The source was reliable. The numbers were staggering. The estimated number of Christians killed for their beliefs around the world in 2006 — 173,000 (“By the Numbers, “Newsweek International, August 13, 2007, p.5).
There is renewed interest in Christian martyrdom because of the Korean missionaries in Afghanistan who are now hostages of the Taliban. Debate continues as to whether this group of missionaries was wise and sensitive in how they did mission in a chaotic and violent part of the world.
But nothing justifies this:
“_ _ _ authorities found the bullet-riddled body of 42-year-old Bae Hyung-kyu in Qarabagh district of Ghazni province, where the South Koreans were abducted July 19. Bae, a deputy pastor and a founder of Saemmul Presbyterian Church, was killed on his birthday, church officials said.
Bae was found with 10 bullet wounds in his head, chest and stomach, said Abdul Rahman, a police officer. Another police official, who asked not to be identified because of the sensitivity of the situation, said militants told him the hostage was sick and couldn’t walk, and was therefore shot.”
(Amir Shah, Associated Press, July 26, 2007).
The world now knows the names of the 23 missionaries kidnapped by the Taliban. The names of most of the 173,000 remain unknown. God knows who they are.
I am grateful to these 173,000 because they remind me that there is a price to be paid for following Christ. I need to hear Jesus again when He tells me:
“Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it. What good is it for you to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit your very self? If any of you are ashamed of me and my words, the Son of Man will be ashamed of you when he comes in his glory and in the glory of the Father and of the holy angels.”
(Luke 9:23-26 TNIV)
Darrell L. Block reminds us:
“If one is to follow Jesus, then one had better recognize what allying with Jesus means. It means denying oneself and recognizing that God must deal with one’s spiritual and physical needs. It means recognizing that suffering will be included in identifying with the one who was rejected. It means following in Jesus’ footsteps.
To lose one’s life is to gain one’s spiritual welfare. To seek to keep one’s life and spiritual fate in one’s own hands is to risk forfeiting all.”
(LUKE 1:1-9:50, Grand Rapids: Baker, 1994,p.861)
Few of us will be called, like Pastor Bae Hyung-kyu, to give our lives to Christ in one dramatic act. Most of us will be called to give our lives to Christ one day at a time, choosing to say no to our own agendas so that we can embrace the agenda of Jesus Christ. Each type of cross carrying will be difficult in its own way.
I was told that the recent Festival of Praise Singapore, held for three nights at the Singapore Indoor Stadium, was very well attended. Many had to be turned away because there were not enough seats. I was reminded that 14% or more of Singaporeans consider themselves to be followers of Jesus Christ. I wondered what Singapore would be like if all of these followers were to carry their crosses daily.
Bishop Hwa Yung, Methodist Bishop of Malaysia reminds us of the findings of Robert Bellah on the potential impact of a small dedicated community. He writes:
“Robert Bellah, a sociologist teaching at the University of California, Berkeley, has suggested that we often underestimate the influence of a small committed minority in society. He argues that, ‘The quality of a culture may be changed when two percent of its people have a new vision.'”
(CHRISTIAN ETHICAL THINKING IN THE MALAYSIAN CONTEXT, Seminari Theoloji Malaysia.)
The American numbers are even more staggering. Three in four Americans consider themselves Christian. What sort of nation would the US be if all, or even a fraction of those 75% of Americans, carried their crosses daily.
Unfortunately, what happens more often than not, is that our faith becomes privatised. One’s beliefs are one’s personal concern, and therefore not to be lived out in the public square. Or worse, we follow a Christ whose primary role is to meet our needs and wants. This is a Christianity so removed from the call to love God and neighbour with our total being.
The irony of course is that when we abandon ourselves to God, we find life that is truly life. When we abandon our personal agendas and live wholly for Christ we became fully alive. Francis Collins, head of the Human Genome project, discovered this. In his book, THE LANGUAGE OF GOD, he summarizes a lesson he learnt while doing medical missions in Africa. He writes:
“We are each called to reach out to others. On rare occasions that can happen on a grand scale. But most of the time it happens in simple acts of kindness of one person to another. Those are the events that really matter.”
(London: Simon & Schuster, p.217)
When we lose our life for Christ and for others, we find true life.
What does it mean for you today, to deny yourself, take up your cross and follow Jesus? We can’t answer for others. But we must answer for ourselves. Christ is waiting. And so are the 173,000, and many others who paid the ultimate price to follow Him.