As many as 100,000 Christians suffer in closed villages and prison camps in North Korea. Thousands more are imprisoned for their faith in countries such as Pakistan, Iran and Eritrea. At the same time, countless Christians (especially girls and women) have been kidnapped and forcibly converted to another religion. How can Christians survive with their faith intact under these extreme circumstances?
The Bible teaches us many lessons and we can also learn from Chinese pastors who experienced intense persecution in earlier years. Nine of them participated in a research project “Is suffering good?”
Sharing lessons on how they coped with their suffering, the pastors tell us how their faith was saved during the most difficult of circumstances.
1. Prepare for suffering before you are imprisoned
For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him, but also suffer for his sake. (Paul, Philippians 1:29)
Nearly all nine pastors reported they were prepared to suffer before the persecution began. One pastor even had his suitcase ready. “We had foreseen the arrest for some time.”
2. Accept that suffering is a normal part of following Christ
Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. (1 Peter 4:12)
All nine pastors believed that suffering and following Christ go hand in hand. “We felt that this was normal—we already knew that it was going to happen; we weren’t shocked. If you want to follow God, you have to accept this kind of consequence.”
3. Let go of your life and surrender to God’s will
For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God’s will, than for doing evil. (1 Peter 3:17)
When the Chinese pastors chose to stand firm in their faith, they risked losing everything dear to them. Their decision came at great cost—losses of health, family, future, education and life. They described pivotal moments in their suffering where they had to make the choice to let go of control over their lives and surrender to God.
4. Worship and recite Scripture for spiritual strength
About midnight, Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them. (Acts 16:25)
The pastors continued to worship God and recited Scriptures to receive spiritual strength during their imprisonment. That encouraged them to confess their sins, do merciful acts to others and reflect on God’s love. Some even sang hymns, such as, “When we pray, grace of heaven comes. When we pray, the gate of heaven opens. When we pray, power comes. When we pray, victory comes.”
5. Find a (secret) fellowship; know that your family supports you
Remember those who are in prison, as though in prison with them, and those who are mistreated, since you also are in the body. (Hebrews 13:3)
The interviewees described the support of other believers as instrumental in their ability to survive their imprisonment. Believers found ways to support each other and pray together in prison and labor camps, despite the risks. One pastor got married shortly before his arrest and the support of his wife meant a lot to him.
6. Experience God’s presence
When they deliver you over, do not be anxious how you are to speak or what you are to say, for what you are to say will be given to you in that hour. For it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you. (Matthew 10:19, 20)
Several interviewees described their experience of God’s presence during times of doubt and despair. One interviewee recalled seeing an image of Jesus which reminded him of God’s love. Another interviewee described a moment of despair where he considered jumping out a window to end his life, only to be “stopped” by God’s presence. In many ways, the believers interviewed experienced God in a very real way during their experiences of suffering.
7. Identify with the suffering of Jesus and of His disciples
And they crucified him and divided his garments among them, casting lots for them, to decide what each should take. (Marcus 15:24)
All pastors were encouraged by remembering and identifying with the passions of Christ and the sacrifices of the early church. Recalling God’s acts in history, reflecting on Christ’s experience preceding and during His crucifixion, and reflecting on the experiences of Paul in the early church were examples of ways in which the interviewees identified with the suffering of Christ and His followers.
8. Believe in a greater purpose
I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel. (Philippians 1:12)
Most pastors were convinced that God had used the suffering of His people to bring others to Christ in China. When they tasted the harvest and found their purpose, they gained more peace in the process of suffering.
- Are we ready to suffer? If not, what can we do to prepare ourselves?
Are we willing to help Christians in dungeons, prisons and labor camps to survive? As we’ve seen, it is fundamental for them to know there is a spiritual family out there praying for them and taking care of the earthly families of the prisoners.
Do we live for the greater purpose? How? If not, why not? Can you change it?
Father, today we also turn inward toward our own hearts as we seek to learn from the godly witness of these Chinese pastors who have discovered not only how to suffer for Your name’s sake, but how to suffer with hearts focused on Your purposes and on Your goodness and power and authority in this world. Prepare us now in our freedom that should we ever experience true persecution, we will be ready to serve You in our suffering. Increase our faithfulness in surrounding in prayer those suffering in both small and great ways. Increase our faith in Your sufficiency and turn our desires toward Your purposes. Teach us in the small injustices and inconveniences that we experience to trust Your goodness and power so that in the big things we will continue to be faithful and thatthe name of Jesus may be lifted high in all the earth. It is in His name that we pray, Amen.