If you are seated in the congregation today, you will have the privilege of actually seeing our Living Church speaker, but those watching via internet will find the camera swiftly shifting to the ceiling. All they will hear is a voice. And even you, with your privileged view from the pew, may feel frustrated to hear him introduced by just a first name and a hazy regional reference. Who is this guy and why can’t we say where he lives?
We’d like to tell you, but we can’t. We can’t put it in print and we can’t say it from the pulpit. It’s just too dangerous. He represents one of 21 families we support doing work we can’t talk about in places we can’t mention. To disclose that would jeopardize their ministries and the safety of the believers with whom they partner.
Not long after I joined the Global Outreach Commission, a national pastor came to visit from a country with only 3,000 believers, all of whom live under threat. He showed us a book that extremists in his country had compiled. They had cobbled together bits from the internet, pieces from church bulletins and web sites to produce an incredible tale of conspiracy that casts American missionaries and those won through their ministry as U.S. operatives intent on undermining their government. It would have been laughable except it contained an address list of every known Christian pastor in the country, including him. The book was for sale in bookstores in a country where Christians had been martyred. “Be very careful what you say publicly,” he pled.
In The Insanity of God, Nik Ripken tells of the encounter between a persecuted Christian and the writer for a magazine devoted to reporting on the tortured church. When the journalist heard the man’s story, he resolved to tell it. Fearing that publicity would only make things worse, the Christian begged him to refrain, but the author persisted; he had a plan. He changed the man’s name and randomly picked a different city in which to situate the story. Only the country remained the same. When the article was published, that country sent authorities to the city listed to search out the Christians. The original believer was safe but a whole new group was ensnared and subjected to prison.
Stories like that make you watch your words. In the Global Outreach office, we’re convinced we can’t be too careful. Governments in 66% of countries engage in harassment and intimidation of religious groups. In 39% of countries those who embrace Christ risk being killed to preserve their families’ honor.
How does this affect us at Tenth? Do our partners avoid these places? No. Over a third of our partners serve in places we can’t talk about. Glance at the prayer calendar and you’ll see just first names, just regions, but they represent real people who sat in the very pews you now sit, who now serve in very difficult places.
This masking of their identities shouldn’t deter us from praying. There are practical ways you can step behind the curtain and connect with the flesh and blood people:
- Use the prayer calendar. If you see a name you don’t know—particularly listed as serving in the Middle East or Asia, personally ask someone on the Global Outreach Commission. We’d be happy to share what we can. Because these partners live in places where Christians are few and far between, they can feel isolated and stressed. They need our prayers!
- Attend Around the World in Eighty Minutes. On fourth Sundays, Global Outreach hosts a lunch where a visiting partner speaks. Since the event is not recorded or broadcasted, partners are more candid. It’s a great way to meet them and hear how they see God working.
- Ask your small group to “adopt” a partner. Groups that adopt partners often develop their own correspondences and hear first-hand reports. They have the opportunity to be first-responders. One group was receiving text messages from a partner as his family was being evacuated in the wake of violence! Talk about an immediate call to prayer!
And that’s the point: we need to be sure to remember that He-Who-Cannot-Be-Named is The- Brother-For-Whom-We-Must-Pray.
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Please include the following statement on any distributed copy: By Terri Taylor. © 2023 Tenth Presbyterian Church. Website: tenth.org