally become more aware of the persecuted church. Reading about how Christ followers in Somalia are killed by their families for converting from Islam, and how believers in Iran risk everything to own a Bible, opened my eyes to my own often-complacent faith.
I saw my apathy—reluctance to spend time with Christ, read his Word, and be with his people—in stark contrast to persecuted believers’ commitment to those same things. I became aware of how little I’ve actually given for Jesus in comparison to how much others have laid down.
I’m thankful for religious freedom, but freedom can also sow seeds of complacency. I don’t long for persecution, but I do long to be shaken out of my apathy. I’ve heard of Christians in China praying for persecution to come to America, since they know persecution deepens your walk with God.
I don’t long for persecution, but I do long to be shaken out of my apathy.
Too often in Western countries, the call to follow Christ looks more like raising your hand at the end of a service and less like laying down your life. But in countries like China, India, and North Korea, following Jesus looks vastly different. Admitting to Christianity means risking your life, your freedom, or at the very least your job. It can be difficult to obtain a single Bible. Meeting with other believers is a privilege, made more so for how dangerous it is.
As my eyes have opened to this contrast, I’ve begun to grasp that following Jesus means clinging to him—whatever it may cost me.
Changed How I View the Church
If going to church meant risking your life, would you go?
In the United States this question is hypothetical, since there’s usually little or no risk. But for many of our brothers and sisters throughout the world, it’s a real question with real consequences.
When I imagine fellow teens in China or Iran risking their lives to meet with other believers, I’m humbled and broken by the fact that teens in America are leaving the church. It’s also shocking to realize that, in order to draw teens in, many youth groups are attempting to interest them with superficial things—pizza parties, giveaways, games, and entertainment.
The lightness with which I’ve approached the privilege of gathering with other Christians is devastating in contrast with what others are risking.
Not only did learning about the persecuted cause me to value the local church, it also expanded my perspective to include the global church. The church is larger than our own congregation, denomination, and country, and we’re spiritually one body with this enormous family of Christ’s followers. Realizing this inspires us to care for the global church through fervent prayer and financial support.
Changed How I Value the Gospel
Under persecution, you’d think Christianity would decline and people would choose to turn from Christ. However, in many environments of persecution, from the early church to today, the opposite has been true. Iran reportedly has the fastest-growing movement of Christianity, despite the fact that the government is highly oppressive, the Bible illegal, and Christians regularly lose their jobs due to their commitment to Christ. China has also experienced explosive growth in Christianity over the past 30 years, and though government restrictions have strengthened over the past few years, the church continues to advance.
Learning about these persecuted brothers and sisters has caused me to love the gospel more and challenged how I live it out and share it with others. Christians in China and Iran have surrendered everything for the sake of the gospel because they’ve experienced its power. They’ve laid their lives on the line to answer the call of Christ to “come, follow me” and to “go into all nations,” and they consider it worth the cost.
We who enjoy freedom of religion have a unique battle to fight against the temptation to lean back in comfort and forsake our commission, whether due to fear of ridicule or simply because it makes us uncomfortable. But the gospel is worth the fight. I’ve often declined to talk about Jesus because I felt uncomfortable in the moment. It breaks my heart that teens in other places seize opportunities to share the gospel even though it cost them their lives—while I didn’t, because I was awkward.
Changed How I Live Today
I often ask myself, If I were in a persecuted country, how would I live? Would I stay strong? Would I give in? Would I be able to follow Jesus—no matter what?
Asking these questions—and learning about other teens who have to answer them—has challenged my life and faith and made me assess the way I live today. Learning about and praying for the persecuted church shook me out of my one-dimensional Christianity and gave me a broader perspective of what it means to follow Christ.
Charles de Foucauld, a martyr in the early 1900s, once wrote, “Live today as if you were going to die a martyr this evening.”
May we live with such holy boldness. May we not give up in comfort what others are suffering for, or surrender in freedom what others are dying for. May we remember that following Jesus is worth any price; may we live each day for the glory of his name. And may we learn how to faithfully stand with our suffering brothers and sisters through fervent prayers, continual support, and self-giving sacrifice.