When Faith Is Forbidden
The title of this article is taken from the book When Faith is Forbidden: 40 Days on the Frontlines with Persecuted Christians, written by Todd Nettleton. Before I share some of the stories from the book, as well as others, let me go back in biblical history. Persecution is not merely a modern-day trial. The Bible speaks plainly of it and the first recorded incident of persecution of the Church is clearly noted in Acts.
Starting with chapter 4, we read,
And as [Peter and John] were speaking to the people, the priests and the captain of the temple and the Sadducees came upon them, greatly annoyed because they were teaching the people and proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection from the dead. And they arrested them and put them in custody until the next day, for it was already evening. But many of those who had heard the word believed, and the number of the men came to about five thousand (Acts 4:1-4).
On the next day, Peter and John were “brought before their rulers, elders and scribes” who conferred saying, “What shall we do with these men? For that a notable sign has been performed through them is evident to all the inhabitants of Jerusalem, and we cannot deny it. But in order that it may spread no further among the people, let us warn them to speak no more to anyone in this name.” Yet, Paul continued to speak to the people and later was also imprisoned with Silas and then by himself in Philippi.
What I love about this incident of persecution was that the boldness of Peter and John brought about the salvation of about five thousand men!
Persecution in Nigeria
Wycliffe Associates is a ministry long known for its work in Bible translation for countries around the world that do not have the Bible in their native languages. Their translators in Nigeria have suffered persecution greatly over the past year. As victims of the terrorist group Boko Haram, they had their homes burned and family members kidnapped. The pandemic nearly caused an economic collapse. Then, roving bands of Fulani Jihadists rampaged against believers in the region, killing many of our brothers and sisters of the faith and leaving many children orphaned.
The Cost of Following Christ: Joshua’s Story
Open Doors is another ministry dedicated to supporting and encouraging our persecuted brothers and sisters, in many countries, who have come to know the Lord Jesus and serve him faithfully in their villages. Joshua, raised a Muslim, had always wanted to be a “Superman” for the many women who were by themselves and had no protection from their government, the system, from evil men,” He was led to Christ, first through a dream where “I saw a man in white clothes and He invited me to follow him. I realized this was Jesus. He was so nice, peaceful and his eyes were like fire.” Joshua wanted to learn more, and he started asking around, “I needed answers.”
One day he walked by a small church, went in and the priest hesitantly agreed to answer some questions. After Joshua came out of the church he was questioned by authorities. From then on, they kept a close eye on him. Eventually, he was arrested, imprisoned, and tortured. Joshua remembers “The beatings were painful, but it made my determination stronger. I was going to find this Jesus no matter what happened.”
After his release, Joshua met a man from a town mentioned in the Bible. He asked the man about the city and they had some deep conversations about faith. They became friends and the man led Joshua to Jesus. They decided to cross the border to worship in this man’s hometown where Joshua learned as much as he could about God and the Bible. As he learned more and more Joshua was ready to return home and live as a secret believer. He says he is still being watched. “I can’t go to church for fellowship, not even a secret house church meeting. I meet other Christians in hideout places.”
Freedom in Prison: John Bunyan’s Story
This scenario is happening all around the world. Many surrender their lives, their homes, their jobs, and their futures to Christ and they do it so willingly. They need our support. I have never seen so many believers giving so much for our Lord.
John Bunyan, author of The Pilgrim’s Progress, was born in England in 1628, spent twelve years in prison for preaching God’s Word. Life in prison was hard with little light and no bathing facilities. His food allotment was a quarter of a loaf of bread each day. When given the opportunity for release if he agreed to stop preaching, he declined.
John remained in prison. He was cheerful, believing he suffered for Christ—an honor that gave him much joy. He had true freedom, he said. In prison, he could read the Bible, preach, and sing hymns with no one to stop him. He was also allowed to write. While imprisoned he completed many of his sixty books, including the best known: Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners and The Pilgrim’s Progress.
The Value of When Faith Is Forbidden
When Faith is Forbidden shares further threads of these stories, and many more. They portray a commitment to the gospel that might shock the reader—and spur them on to greater faith. “When believers in the West sing, ‘I have decided to follow Jesus,’ we rarely consider what the cost of that commitment might be,” writes Janet Parshall in her review of the book. “But for many Christ-followers around the globe, that decision could cost them their lives.”
It is my hope and prayer is that with this article, I can bring members of the body of Christ into fellowship with our own beloved brothers and sisters in Christ around the world. May we live out our calling to “remember those who are in prison, as though in prison with them, and those who are mistreated, since you also are in the body” (Heb. 13:3).
There are persecuted Christians living in so many countries. Let us lift them up in prayer and support as they suffer to bring the gospel of Jesus Christ to a hurting and needy world.