I had been questioned by authorities before. I always told my interrogators that my family and I loved their country. It was our home, my kids were in local schools, and I had started a successful business there. I also explained that I loved Jesus.
My family and I had been serving as missionaries in a predominantly Muslim country in Africa when one night, six men showed up, four of them carrying guns. They took me to a small cell with a thin mattress.
At first, I thought that this would all be over in a few days. Then I read the writing on the walls. A previous prisoner had written, “Oh, God, this is my third cell, and it has been more than five months. Please, help me get out of here.” These words hit me like a ton of bricks, and I realized that this might last for more than just a few days.
“Oh, God!” I cried out. “How long will this go on? I need you so much. I don’t know how to survive here without you!”
I started to ask God to give me the strength needed to be a witness for him. Often I prayed for hours at a time. As I prayed, the Lord started to speak to my heart—it was as if God was saying that he allowed me to be there. I knew that the Lord wanted to spend some time with me and talk to me. Work had kept me busy. But in the cell, all the work was gone, and I had time to listen to God’s voice.
I could barely keep up with all of the things God spoke to me. When they gave me my Bible back, I began pulling little strings from the mattress in my cell for bookmarks. I ended up having more than 120 strings in my Bible, and I looked at them daily to remember what God told me.
Sometimes I daydreamed about how wonderful it would be to embrace my wife and kids and to surprise them with a knock at the door and a testimony that Jesus set me free. I prayed about this for a long time and asked the Lord for his will to be done. On one hand, I had faith that the Lord Jesus could do it. On the other hand, I knew that many believers were bringing glory to Jesus from prison. I resolved in my heart to hope in the One who could miraculously release me or allow me to stay in prison for the glory of his name.
After almost three months, I was released. Although the time in prison was exceedingly difficult, I experienced a kind of intimacy with Jesus that I had never previously known. His presence and his voice were more obvious and clear than they had ever been before. In those days and nights alone with God, he revealed so much to me. I share more in Lessons Learned in the Lion’s Den: Imprisoned for Sharing Jesus, but here I want to tell you some of what God taught me about persecution.
There are different kinds of persecution—the loss of a good reputation, the loss of possessions, prison, torture, and death. But no matter the degree of persecution, there are five principles related to suffering that every follower of Jesus should remember:
- Be ready for persecution. Suffering is promised for every person who seeks to live a holy life before God, regardless of calling (2 Timothy 3:12).
- Rejoice in your sufferings. Suffering can help us develop character which can lead to a hope that does not disappoint. (Romans 5:3-5)
- You are blessed by God in your suffering. 1 Peter 4:14 and Matthew 5:11
- Seek to “bless those who persecute you” (Romans 12:14). The power of love and forgiveness in action helps suffering Christians to bless their persecutors. Pray that God gives you eyes to see your persecutors as people who know not what they are doing and who deeply need Jesus.
- Suffering will help you comfort others. God often allows something to happen to you so that you can learn and “be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God” (2 Corinthians 1:4).
We live in a world where “fruitful” mission strategies come and go, but God intends to build our character to help us better serve him in love and perseverance. My suffering produced indescribable peace, joy, and hope in God and in his promises that with and through him, we will lack nothing. May you endure hardships with joy and perseverance, knowing that God has prepared great blessings for you!