The slice of supreme pizza lay untouched on his plate as Bob* leaned across the table, speaking in a low voice of his experiences the last several months. It was the night before our 3rd Fresh Start seminar in East Asia, and our hosts had arranged a special dinner meeting with Bob at Pizza Hut to hear some background about some of the members of his fellowship group who would be participating.
His cell phone turned off and the battery removed to avoid being tracked or listened to, Bob told our team how his local fellowship group had been targeted recently by the authorities. The leaders were taken into custody suddenly one night last fall, and interrogated for many hours. The group was forced out of their building and has not been allowed to return since. Members of the group have been followed, harassed, questioned, and threatened. Now meeting in small groups in private homes, the numbers have dwindled from 1000 to about 300.
“I’m always looking around me now,” Bob confessed, “and if I’m in a public place, I wonder if there are cameras or people listening or someone following me.” The stress of his situation has even taken a toll physically. One of our hosts told us later that she didn’t recognize him at first because he’s lost so much weight in the last few months.
Yet as he recounted these events, Bob’s face radiated a peace that went beyond his circumstances. “I want to be like Job,” he smiled. “Even though I suffer a lot, I will thank the Father in everything.”
He was even able to see some good in this period of trial. The members of his fellowship group, though fewer in number, are stronger than ever before. And he’s been able to share the reason for his hope with some of the authorities who have been questioning him!
“Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:44-45). By giving thanks in the midst of his suffering, believing that God will work it all for good, and praying blessing on those who were mistreating him (Romans 12:14-21), Bob was on the path to forgiveness and freedom. His heart was in a position to reflect the Father’s love. With boldness and joy, Bob was able to proclaim in the middle of persecution, “I am FREE!”
*Name has been changed.