“Go your ways: behold, I send you forth as lambs among wolves.” Luke 10:3 It was Saturday morning in late October. The sun was already burning off the morning mist over a grove of cocoa trees near the coast of Sulawesi in Indonesia. Four teenage girls were on a familiar path through the cocoa plantation—off to Saturday classes at their Christian school. 14-year-old Theresia, 16-year-old Noviana, and 15-year-olds Alfina and Ida wore their neat brown school uniforms, tugging along their book bags and chattering away. They were best friends; they did everything together—now they would die together. In a moment, in a swirling terror of black masks and slashing machetes, six men fell upon the girls. The few details known of the attack are from Noviana who escaped with deep machete wounds to her face. The other three girls were beheaded on the spot. Their Muslim attackers carried their heads away as trophies, tossing two of them at a police station and a third at the door of a church.
The motivation for these murders was not robbery or rape but simply that the girls were Christians. Only a half-hearted show was made at finding the killers, and just two days after the three Christian girls were beheaded, a Muslim police officer described the situation as “everything is normal.”
The men who did this are part of an Islamic terror group called Laskar Jihad or “Holy War Warriors.” Whether it is Laskar Jihad in Indonesia, the Taliban in Afghanistan, Islamic Jihad in Egypt, Iranian-backed Hezbollah in Lebanon, or the Islamic Courts in the Horn of Africa, their extremism has silenced saner Muslims and attracted others to their ranks. This virus of violence continues to spread, leaving Christians in those countries very vulnerable.
Consequently, outrageous hate is never far beneath the surface. For example, in Pakistan because of a financial dispute, a trumped-up charge of burning pages of the Koran was leveled at a Christian. This little spark of an incident, fanned by Muslim clerics, exploded into a mob scene in which as many as 3000 Muslims looted and burned five churches, a school, and numerous Christians’ homes. Unfortunately, this has been an oft-repeated scenario.
I happened to be in Pakistan three days after this particular attack. Smoke and ash still hung in the air. In my journal that night I wrote:
A full moon rises over the canefields around Sangla Hill, and in the twilight a minaret looks like a stake driven through the heart of this city. 300 Christian families live here, and not one of them feels safe tonight. My mind is swirling with all I’ve seen today—charred crosses, churches and homes gutted by fire, the cries of children and the pleas of their parents for someone to protect them. The only comfort any of us have found today has been from the Scripture. Standing outside the charred remains of the Salvation Army Church, a believer named Gulzar came up to me to talk. His broken English was mended by a winning smile and joyful countenance. Gulzar told me that two promises helped him face the fear—and then he began to quote from John 14, “Let not your heart be troubled . . . in my Father’s house are many mansions . . . I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you unto myself: that where I am, there ye may be also.” And then my dear brother lifted my spirits and gave meaning to all I have witnessed today, “Be faithful unto death,” Gulzar said quoting our Lord, “and I will give thee a crown of life.”
The next day I looked into the face of persecution again. A pastor named Masih was lying outside the hospital on a concrete walkway. The pastor had protested to the police in his village after drunken Muslims had assaulted some women in his church. For that, a Muslim gang attacked him, kicking in his skull, severing his ear, and leaving him blind in one eye. The hospital had bandaged over his wounds and thrown him out. It seems that animals get better treatment than Christians do in Pakistan.
Well, not just in Pakistan. In Alexandria, Egypt one person died and 12 were wounded in knife attacks on 3 congregations during Easter services. In Afghanistan, Iran, and much of Arabia, death is the penalty for conversion from Islam to Christianity. Even in Muslim countries that don’t specify such a penalty, a law is not needed because family members carry out the killing on their own. Muslims are not the only persecutors, however. Radical Hindus in India have pushed through sweeping anti-conversion laws in a number of states and have matched them with muscle, assaulting pastors and burning churches. Burmese Buddhists are burning down Christian villages, sowing their fields with landmines, and pulling up crosses out of Christian cemeteries. Under brutal dictatorships in central Asia house church leaders are being arrested and beaten. In Turkmenistan, Christians have even been tortured for possessing a copy of the “Jesus” film.
The list could go on and on, for as Lord David Alton has observed, “Of the world’s six billion people today, over half live in countries where being a Christian could cost you your life.” In our comfort, freedom, and opportunity, we should remember “the other half” of our Christian family. In the next issue we will consider just what action pastors and churches can take on behalf of persecuted believers.
For Christians in many lands, life is caught somewhere between faith and fear. It brings to mind one of the Gospel’s great missionary passages when the Lord Jesus told the 70 that He was sending them out as “lambs among wolves.” How could He do such a thing—sending His people unarmed into the jaws of death? He could because He did. From Gethsemane to Golgotha the Lamb not only walked among wolves, but even “gave Himself a ransom for all.” And as Christ explained in Matthew 10:24, “The disciple is not above his master; nor the servant above his Lord. It is enough for the disciple that he be as his master.” For these Christians who live among wolves, they bring Light to dark places by their lives—and sometimes by their deaths—and they find comfort in His company.