I heard Bob Fu speak at the Voice of the Martyrs Conference in Frisco this summer. He was so engaging and encouraging as were all of the speakers. I thought the conference would depress me, but I left with a sense of joy at the faithfulness and hopefulness of the various churches around the world. Even in the face of persecution, many of the testimonies were about God's provision of joy and peace. There was also a sense of purpose. Often when we hear about the persecuted church we feel helpless. What can we possibly do to impact someone in prison half way around the world and under the authority of a powerful regime? This conference provided specific actions that American believers can follow to help those who find themselves in difficulties because of their faith. We will discuss this more as we near Paul's statements about his ministry in I Corinthians chapter 4.
My family has been reading a book by Bob Fu entitled, God's Double Agent. His biography gives an incredible account of his life as a child of an impoverished rural farmer in China to successful college student swept into the Tiananmen Square protests of the late 1980s to political enemy of the state to English teacher at the Communist School in Beijing to refugee and then becoming an advocate for persecuted peoples in China and around the world. Somewhere in the middle of this wild swing of events, God intervened in his life. I would prefer not reveal more than that as I would love it if many of our congregation would have the opportunity to read the book. We have also reached out to Bob Fu to see if he would be available in 2015 to speak at Matthew Road. Maybe that will work out for us.
When Bob first becomes a believer he is speaking with a man who had been a believer for many years in China and had faced great persecution. This Christian leader told Bob that at some point all Christian leaders in China have to experience "Prison Theology." If a Christian is in leadership eventually their commitment to following Christ will run counter to the purposes of the government. Many pastors are currently in prison in China. Some have been in prison for many years because they were hosting house churches or giving out Bibles and Christian literature. Bob's own story intersects with this inevitable reality. He and his wife both go to prison for the faith. When released a few months later they are followed closely by government secret police. His description of that time in prison is quite challenging.
For many of us, "prison theology" is completely foreign to anything we have ever experienced. I wonder if these types of trials would be too difficult for us. I also wonder if these types of difficulties would actually purify us. The discipleship of American believers is challenging for different reasons. Here, the difficulty is the unbridled flow of sensory input which stokes sinful desires. For us, we don't run the threat of arrest because we own a Bible or give Christian literature to a neighbor. However, we are under a different kind of assault, the assault of a culture that drinks deeply from the comforts and pleasures afforded a nation of wealth and freedom. Freedom is a great thing, especially for expressing our religious beliefs (or not expressing them or not having them at all). Freedom of mind, body, speech, religion, etc. can ironically lead to bondage. As I have read Bob Fu's biography I have been challenged to say "no" to myself more, not out of government compulsion but out of love for the One who bought my everlasting freedom. There is a "prison theology" for American believers. It is the theology we learn when we become imprisoned by our unbridled passions fulfilled in a culture that has very few boundaries. Feel the bars of our physical passions. Smell the smell of being surrounded by other prisoners also under the sway of the "needs" of the moment. Feel the emptiness of eating and drinking only prison food of this culture. The consumption of greed, lust, materialism, envy and jealousy provide such a meager sustenance as to leave the prisoner feeling constantly empty and malnourished. There is a worse prison than the physical ones described by our suffering brothers and sisters from other parts of the world. There is a greater freedom in those prisons than many of us will ever know.
"It is for freedom that Christ set you free," is Paul's encouragement to the Galatian church. May we live free even in this culture of great bondage.