AUDIO: 'How many of you have been persecuted?'
SOUTHEAST ASIA (BP) -- The evangelists sit on the floor listening intently as I teach about persecution. They soak up the lesson on 1 Peter like it's news from a long lost friend.
No one raises a hand.
This puzzles me. These men and women live in a Southeast Asian country where religious groups are required to get permission to read their Bibles and pray. So, I rephrase the question.
"How many of you have suffered for preaching the Gospel?"
Again, no one raises a hand.
I shake my head in confusion. This has never happened before in a training session. They always raise their hands in countries known for religious persecution.
I ask a third time, "How many of you have been imprisoned for sharing the Gospel?"
EVERY hand in the room goes up.
And then, one by one they begin to tell their stories of imprisonment:
NAKED & BURNED
One evangelist tells the story of a man who was interrogated and burned by authorities for sharing the Gospel. Even after being left naked and passed out overnight outdoors, this man still desired to return to the area because people were hungry to hear about Jesus Christ.
Listen to the story below.
At one point, 14 of our evangelists were arrested and thrown into prison. That didn't stop them, though. They continued to share. One of the evangelists prayed with many prisoners to receive Christ. He even conducted a church-like service in the prison courtyard. When the authorities figured out what was happening, they put him in chains and solitary confinement.
A Southeast Asia evangelist returns home to see his newborn son for the first time but plans to return to an area where he had been arrested almost a year for sharing the Gospel. His reasoning for going back shows his dedication to not just sharing the Gospel but also supporting those he met before: there were now new believers who needed to be discipled.
Listen to the story below.
Now I understand why no one raised their hands the first two times I asked the question. The evangelists simply do not equate imprisonment with persecution or suffering. Sure, some were stoned, imprisoned, beaten or evicted from their villages but to them it's the "expected" response for sharing the Gospel.
None of the persecution has deterred the Gospel from spreading. I tally more than 900 baptisms from their verbal reports. I also find that none of the persecution scares away believers from volunteering their services.
Another evangelist tells the story of a young woman with "a heart as big as the world" who offered to take video and other materials to aid in spreading the Gospel to an isolated area. Even though her friend had been sent to a hard labor camp after praying for the sick in the same area, the young woman still offered to take the resources. She said she knew she could share the Gospel whether she was in or out of prison.
Listen to this story below.
I am simply amazed at how these evangelists remain faithful to the task, even at great personal loss. They unanimously tell me they must go forward with spreading the Gospel. Because of their willingness to be used by God, there are now churches where none existed.
People are hungry for the message here. They want to hear about the one living God. These men and women are willing to take it to them.
*Name changed. Hans Peter, who serves in Southeast Asia, trains local believers to take the Gospel where it is too dangerous for outsiders to go.