I seldom read a book cover-to-cover in one sitting
First of all, I just do not have that kind of a time, as a rule. But also, unlike when I was a kid, books do not often have that kind of engrossing power with me. I need to get up, move around, think about what I have read, do a couple of chores, get on with the day.
But not with this book.
This book had me at the title and never let go until I had read the last page—which is a short bio on the author, Tom Doyle, and an advertisement for his first book on the dreams and visions of Christians who discovered Jesus in the Middle East.
Killing Christians: Living the Faith Where It’s Not Safe to Believe, by Tom Doyle
- Forty Egyptian churches burned to the ground
- House church leaders sentenced to Iran’s infamous Evin prison
- Eighty Christians murdered in North Korea for merely owning a Bible
- Believers nailed to crosses in Syria
And that’s the news from just one month in 2014.Tom Doyle, Killing Christians, ix
That is how this book begins.
It was 2015, and I was advising Bible teachers of classes that ranged from one hundred and fifty to over five hundred women, as well as overseeing their robust preschool programs, some of them with nearly a hundred and fifty infants and little ones. Most classes were being hosted by the larger churches in their areas, as they needed ample space for the class lectures, and many rooms for discussion groups and preschool classrooms. Meeting in fairly affluent neighborhoods, many of the women attending classes came from educated and well-provided-for backgrounds, the kind of life most of us hope for, if not for ourselves at least for our children.
Studying the lives of those who followed Jesus in first century Palestine, who dealt with grievous persecution, who suffered under the iron rod of Roman rule, who had few rights, and were well-acquainted with poverty, want, suffering, and hardship, held its challenges. Try as we might, unless one has lived with that kind of fear and pain, imagining it is almost impossible.
Persecution, the Real Kind
We also knew that what passes for persecution in the U.S. today is not anything like what the first, second, and third century Christians faced.
Really not at all.
… with far greater labors,
- far more imprisonments,
- with countless floggings, and often near death.
- Five times I have received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one.
- Three times I was beaten with rods.
- Once I received a stoning.
- Three times I was shipwrecked; for a night and a day I was adrift at sea;
- on frequent journeys,
- in danger from rivers,
- danger from bandits,
- danger from my own people,
- danger from gentiles,
- danger in the city,
- danger in the wilderness,
- danger at sea,
- danger from false brothers and sisters;
- in toil and hardship,
- through many a sleepless night,
- hungry and thirsty, often without food,
- cold and naked.
And, besides other things, I am under daily pressure because of my anxiety for all the churches.Apostle Paul, 2 Corinthians 11:23-28 (NRSV)
Very few Americans have been through even half of what the apostles and early Christians went through, or the people Paul persecuted before the Lord brought him to his knees.
But the believers in Killing Christians have faced all this and more. Some of their stories are told by those who remember them, for their own narratives end in martyrdom.
Understanding the Truth
I had heard that Christians in other parts of the world faced fierce persecution, but I did not know much about that. Oddly, the news media does not report all that often on what is happening to Christians worldwide.
But I wanted our Bible study classes to know. We needed to understand the truth about what it was like for the first believers, for those who literally took great risks of faith to spread the Gospel in a hostile world.
During that same time, my husband and I had quite by accident met a very young man who felt called to North Korea as a crypto-missionary. He was raising money through heavily protected means with an agency that well understood the dangers he would soon be facing. Hearing him talk about the actual living conditions of North Koreans, the prison camps, onerous government control, and the desperate need where he felt called to go captured our own spirits, and we gladly committed to support him in prayer and contributions.
So, I prayed, for the young man and for our Bible study classes. Almost immediately, in seemingly random fashion, I noticed this book. I do not even remember how. I just remember the title catching my eye and knowing this was exactly what I needed to read.
The Rite of Sacrifice
The first story takes place in Somalia and involves a man who finds a very creative, if highly risky method of bringing Bibles into a restricted area. Even as I write these words, seven years after reading his story, I pray God is protecting him and empowering him, though I fear he may have gotten killed. At the end of his account he writes,
“When a believer suffers, he or she is like an Old Testament high priest in the Holy of Holies. Although our human tendency is to move quickly, this is not a time to rush. The Old Testament priest performed his duties meticulously because the opportunity came just once a year. Not only was every second of the time sacred, but the one chosen to act as high priest knew it was a great honor to offer this sacrifice for the living God.
“That’s how we should be―patient with the calling on our lives and honored to perform the sacrifice of self for God. Time with Christ in tribulation is a sacred, divinely arranged service in the Holy of Holies. When it comes to you, consider it an honor to have been selected. Don’t rush. Wait for the Lord. He is there with you, just as He was with David when he wrote these majestic words: “I will fear no evil, for you are with me.” (v. 5) Can you be in a better place?
“Remember us here in Somalia in your prayers. We send our love in Christ.”Tom Doyle, Killing Christians, 17
Are We Winning or Losing?
Doyle asks this question at the beginning of his book and returns to it at the end, having told story after heart-scalding story of Christians beaten, tortured, imprisoned, and killed in gruesome, unspeakable ways, yet dying with light in their eyes, and a smile on their lips. Surely each one was received as the deacon Stephen was, with the Lord’s hand reaching from heaven to receive His beloved one. Believe it or not, those Christians, who literally are sacrificing everything for God, are praying for us who are living in our cushy lives, that we might know God fully.
Doyle answered his own question by writing,
Jesus had an answer: “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul” (Matt. 10:28).
Paul also knew this and wrote: “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword question … No, in all things we are more than conquerors” (Rom. 8:35, 37)
And Christians stand on those truths today―whether they face prison, persecution, danger, or even death. Their collective cry is: “We are not afraid!”
So in all of this Jesus wins. To him belongs 100 percent of the glory. And for all of us who follow Him, how can we call this anything but one of our finest hours?
Yes. We are winning.Tom Doyle, Killing Christians, 207