I spent part of May teaching at Gordon Conwell Theological Seminary in South Hamilton, Massachusetts. I co-mentored a Doctor of Ministry cohort studying Global Christianity. Our class is an impressive group. The three Americans include a worker in the Middle East and a translator who used to serve in Indonesia plus a young pastor who travels the world on church mission trips, Then there is a South Korean serving a Korean congregation in Massachusetts, an Australian working in East Asia, a Nigerian pastor and a denominational mission leader from Ethiopia.
All of us introduced ourselves with stories about work, family and education. Marcos, the Ethiopian brother, told us that he was jailed in Ethiopia from age 17 to age 24 when Communists ruled his country.
One day one of our students chose Acts 16 for our morning devotional. This text tells the story of Paul and Silas in Philippi. They healed a demon-possessed fortune-telling slave girl who kept crying out and identifying them as heralds of God. The owners lamented their loss of income and incited a crowd against Paul and Silas. The missionaries are arrested, beaten, and thrown in prison. While the two are singing hymns at midnight, an earthquake opens the cell doors and looses their chains. The jailer, fearing that the prisoners have escaped, draws a sword to kill himself. But they have not escaped. Paul cries out, “We are all here.” The jailer believes in Jesus--he and his entire household are saved. They feed and minister to the imprisoned evangelists. They return to the jail but the next day the magistrate releases them.
We took turns commenting on this story. Then Marcos spoke quietly about his own incarceration because of his faith. He said, “We could have escaped if we had wanted to do so. We could have traveled into Kenya and then on to Canada or the USA. Because of Ethiopia’s Communist government, the path was open to emigrate to the west. But we stayed because of our country and our faith. We felt called to share the Good News with our fellow Ethiopians. So we did not attempt an escape.”
The room fell silent. We realized anew that the stories of the early church in the Book of Acts have modern day echoes. The cost of discipleship differs from region to region and age to age. But somewhere men and women persevere to follow Jesus despite oppression and persecution. Access denied is access prevented. But the Gospel finds a way. The Spirit gives boldness and courage under fire.
Those of us living in more comfortable setting s are called to hear these stories and to pray. Let’s pray for our brothers and sisters around the world who stay to be ambassadors of grace and hope--even ambassadors in chains.
Grace and Peace,
Richard L. HaneyExecutive Director