Why Did the Pope Cry?

Once a bouncer in a night club, Pope Francis might not be known generally as a “crier.”  On a recent trip to Albania, however, he was seen weeping visibly. Why the emotional outburst from such a high-ranking Catholic official? It seems that Pope Francis was overcome by emotion because of the lowliness of an Albanian priest:

Pope speaks against Christian persecution Albania communism

Creative Commons (by Alfredo Borba)

Fr. Ernesto Simoni Troshani, an 84 year old diocesan priest, recalled when the Communist party came to power and began detaining and murdering priests, some he said who died saying “Long live Christ the King”. He also said that his diocesan superiors were killed by firing squad.

Fr. Troshani was himself imprisoned for 18 years during the Communist takeover of Albania. On his cell wall, Troshani etched the phrase, “Jesus is my life.” Troshani was sentenced to forced labor, where he stayed until he became so weak the Communists assumed he would die. He was released and lived the rest of his life as a priest. When this lowly priest knelt before the pope, the pope was overcome by the beauty of his humility, and, thus, he wept.

As I have said before, I am not Roman Catholic. I don’t recognize Pope Francis as my leader on earth. However, I do recognize that he has been a reliable advocate on behalf of persecuted Christians around the world. His comments on persecution make perfectly good (and biblical) sense to me. He says,

When I hear that so many Christians in the world are suffering, am I indifferent, or is it as if a member of my own family is suffering? Am I open to that brother or that sister in my family who’s giving his or her life for Jesus Christ? (Pope Francis)[348]

Jesus Christ’s Invincible Church Growth Strategy

Books abound on church growth strategy. There are books to grow your church from the inside out. Other books teach church growth from the outside in. One book wants you to grow your church by learning from unchurched Americans. Another book says Christians just need to become contagious (in a good way, of course).

Christ church prevail persecutionEach of these books has the right heartbeat: Christian churches ought to grow and bear good fruit. Jesus Himself said,

By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples, John 15:8.

That churches ought to grow is not as difficult a question to answer as is the question, how are churches to grow.  That question begets much opinion with copious emotion.  The vast array of such opinions and emotions has generated wave after wave of church growth movements. Pastors and laypeople alike may, at times, feel swept away by the waves of change mandated in the latest church growth stratagem. How can we grow the church?

In response, I offer this reminder of a simple, helpful, strong, and encouraging message embedded in the Scriptures, one which is also being demonstrated in real-time through the persecuted church.  The lesson?  Jesus Christ will build His church, and the gates of Hell will not prevail against her.  Consider the scenario unfolded in Acts 8.

A very bad thing happened in Acts 8. A great persecution struck the church. Christians had to flee Jerusalem (in the same way they are having to flee the Middle East today).  The ones who thought they might stay and maintain some form of normalcy in Jerusalem were dragged off to prison (Acts 8:3). It was all bad. All their dreams of family comfort were shattered as a crystal glass shatters on a granite counter—instantly broken into scattered pieces.

And what of the decimation to the Jerusalem church? After whom would the persecutors go? Persecutors typically attack the leaders first. So, the great persecution unleashed in Jerusalem decimated the church, chasing even some of her leaders far away and out of reach. And yet, the bad news had a divinely-empowered good result. As Acts 8:4 reports, “those who had been scattered went about preaching the word.”  And the people in the places they went to ended up rejoicing. The bad the persecutors were producing ended with the good news of the gospel spreading.

In a similar way, a very bad thing happened in China in 1949.  Communism took over in China, and, among other changes, the Christian Church China PersecutionCommunist government expelled all missionaries from the land. And that wasn’t all:  The Communist government immediately began putting in prison Christians who could not swear first allegiance to the Communist party.  The blood-bath was immense through the 1960’s, as government officials announced “the death of God.” The situation was very bad indeed.  But God was not dead. He was as alive as His Word.

Without foreign missionary aid, without government help or support, without any serious infra-structure or property or resources in the country, the Christians of China did not die. The church grew.

When Communism took over, there were 870,000 Christians in China. Today, after a 60 year assault on the Christian church, there are an estimated 90 million Christians in China. There may in fact be more Christians than there are Communist party members! That growth happened—as it happened in Acts 8—through the promise from Christ that He would build His church–that His word would continue to increase and go forth empowered by the Spirit to the ends of the earth.

The point for us to remember is simply that Jesus is the one building his church, and the work cannot fail. Indeed, Paul tells us that the work we do in the name of the Lord will never be done in vain (1 Cor 15).  So, by faith, preach the Word. Strategize. Seek to fulfill the Great Commission mandate, but, even when persecution and unexpected setbacks come, take courage:  Jesus Christ has not lost control of heaven or earth, and He will build His church.  That’s a strategy with a 100% durable success.

Free Gao

Gao is a brother in Christ from China. He has been missing since February 4th.  He has been tortured by Chinese authorities.  His family has escaped to the U.S., and you can help him now by clicking here.

Hebrews 13:3, “Remember those who are in prison, as though in prison with them, and those who are mistreated, since you also are in the body. “

Happy 100th

In commemoration of the life of Richard Wurmbrand, founder of Voice of the Martyrs, a friend of mine wrote a piece celebrating Wurmbrand’s remarkable life and work for the Lord.  I share this story with you because Pastor Wurmbrand was born 100 years ago yesterday.  Here it is:

A Modern Day Joseph Born 100 years ago today In the Book of Genesis we read how God faithfully preserved and protected Joseph through years of abuse and imprisonment only to raise him to a high governmental position in Egypt . When a famine arose in Israel Joseph’s brothers who had sold him into captivity came begging bread and were presented before Joseph whom they did not recognize. Eventually, Joseph told them who he was and they were terrified. But Joseph forgave them and told them that although they meant it for evil, God meant it for good so that his own family and people might be saved. Dr. Richard Wurmbrand was a modern day Joseph.

He was imprisoned for fourteen years in communist Romania where he was brutally tortured and mistreated. When he was ransomed by Western Christians and released by his captors, he came to Europe and eventually to America . The communists had tried to destroy him but they only increased his faith. God used their evil intentions for his own good purposes. God had a greater, better plan for Richard Wurmbrand. Persecution could have made him bitter but instead he continually prayed for his former captors. If Richard had become bitter then the communists would have won. God gave Richard a heart of compassion for his tormentors and jailers and he dedicated his life to preaching the Gospel to them.

Because Richard had suffered persecution, God gave him a burden for the persecuted church worldwide and that vision led him to establish the Voice of the Martyrs. Dr. Wurmbrand spoke before a Senate sub-committee the first week of May 1966 and his photo showing his scars appeared in the Washington Post. My wife Ann saw a brief advertisement in the newspaper that Dr. Wurmbrand would be speaking that Friday at Luther Place Memorial Church in downtown Washington . She asked if I wanted to go and I said, “Yes.” I still have my notes from that occasion. After more than forty years, I still see the spiritual glow that seemed to hover about this dear man of God. His demeanor was humble and his face glowed. We left that meeting feeling privileged to have been in his presence. That night Dr. Wurmbrand challenged us to remember the thousands imprisoned in Romanian prisons for witnessing for Christ.

At that time in Romania Bibles had not been printed for 25 years and none had been printed in Russia for 50 years. Before his arrest God had burdened Richard’s heart for the thousands of Soviet soldiers in his occupied country because they had been brought up as atheists. Many had a hunger to hear the Word of God because it had been forbidden under atheistic communism. Dr. Wurmbrand told us about the suffering of our Lord Jesus Christ and how he knew before hand what he must suffer and how he would die. The Apostle Paul also knew what suffering lay before him as well. He pointed out that in Romania Christians did not know they were martyrs.

But here in a well-fed society a theologian can say “God is dead.” But, said Dr. Wurmbrand: “we knew that God was alive.” Isn’t that ironic? Persecuted believers who might be expected to say, “Why me? Where is God?” knew that God is alive but well-fed theologians in the comfort of 20th century America were saying that God is dead. Dr. Wurmbrand’s prophetic voice tried to wake up Western Christians to the reality of their suffering sisters and brothers under communism.

Today we at Voice of the Martyrs humbly carry out that vision. Much of Western Christendom is asleep and so are many even in our churches. The communists thought they could destroy the Church by persecution. Persecution makes the church stronger just as persecution deepened Richard Wurmbrand’s faith and led to a great movement of the Lord’s people today. Dr. Wurmbrand and his beloved wife Sabina are in heaven but their vision lives on in all of us as we pray and work to encourage the persecuted church worldwide. Happy Birthday, Richard. A hundred years ago today you were born and one hundred years later your life’s work continues stronger than ever on behalf of the persecuted believers worldwide.

Blessings, Larry “Bud” Sizemore

Area Coordinator Tennessee/Kentucky Voice Network (Voice of the Martyrs)
(Used with permission from the author)

Courage Over Cowardice

Out of fear, Communists (and Socialists) must control you.  They cannot allow your freedom to threaten their “good” plans for you.  A very brave Le Thi Cong Nhan risked her life to speak freely of her faith in Christ.  For that courage, she has been put into prison in Communist Vietnam.  She has been in prison for 2 years, with 2 more to go, plus 3 years of supervised probation after that.  Read her story here, and pray for her.