When they received word that a brother had been arrested, suddenly persecution came very close to home, recalled a vicar from the Dutch Open Doors office who was, at the time, conducting training for North African colleagues. Following is his story.
From one moment to the next, they dropped everything. We were in the middle of a training session, but this news demanded an immediate response. A text message had been received on a mobile phone saying that a brother had been arrested for evangelistic activities. A man who speaks the language of the people I was teaching at that moment. Someone from their region. Suddenly persecution had come very close to home.
Actually, I had been amazed by these Church leaders during the course. I had been supposed to provide them with training earlier, but I had not been granted a visa to go to their country in North Africa. But the need was great and the calls to go there in particular were urgent. In the end, it had been decided to hold a course in another country. Seven clergymen and a translator from different North African countries had been chosen to go there, so that in their turn they could give the course themselves in their own country.
It had also struck me in particular how important it is to meet one another as Christians. For these church leaders, it was the first time they had seen one another. They told me that there was a revival going on in their region, people are becoming followers of Jesus. But the small house churches need pastors who can build up the churches and disciple the new believers. From the moment that they had met one another at the airport, they had not been able to stop talking about what they were experiencing at this time.
And then this news was received and with it a reminder of the other reality with which Christians in this region are living-persecution. A field worker who accompanied me during this trip immediately started to arrange practical things. For example, should a lawyer be approached to act for him? I, too, immediately thought of practicalities-what can we do to solve this problem? But the men present put down their pens, notebooks and Bibles. One of the preachers present got up and said, “All right, gentlemen, let us pray for this great problem. It is a beautiful problem.”
A beautiful problem? It did not seem to me that the threat of imprisonment was anything “beautiful.” “How’s that then?” I asked him. He replied, “If you’re put in prison because you’ve been talking about the Lord Jesus, then you do have a problem, but it’s a beautiful problem.”
I realized that initially this remark made me angry. My thoughts were, “Find a solution to the problem. Don’t accept it. Fight it.” I had the idea that we were just standing there feeling defeated by such terrible news. There I was thinking how pitiful and how awful I found it for this man. But what I learned from them at this moment was this. Yes, it is terrible, because this man has family and friends too, and what they are facing is not pleasant. And we are going to do everything possible to have him released. But he is not pitiful. He is imprisoned for Jesus, which means we have a good problem. This was their conclusion.
Only later did it begin to dawn on me how biblical this principle is. They are living literally according to the words from 1 Peter. If you are put in prison for doing evil, it is your own fault. But if you are put in prison for good deeds, it is a token of God’s grace. And these words were not said casually by these men. Some of the pastors present regularly receive threats and on occasions have been arrested or imprisoned themselves. A number of them live in the realization that they may be the next ones for whom prayers are said because they are in prison.
After the moment of prayer, we simply picked up the thread of the training course again. In all the prayers said subsequently, the arrested brother was again mentioned. And when they bid one another farewell, they promised to continue to pray for him. But not with a ring of despair in their voices or with the feeling that what was happening to this man was a tragedy. It did not surprise them, and it was even seen as something beautiful. But I think, even though I am able to read about this in the Bible, I cannot actually comprehend this. What these people demonstrated here is beyond my understanding. I can learn from this, but they are the only ones who can say, “If you’re in prison for Jesus’ sake, you have a beautiful problem.”
Thank You, Father, for the beautiful testimony of these African pastors, a testimony that challenges us in our own faith. Thank You that even when they fall into the hands of authorities who imprison them, they are not crushed. They are not to be pitied, because You lift them up. For those who remain free to serve You, keep them from fear that the preaching of Your Word might go forth in great power and authority. And may we, too, view the problems we encounter as we serve you, even the small ones, to be “beautiful problems,” opportunities to let Your strength to shine forth in our weakness to a world in desperate need, that Your church might be extended to the ends of the earth. In the name of Jesus whose purposes we serve, Amen.