A Candle Burning on its Own
Recently, Susan* visited an undisclosed country to see if the stories she heard were true. In this first episode of her blog series, Susan finds out just how restricted the churches there really are.
The Christian family is worldwide. No matter where I have traveled, I have always felt at home with my brothers and sisters in Christ. While travelling here, I desired to meet with local Christians. Because of the increase of persecution, I had been told that believers would be encouraged by meeting with a Christian from abroad. But due to restrictions, local Christians were difficult to find. During my first few days I visited the local churches, but while there were pictures of church leaders hanging on the wall, I did not see anyone praying there.
Travelling deeper into the country, knocking on church doors was always in vain. For this reason, I don’t get my hopes up when a man in the hotel lobby tells me there is a church in the middle-sized city I am staying in. He draws a circle around the little cross on my map. “Hundreds of people go there every Sunday,” he assures me, “go and see for yourself!” Made curious by the man’s enthusiasm, I maneuver myself through the constant flood of honking taxis and hurrying people in the city. But my enthusiasm soon dissipates when, within an hour, I am completely lost. Every corner of the street seems to look the same.
I ask God to help me. If he wants me to find the church I will. Then, as I look at my map yet again, an old man approaches me. On his sunken face he wears an old pair of glasses with thin black sides. The old man starts speaking to me in French. I explain to him what I’m looking for. He smiles, locks his old motorbike, and gestures for me to follow him. “Let me help you to find it, my friend,” he says. I follow the quick moving feet of my guide from one little street to another until almost half an hour passes and we stand in front of a tall, blue door. I would never have recognized this place as a church.
The wrinkled fingers of my guide touch the doorbell that connects us to the cracking voice of the person behind the wall. The man that looks through the crack of the door looks friendly, but his smile can’t hide the traces of sadness in his eyes. He looks exhausted. While he shuffles in his flip flops towards the church, the friendly man that guided me here gestures for me to follow.
Entering the premises, I can’t help but notice that this isn’t the lively center of Christianity the man at the hotel told me it would be. At least it isn’t anymore. Is this one of the churches that is struggling to survive, one of the churches that lost most of its members recently? I don’t dare ask.
My guide must have seen me thinking. He quickly moves his eyes in the direction of the cameras above our heads as if someone is watching us. Then he whispers, without the porter hearing: “It is very difficult for Christians right now; the government is giving them a hard time. But we don’t dare say that out loud.”
A Candlelit Goodbye
“Would you like to light a candle?” the brother asks. I nod. I take the candle he gives me and put it in the empty candle box. It feels like we’re praying together when I see the flames of the candle reflecting on the water. When I leave my newfound brother in Christ, he firmly shakes my hand. I promise him that I will continue praying. “Yes, please do so,” he says, “praying is very necessary.”
*Name and some details have been changed for security reasons
Open Doors provides opportunities to visit, encourage and serve persecuted believers who often feel as if the Body of Christ has forgotten them. If you feel called to participate in one of our numerous upcoming trips, be sure to check out the Open Doors USA Travel page for more information.
*photo changed for security purposes