Our church small group is studying the book of Revelation. I have the privilege of leading a few of the sessions. It’s a book that is full of symbols and imagery that made sense to the original writer and audience but can often be hard to interpret by present-day readers. And there is another reason why the book is hard to interpret. We are not experiencing persecution for the privilege of following Jesus.
Revelation . . . invites its audience to an eternal perspective on the world. It invites us to worship with the Lord of hosts in heaven. It invites us to count as triumph our sufferings in this world that will be rewarded in the coming one. . . .The world considers martyrdom folly; in light of eternity, it is a price well paid. (Introduction to Revelation,” NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible [Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2016], 2219.)
The kidnapping of Pastor Raymond Koh in Malaysia on Feb 13th, 2017, helped give us a proper perspective for our study.
According to closed-circuit television footage and witnesses, Mr Raymond Koh Keng Joo was taken by at least five masked men after his car was blocked by three black sport utility vehicles in Jalan Bahagia in Selangor’s Petaling Jaya between 10.30am and 10.45am.
According to CCTV footage, at least three black SUVs stopped in the middle of the road at the time of the incident. Mr Koh’s abduction was not properly captured by the camera, but the shuffling of feet can be seen, with two SUVs seen moving away, followed by a light-coloured car believed to be Mr Koh’s. The third SUV was later seen trailing them.
Ms Liew [wife], 61, believes the people who kidnapped her husband were “no ordinary abductors”. “The abductors were masked. The abduction was professionally executed and it took less than 60 seconds (as shown by CCTV footage),” she said.
No ransom demand has been made so far and his car remains missing. (“Family of kidnapped pastor offers $3k reward,” The Straits Times, Feb 20, 2017, 5:00 AM SGT http://bit.ly/2mvHEL5)
I know Raymond. I first met him in the ’80s when I was starting out in ministry in Penang. I met him on and off in the years following. Here was a humble servant of the Lord committed to love God and to love neighbour. I especially remember the time when my first wife died and I was in a mess. He helped give rides to school for son Stephen. Our paths took different directions in the years following and we didn’t have much contact. But I always saw Pastor Raymond as a brother who was consistent in his wholehearted commitment to share God’s love with all, and especially with the poor. Hence I am angry and disturbed that a man like this has been kidnapped.
It has been more than two weeks now and there is not a single word from his abductors. Why was he kidnapped? We can only speculate. It can’t be for money. His family is not rich and, if it had been for money, surely the kidnappers would have been in contact by now. Perhaps he was kidnapped because of his ministry. He had set up Harapan Komuniti (Community of Hope) in 2004:
To help single mothers, drug addicts and those with HIV/ AIDS. The community centre in Taman Sri Manja here also served as a place for children to learn English, have free tuition or do their homework. (http://bit.ly/2lVTSLh)
Darkness resists the light. Jesus had warned His disciples that we should expect persecution in this world. This is hard to understand for those of us who live in parts of the world that have not seen the persecution of Christians in recent history.
Seeing the movie “Silence” (2016) may be helpful education. Bernice and I saw it recently. We left with more questions than answers and a little disappointed, even though we were wowed by the spectacular cinematography. We saw, onscreen, Christians drowned, burnt, beheaded, and slowly bled to death by been hung upside down over a pit, for their faith. This was a depiction of events that actually took place in Japan in the 16th century. In more recent times, we have had a whole new big catalogue of the persecution of Christians by Islamic State and other radical Muslim groups that are no less horrible.
Invariably, most followers will ask at some point in their lives, what they would do if they had to choose between Christ and torture. I am a middle-class guy used to my creature comforts. I am worried that I won’t hold out too long. I comfort myself by reminding myself that if God were to allow me to go through a time of testing He must give me the grace I need to survive the testing. But even with God’s grace, I assume it will still be difficult.
I heard that when pastor James Lai, a pastor in Malaysia, was finally released after he was arrested under the Internal Security Act in the ’80s, someone told him that surely God’s grace was sufficient for his time of testing. I am told he said yes, but added that, even with God’s grace, the experience was very difficult. I get very upset at those who glibly say that those who suffer for Christ will be ok because God’s grace will be sufficient. I suggest that those of us who have never been tortured for Christ before should just shut up and pray.
Will we ever have the privilege to suffer for the name of Christ? Only God knows. And maybe we shouldn’t spend too much time speculating about what might or might not be. Instead, we should focus on being true to Christ in the context of our own lives. And the season of Lent seems to be the ideal time to rededicate our lives to Christ and to carry our crosses daily. In the meantime, Bernice and I join many followers of Jesus all around the world to intercede for Pastor Raymond. May we not fail our brother by failing to pray for him and his family, and by failing to follow Christ whatever the cost, in our individual assignments.