The Insanity of God
Persecution of Christians is real. Perhaps in America we haven’t gotten a true taste of it, though in some form we seem to be inching closer every day. When we do hear about it, it sounds so far away, in other countries, happening to people who don’t speak our language, don’t eat the same foods we eat, and don’t look like us. It seems very distant. But those Christians who are being shunned by their families, fired from their jobs - sometimes beaten or killed - those Christians are part of the church. My church.
I had never considered it that way before. I lived and worked in an area where this was happening, an area where the flame of the gospel was, more often than not, being put out before it could even catch. But even there the situation didn’t appear to be as dire as I had once imagined it would be, and I had the kind of passport that would easily get me out of the country, out of danger. Even in the midst of persecution, there was still some distance.
Then I met Nik and Ruth Ripken. Our first meeting was quite informal - most of our visits were, actually. We would end up working closely with the Ripkens for the majority of our years overseas. To our kids they were Uncle Nik and Aunt Ruth. (I once thought it would be funny for my son to greet him with “Hey, Grandpa Nik!” I got grief for that one for a while.) To my wife and I, they were friends, mentors, advisors, brother and sister, and teachers - and still are.
Much of the teaching time was focused on the material that has become two books, The Insanity of God and The Insanity of Obedience, as well as The Insanity of God Movie. When we were first introduced to this information, it was brand new. The Ripkens had travelled many thousands of miles to walk among people groups where persecution was, or recently had been, a stark reality. By then they had conducted legions of personal interviews with believers, some who had experienced difficult persecution, some who were expecting it any day. Once the information they gathered had been disseminated and the patterns and principles emerged, they began to share it with the world in the form of a workshop. I tried to count how many of these workshops I have attended over the years, and I came up with five or six - and a half. If you’re wondering, it’s not because I failed the class that I kept going back! No, it’s because the experience is that rich: I learn something new every time, and the reminders keep my heart humbled.
In almost all of the workshops Ruth taught us that those brothers and sisters in persecution were a part of the church - and I was a part of that same church. Therefore, it was my church that was being attacked, my church that was suffering, not some other church a thousand miles away.
This one statement may be the takeaway that continually haunts me personally, the one I slip into my community group lesson every third week or so, but there is much more. About three days worth, actually. There will be some statistics shared, but it’s not really about numbers of martyrs or how many countries are on the Open Doors World Watch List, important though they are. Those are things we can Google. This conference focuses on how the Body of Christ serves with Jesus in the tough places.
That’s really how all this got started. An original call “to develop discipleship material for Somali-like places globally,” was tweaked just a few years later “after watching 150 believers in Somalia reduced to just 4.” It became an effort, by ultimately interviewing over 600 believers in persecution in 72 countries, “…to rediscover if Jesus was able to work, still, in the hardest places on the planet.” The answers they discovered were a collective and resounding, “YES!” Nik summarizes, “One of our greatest joys is that, while Satan has sought to silence our brothers and sisters in persecution, the church in the West, as we learn from them, gives them their voice back! Where Satan tried to silence them to a tiny location, God uses them to teach the church in the West and globally! For us the Bible has left being an old, past tense book, and has become present active tense in our lives. We have discovered, and expect to find now, that everything God has ever done in the Bible, He is still doing.”
Who should come to this conference? Of course, my answer would be, “everybody”. (See my previous attendance record for support of this statement.) If your job allows, it’s even worth asking off. According to Nik, “It’s to help followers of Jesus to cross the street and cross the oceans…Jesus has COMMANDED us to GO. We are all commanded. A ‘call’ is about obediently going to a specific place for a specific season of life. No one gets a pass not to go!” He adds to that sentiment in Insanity of Obedience: “ The command to be on mission is a command common to every follower of Jesus. It is a command to be both local and global.”
If I learned from Ruth the meaning of “church”, I learned this from Nik: most of us in the church are well prepared to be “sheep among sheep”, but Jesus sends us out as “sheep among wolves.” This conference is a crash course in wolf-readiness.