More observations from XXXXXXX and surrounding lands:
I have not been with one follower of Christ here whose story is not one of sacrifice, persecution, hardship, or suffering.
I’m waiting to meet someone, anyone . . . who has lived an “American Christianity.” NONE yet, and this is my fourth trip to this part of the world in less than a year. I don’t say any of this to shame myself or be ungrateful for having been born in a country that relative to the rest of the world, enjoys such freedom and abundance. I just don’t want to miss what I am seeing.
It would be easy (even lazy) to categorize these brothers and sisters (their lives and their stories) as somehow unique, heroic, beyond belief, amazing, inspiring, or exceptional. When I do this, I subtly but effectively remove myself from the implications of what I see and feel. If I put these brothers and sisters on a pedestal or in a glass case to be admired but nevertheless observed, it allows me to stay emotionally distant from myself, relationally distant from them, and experientially distant from God.
When I open the pages of my Bible, which I will teach today to a room full of hungry pastors and church leaders, I’ll be taking them to a story that mirrors their own lives outside the Garden and this side of Genesis ch. 3. In this context (the Biblical one) these men and women are not unique.
I had breakfast with a godly friend back in Anchorage a few days before I left town. He said he wanted to meet to ask me if I knew anyone (ANYONE!) whose lives truly reflected what it meant to be “sold out” (his words). I had to think for a moment. I had to seek clarification and definition about what he meant by that phrase so as to be able to name some people I know who might fit the criteria. I felt some fear answering. I felt shame even going through the mental process of scanning my hard drive in such a subjective process. How do I know? I guess this is what that looks like? I guess this is who I’d describe that way? I don’t know?
It strikes me as I write this that I’m not sure I’ve been anywhere here where that question would even be relevant. I’m not sure the category (or better yet the need for it) exists in this part of the world. Not that spiritual mediocrity does not exist here as I'm confident it does. It's just that there is little here to encourage it.
I’m not drawn to the way of life here. I appreciate the food in my refrigerator and the car parked in the garage of the house that I own (sort of). But I am drawn to the fruit I see in the lives of those who follow Jesus Christ in a place hostile to Christianity.
The Scriptures teach me that persecution, hardship, and suffering can beget passion, surrender, willingness, empathy, tenderness, courage, and humility.
It can also produce bitterness, apathy, resentment, and self-pity, but I've not seen much of that here.
There are no “special” believers here. Just normal men and women who share a clarity of vision about the person of Jesus Christ . . . not to be confused with ministry or organizational vision. They possess a purity and single-mindedness of faith that is as common-place as that which produces it . . . their shared sacrifice, persecution, hardship, and suffering.