“Quick, take a left turn!”
His command snapped me out of a jetlagged sleep. In the back seat of a small Volvo, my friends and I flew into the door of the cab. Our driver made a hard turn and punched the gas through a sinister alleyway. Our missionary (let’s call him Thomas) glanced at the car behind us and said, “I think someone is following us.” “They know my car, they know it,” he mumbled. I was in the Middle East, in a country known for its hostility toward Christians. We darted through a few small streets and returned to the main road. The area we were in was known to be recruiting grounds for Hamas’ suicide bombers. I was well out of my comfort zone, and fear began to shout in my mind saying, “What are you doing here?”
We arrived at our destination a little after midnight and met a young family who offered to host us. The husband and wife warmly welcomed us. They had stayed awake to present us with a meal and gifts. As we sat down, they told us their story and the persecution of many in their church community. They shared how they lost friends, family, jobs, and wealth to follow Jesus. Within a year of our visit, many of the pastor we met were viciously murdered by terrorists. The cost to follow Jesus was high, but these precious saints paid the price with joy.
On our second next night, we met in an underground church. As each member arrived, they quietly found a place to sit in the small living room. Then a young girl closed the window blinds, and another distributed the Bibles. As each member received a Bible, they endearingly held it in their hands and kissed the cover. The well-worn books symbolized the hope which brought this small group together week after week. Thomas introduced us to the group. The members of his church looked at us with great joy in their eyes and beautiful smiles as we shared how honored we were to be with them. I opened my Bible and felt the nudge of the Holy Spirit guide my thoughts to a familiar passage in Psalms 27. I felt my words were well received, but I couldn’t help but think of the great sacrifices these families had made and would continue to make long after our team would return to the US.
The following week, we met with church leaders across the region. A unique quality of humility and fearlessness marked each one. Some of the pastors we met had been captured and tortured. They had suffered in ways I knew little about, but they seemed as if they didn’t have a care in the world. The truth is that each one expressed great hope for an eternity to come. Their love for Jesus fueled a fearless faith.
I often think about those pastors and how they lived incredibly simple and yet bold lives. They daily faced the fear of death and smiled at it. As I write this, I long to cultivate their kind of courage. In a time when the fear of a virus has locked down our world, we need to see true courage. We need the strength of godly men and women to emerge. Yes, there is a virus plaguing the world. There will always be staggering threats to our faith. However, this is the time for the followers of Jesus to rise with confidence in Jesus and in His promises. Stop placing your hope in political leaders who are using this tragedy to rob us of our freedoms. You don’t have to be afraid of the “pestilence that stalks in the darkness.” (Ps 91:5) You have the living God within you, so act like it. I’m not advocating ignorance or the throwing of caution to the wind, but you may want to ask yourself if your thoughts and behaviors are leading you into crippling fear or greater faith. Fear says, “I don’t know how I’m gonna make it,” or “What is going to happen to me?” Faith says, “Because I have the nature of Jesus in me, I can’t help but make it.” Faith is the assurance of Jesus’ power in you for such a time as this. Tell yourself the truth and stop binging on the fear, propaganda, and conspiracy nonsense. Face the fear that is taunting our nation and rise against it. Choose this week to live like Jesus did rise from the grave and that He did give you the power over all sickness and disease.