Throughout the last five months of being on staff with Harvest Bridge, I have heard countless stories of pastors, families, and other Christians in South Asia enduring persecution for their faith. Before working for HB, stories such as these remained mainly in anecdotes from missiology books I’d read, or were tales I heard from a friend working in a “far-off” country. Now, they’re personal.
We live in a world where true persecution is a reality. I think I’ve always known this, but admittedly, living in the US has afforded me the all-too-expedient convenience to believe being persecuted for one’s faith doesn’t happen all that often. During these short five months, this preconceived notion has certainly been challenged, and for this I am grateful.
The circumstances of persecution faced by Christians in South Asia have stark similarities to those posed in the novel Silence by Shūsaku Endō, in which persecution often occurs with seemingly no purpose, at least from man’s vantage point. This is a hard truth, but as I’ve come to realize, a reality of the Christian faith: there is purpose behind our suffering far greater than we can comprehend.
Harvest Bridge’s partners, whom you support, understand this well.
Early on in Silence, the 17th-Century Jesuit priest Sebastien Rodrigues laments to God regarding the Japanese Christians’ suffering:
“Lord, why are you silent? Why are you always silent…?”
His doubt probably resonates with most of us at times during our lives. It causes us to ask questions such as, “Why does God “permit” suffering? Is our suffering accomplishing anything? How close is Jesus to us when we suffer?”
The reality that I will probably never deal with persecution the way our South Asian partners do is sobering – and their faith-filled response to the seemingly unanswerable questions of suffering is humbling. Our pastors are facing real and, oftentimes, harrowing persecution – threats, discrimination, and violence are far too common. These circumstances remind us that following Jesus comes at an earthly cost, and that the reasons for this suffering sometimes seem agonizingly inane.
When our partners experience persecution, their response is often to praise God despite hardship. As we spoke this week, Pastor Bharat* in India explained that when his community experiences persecution – being denied clean water, disowned by family, or harassed by police – it strengthens their prayer life and enables relationship-building with other believers. Bharat went on to share with me that,
“There is no time you feel closer to God than when you are persecuted.”
This is a belief that embodies Romans 8:18, “that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.” Our missionaries’ response to persecution reveals a spirit-led life.
Towards the end of Silence, Rodrigues comes to realize that his education in Christian Portugal has blinded him to what Christ’s life message means when those comforts are stripped away, when he is tasked with comforting the poor, hurting, and vulnerable in Japan. The meaning of the suffering he’s encountered hits Rodrigues as he hears God say,
“When you suffer, I suffer with you. To the end I am close to you.”
He realizes Christ was always suffering with the Japanese Christians, close to them, beside them, and watching with as much anguish as the priests did as they watched their friends being crucified in the ocean. The believers we come alongside realize this – sometimes the answer to our suffering is that God is suffering as well, right beside us. That God was born into this world to share men’s pain. What a God we serve who identifies with us in this way.
I’m moved and convicted by our partners’ response to the persecution they encounter. Let’s be moved and convicted together.
Thank you for standing with our suffering saints.
Humbled by the One who heals,
Director of International Partnerships