Walking with Jesus … alone

April 21, 2020 by Christopher Summers in Presence magazine

Samuel* is an 83-year-old pastor in South Asia who left his village 26 years ago.

 

The people of his village are mostly farmers. The older ones remember the name of the foreign missionary who came and shared Christ in their village so many years ago, but most people have forgotten. When the better resourced Christians—like Samuel—left, only the very poor were left behind, and they became the servants and farm hands for the wealthier Muslim farmers.

featured in presence magazineOver the years, these believers became isolated from Christian teaching. Their children grew up and married within their dwindling community. Some of them would go to church outside of the village every so often, but the younger ones were forced to work hard on Sundays.

The situation is bleak, and many people see little hope of escape. Almost every Christian household in these rural settings has at least one or more members who are addicted to drugs and/or alcohol. Many of the Christian women have been threatened with abuse or have been abused. But no one will call the police—these Christians have to work and are required to do what is asked of them to survive.

But Samuel has not forgotten the Christians in his village—even as they’ve struggled to survive in total isolation.

“It’s very simple,” he says. “We want to be there for the Christians, and we teach people from the Bible. They have to discover that there’s not only false hope in this world; true hope can be found in Jesus. If they knew Him and how He has suffered for them to make things right with God, that would give true meaning to their lives.”

But how can they teach the people in these villages—some in places difficult to get to, far away from any church?

When faith can’t grow

These types of situations are not only found in South Asia. For millions of Christians around the world, following Jesus is a lonely life—to be sure, for these believers, the knowledge of God’s saving grace and the love of Jesus are well worth it! But for many of these brothers and sisters, walking in the way of Christ means they could be cut off from family, friends, communities and relationships.

In some parts of the world where Islam is the dominant religion, Christians have to hide their faith. Particularly for those who convert from Islam, they may have to hide their faith from family and friends. “They are isolated because in general they don’t meet with other Christians and also because of their secret conversion they do change,” says Chuck*, an Open Doors team member who works with Christians in the Arabian Peninsula. “They find it difficult to maintain their friendships they had before their conversion. For them it’s difficult to continue the small talk or even the deeper conversations with friends, and for that reason they grow apart from their friends and relatives.”

Chuck saw this happen with a man from Saudi Arabia. He came to faith in Jesus when he was living abroad. “He was going to church two, three times a week,” Chuck says. “But now he returned to his own country, living in his village again. He wasn’t prepared for that. He didn’t memorize the Bible, he didn’t memorize songs. He is far away from the closest Christian; he needs to drive for about five hours to meet with another believer.”

This kind of thing happens with believers in places like North Korea and Afghanistan (ranked No. 1 and 2 on the 2020 World Watch List, respectively) as well. North Korean parents often don’t even tell their own children about their faith in Jesus—if the child reveals the faith of the parent, the whole family could be sent to a labor camp or even executed. In Afghanistan, even the suspicion of interest in Christianity can be enough for mob “justice” that leads to death.

‘The church has to come to them’

Open Doors believes that the Holy Spirit works even in the midst of these kinds of extreme difficulties—we believe the gospel of Jesus works in the darkness and can help any Christian. And we are also dedicated to helping Christians lean into the Great Commission, which doesn’t speak of mere believers, but speaks of disciples.

This is why we are dedicated to helping every Christian grow and thrive in their faith, not just languish in isolation. It’s why we create secret radio broadcasts that are beamed into North Korea, why we train pastors who lead churches for isolated believers in North Africa, why we smuggle Bibles into the most closed places and why, when people can’t attend a church, we send the church to them.

This last activity is what we do for communities like Samuel’s in South Asia. His village is filled with people who have no way to grow in their faith and learn more about Jesus, even as they are persecuted for Him. “The root cause of their problem is that they are unchurched,” an Open Doors’ local partner in South Asia says. “These people cannot go to a church. What can you do? There’s only one solution: The church has to come to them.

“That’s why we send out mobile church teams to the unchurched Christian communities. You can think of them as a church on wheels. The trucks are managed by people trained by us. We will bring music, films about the Bible and Jesus, and literature for those who can read. We will meet the people where they are and teach them basic Christianity. We’ll tell them about Jesus and show them His love.”

This is the mission of Open Doors in a nutshell: We want to help God’s people find Jesus and grow in their knowledge and love of Him. And as long as God allows, we’ll keep walking in that calling, no matter what.

This article originally appeared in the May/June 2020 issue of Presence. To subscribe to Presence, click here

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