“Indeed, all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.”
2 Timothy 3:12
We often read these verses in the Bible and the first thing we think about is the church in the first and the second centuries, when people were persecuted for their faith, and to live for Jesus meant putting everything on the line. Sadly, few of us in the West realize the fact that these verses are the everyday life for many Christians in the Middle East.
Recently during one of the visits to the Christian Iraqi refugees who left Mosul because of the killing machine of the Islamic State (formally known as ISIS), we met Mark (pseudonym). He told us his story and how he was able to flee from his city before IS invaded it. Mark is in his sixties, a father and grandfather, who owned a restaurant in Mosul for more than twenty years. Before IS invaded the city, a group of Muslims who support IS came to Mark inviting him to convert to Islam. But Mark refused and said that he believes in the one true God of the Bible.
Later that week, the same group approached him telling him that the moment IS takes over Mosul, they will come to kill him unless he converts to Islam. Mark again refused and said that he will never deny Christ no matter what happens. Mark insisted on staying, refusing to leave the place he had lovingly built over his lifetime. The threats quickly turned into reality when IS bombed the family’s restaurant. Did they surrender? No, Mark was determined to restore and repair the shop. The family worked hard to return everything back to normal, and after finishing the restaurant, they resumed working in it.
IS returned with a more serious threat this time, demanding that the family evacuate the area or to convert to their religion, Islam. The family was forced to flee all they had built behind or stay and convert to Islam. Neither choice was a good one.
Mark and his family chose not to leave Christ, preferring death over that. They could not take anything with them except their clothes, because IS began shooting them and other Christian families in the city. After much struggle and a long journey, they arrived in another country which borders Iraq. They left their painful past behind to begin an unknown future. To make matters worse, Mark and his family are not allowed to work in the country because of their status as refugees.
We shared with this family from Hebrews 11, which speaks about faith and the reward of faith. We thought that we were there to encourage them, but this brother encouraged us when he said, “I am ready to sacrifice my children and die with my family to stay with Jesus and we will never deny Jesus.”
Stories like this give a different meaning to the phrase, “live for Christ.” People like Mark and his family redefine the meaning of commitment to our Christian faith. But Mark and his family are not the only ones who suffer for their faith – there are many across the globe who live to Christ faithfully even with all the persecution and fear.
“Remember them that are in bonds, as bound with them; them that are ill-treated, as being yourselves also in the body.”