I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God.—Acts 20:24
Darkness had fallen, and our team sat huddled around the fire drinking tea and trying to keep warm in the cool night air. It was dry season in the Sub-Saharan African country to which we’d traveled, and dust left nothing untouched—even our shoes, clothes, hair and dry skin were covered.
One of our local team members, F, began to relate to us the story of his brother’s death which had occurred a few months earlier. Prior to his death following an illness, F’s brother, who had been a devout Muslim, heard the good news of the Gospel and believed. Following many years of rejecting Christ, and his family’s persecution and rejection of F, his brother had now experienced the powerful love of Christ through the one person he’d chosen to disown. His heart was changed— born again unto eternal life.
On the day of the funeral, many from the family were gathered expecting to bury their “son” in the accepted traditions of Islam. Yet, F (hated by his family because he was a follower of Christ) came forward to take the body of his brother for burial. Immediately, there was much disagreement. One cousin protested, saying, “What are you doing with your brother’s body?” The cousin insisted that F should have nothing to do with his brother’s burial, stating “your brother was a Muslim.”
In response, F responded saying, “No. He did not die a Muslim. Two days before he died, he received Jesus.” However, in unison, the entire family rejected this news and refused to go and help F bury his “brother.”
In relating his story, F talked about the importance of rejection and persecution in the life of a believer. As he shared his own experience, he underscored his conclusion about living as a follower of Jesus Christ: “Persecution is necessary in order to have a strong faith.”
For more than 15 years after coming to Christ by faith, F had been persecuted and shunned by his family. Although knowing the sting of rejection, year after year F would make the hours-long train ride from the capital city where he lives to his family’s home city in the far west of the country. Each visit, he would pray for his family and seek to share with them the truth he had come to believe.
Prior to his brother’s illness and death, and after many years and many trips back home, his father became ill. Therefore, F made another long trek by train in order to be with his family. This time, his father’s heart was open to the good news of the Gospel. Upon hearing the message, he believed it and received Jesus Christ by faith.
F’s mother had long rejected her son, and even told him, “When I die, do not come to my funeral.” However, in 2009 when she died, F, along with a Mission10:14 volunteer team, made the long trip by road for the purpose of being with family and attending his mother’s funeral. Following the funeral, for three nights, the team remained with family and visited and prayed. One evening, F’s niece (14 years old) came wanting to talk about Jesus. She had heard some preaching on television, and wanted to know what it meant to be a believer. F shared the good news, and his niece received Jesus Christ by faith. She, too, was born again unto eternal life.
Through years of rejection, F has lived out his faith with determination and perseverance. Now, several members of his family have turned to Christ and will be with God for all eternity.
Considering his words, “Persecution is necessary in order to have a strong faith,” F could not have imagined what the future would hold for him and his country. Just weeks following that cool village night and conversation around the fire, his country began to experience fighting (primarily in the north) and the take-over of villages at the hands of Islamic extremists and other rebels. In addition, the central government began to break down, and Christians in the northern regions (hours away from the capital) were forced to flee as the campaign to “cleanse” the north got underway.
In the midst of deep uncertainty, F remains steadfast in faith and proclaims, “I know God is at work in our country—even in these times of trouble. Pray for us.” Obviously, the future of F’s country is unknown, and the possibility of greater persecution is real. However, by God’s grace, F and others like him will remain true to Jesus Christ and endure the trials to come.