The Hour of Suffering

I am reading through the New Testament in 90 days this summer, and writing some of my thoughts here. Today, day 38, finds us in Acts 22 through Acts 24.

I want to begin by showing you a post from Stephan Bauman’s blog. Stephen is the president and CEO of World Relief (please check out their site today).

This was written yesterday.

Greetings, Friends,

A rebel group seized Rutshuru today causing thousands of Congolese civilians to flee (Washington Post Article). The people fleeing violence are known to us. They are followers of Jesus. They are friends.

Allow me to quote Charles Franzen, World Relief Country Director for Congo, who leads our work in the Congo from our main office in Goma:

Heavy fighting is reported in Rumangabo which is 20 miles north of Goma on the Rutshuru road.  We cannot hear any of that from this remove but the city is very tense as night has fallen and it is still unclear whether the loyalists will make a push into the periphery of the town tonight or wait until tomorrow.  So we wait  .  .  .  and pray. Please pray for us and for Congo at this crucial hour. — Charles Franzen, World Relief Country Director, Congo

Indeed, please pray, and also share this news throughout your networks. Telling theirstory, no matter how difficult, honors our friends in the Congo. Let’s stand with them during their hour of suffering.

From the Washington Post article, linked above, comes this paragraph, about the terrors of the M23 rebels, who defected from the Congo government in 2009, in hopes of overthrowing the standing government:

Analysts fear that the new conflict could once again drag Congo into another cycle of violence. In the country’s lawless east, entire wards have been set up to treat rape victims, one of the many atrocities that have become widespread as a result of years of fighting.

The rebellion has caused more than 200,000 people to abandon their homes and flee, some displaced inside Congo others across the borders into Rwanda and Uganda. The U.N. World Food Program is asking for an additional $45 million to feed them.

These rebels have displaced 200,000 people since April, and have done so violently.

Here is a picture, from Stephan Bauman’s Twitter account, of a mom, running for her life.

I picture Paul, before the Sanhedrin, and with some rhetorical skill, getting to the heart of the matter quickly. In today’s reading, he is in the custody of the Roman officials, and he needed to stay there, rather than be handed to the Jewish leaders. But he also had to testify about the gospel. So this is what he said:

I stand on trial because of my hope in the resurrection of the dead. (Acts 23:6)

This one verse marks Paul’s course for the remainder of the Acts of the Apostles. It was, and had always been, his mission statement.

There was a temptation for me, this morning, to write encouraging words about our own trials. And there are many, I am sure.

But if you are reading this in America, then you are probably not fearing for your life today because of your belief in the resurrection of the dead.

We have a strange notion of trials, I think. We’ve taken the idea of “trial” and made it very, very small. So we use the word “trial” to define our financial woes, our relationship drama, our office politics, or our school gossip. And we’ve preached about our fortitude in those trials. Which, I guess, isn’t so bad. We are tested and tried in a variety of ways.

But when I prayed this morning, and began to listen to God’s voice about what I should write here, it was the blog above that shook me.

Paul was on trial for his very life. The people in the Congo are, too.

I follow The Seed Company on Twitter, and they retweeted the link to the blog above. I read the tweet last night, and remembered it, so I opened it this morning, to read the link. And then I just stared at my computer screen in horror. God then told me this would frame my thoughts this morning.

These believers in Jesus, these people who hope in the resurrection of the dead, fled their homes, were raped, and their houses were looted and burned.

And this is happening now.

Yet we know very little about this. We know the broad ideas of persecution, and we have a general idea that people, around the world, suffer because of their hope in the resurrection.

(And if this story doesn’t convict you, read here, about the church attack in Kenya that killed 17 people on July 1, 2012.)

But to know that this is happening in real-time should stop us today.

It should also make us reword our personal definition of trials.

Stand with these people in prayer today. Please. Like us, they hope in the resurrection of the dead, and are paying for that hope in very violent ways.

And as you go through your day today, as you open your email, laugh about jokes, talk about movies, eat a nice lunch at a restaurant, join your family tonight for a nice meal, and cover yourself in cozy blankets, think of these people, and their trials for Jesus.

And then get on your knees, and pray hard for them.

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