Monday, June 24, 2013

one candle.

Sunday evening, we gathered in the Everitt Center at 7pm. We did not know what this activity was, but we knew it was going to be powerful. The building was completely empty, the lights were off and the windows were darkened. In the middle of the floor was one candle – the only light. The guys sat on one side of the room, and the girls on the other. Philip (our student life activity coordinator/leader) told us that were about to enter into a time of prayer for the persecuted church around the world – in an environment simulating what underground worship would be like for them.

Immediately, my heart began to pound and I started to sweat. The persecuted church, while I prayed for them and was aware that there is great persecution around the world, was a subject I have been careful to avoid. Because the glaring truth in my life is – I am afraid of pain. Not of death, of pain. I don’t want to hear how others are suffering, or how cruel human beings can be to each other. I don’t want to know the depths of a fallen world. And here I was, in a darkened building with almost a hundred people inside, about to spend two hours focusing JUST on the persecuted church.

We spent the first forty five minutes in corporate-yet-individual prayer, something we do a lot here at Ellerslie. My heart stopped pounding – I can pray. I waited on the Lord for a burden, and was again awed at how specific our God can be when we ask Him for a burden. Kneeling on the ground, surrounded by the sound of the prayers of others, I wept as I prayed for friends who are more like family, who risk their lives every day in one of the world’s most dangerous places. I prayed for the burden of a friend who has a vision for family ministry in the closed country he calls home. Burden after burden on my heart. The candle still burning, as some of us stood and paced the floor.

After those first forty five or so minutes had passed, Philip transitioned us into a time of quoting Scripture – everyone still in praying position, calling out verses from the Bible’s many passages about trials, staying strong in tribulation, and the strength we have in Christ Jesus. Someone would start a verse, and by the end, the whole room would be ringing with the voices of fifty or more people finishing it with the first. “The Lord is the strength of my life, whom shall I fear?” “The Lord is a fortress – the righteous run to it and are safe.” “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil…”

Then someone began a song. “Oh Lord, You’re Beautiful”, “When I Survey”, “1000 Reasons”, “Our God is Greater”. The room was literally *ringing * with song – shaking. Even in the pitch darkness, because the candle eventually blew out, there was great joy in our Savior.

Finally, we all found a seat again, and Philip began to read. Once again, I felt my heart tightening up in my chest. I did not want to hear what he had to say. My hands went up to my ears. But I knew that needed to listen.

(i did black out the text in case more sensitive readers want to think about it before reading)
He read two short stories. The first about believers in NK, just a few years ago, who had lived underground, and were discovered when the government decided to build a road. Four children were hung as their parents refused to deny Christ. Then the rest of the believers and their pastor were laid on the road and run over by construction equipment. They refused to deny their Lord, and died singing “More Love to Thee O Christ.”

The second story was one I was familiar with – the story of a converted family who were brought before their chief and commanded to renounce Christ. The father answered, “I have decided to follow Jesus, no turning back.” The chief killed his two sons. Then he said again, “Do you deny Christ?” “Though none go with me, still I will follow. No turning back.” His wife was killed. Finally, “Do you deny Christ?” “The cross before me, the world behind me. No turning back.” The chief killed him. But he was so moved by the sight of this family who would not turn their back on their LORD, that he himself was converted, and penned the song we know as “I Have Decided to Follow Jesus.”

There wasn’t a dry eye in the room as we sang “I Have Decided to Follow Jesus” and “More Love to Thee O Christ” to close the evening. I spent the next thirty minutes in self reflection, ashamed of the many times I have taken my faith for granted, and ignored the suffering church. Praise the LORD for His forgiveness, especially when I do not deserve it.

I am still not a fan of pain. I don’t like hearing these stories. But, as Philip reminded us, they are not made up. This stuff is happening every day all over the world. The suffering church of Christ must be in our prayers every day. We were charged not to leave the room until we had allowed God to change our hearts. He changed mine. For the sake of Christ, and for the brave teenagers and young adults my own age who have suffered and died for His name, I am changed. They are a burden on my heart, and what little strength I have, I give to them. Intercession.

folks, this is where I live. What I see every night. MIND. BLOWING.

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