“Remembering The Persecuted”

March 17, 2017

Dirk Willems
See below for story behind this image

“Remembering The Persecuted

Note: Today’s message is a bit longer than usual and may have a bit more history than some prefer! It was prompted by a consideration of the historic drawing featured above and a video we saw on the unimaginable conditions in North Korea.

Message summary: Scripture tells us to remember those who suffer.

ListenListen to our message on your audio player.

“When we are reviled, we bless; when we are persecuted, we endure” (1 Corinthians 4:12).  “But it is no shame to suffer for being a Christian. Praise God for the privilege of being called by His name” (1 Peter 4:16). “Remember the prisoners, as though in prison with them, and those who are ill-treated, since you yourselves also are in the body” (Hebrews 13:3).

Since moving to Lancaster County in 2001 we have met a lot of people in the course of our chaplaincy work and associated ministry. We try to have an outlook in ministry using a phrase we heard since our youth, “Bloom where you’re planted”.

One major distinction of this region, distinct from other areas where we have lived, are the many Anabaptist groups. Prior to moving here we had little knowledge of groups like the Mennonites or Amish and other groups that have an Anabaptist heritage.

The word “ana” preceding “baptist” indicates a belief that baptism is for those who have believed in and made a commitment to Christ. Of course many other groups now believe that as well but do not refer to themselves as Anabaptists, such as regular Baptists. The denomination which I have been associated with throughout my ministry has always taught “believer’s baptism”. When I was born my parents attended a church that practiced infant baptism and I went through that ceremony of being sprinkled. When I received Christ I submitted to “believer’s baptism” by immersion.

Anabaptists developed during a time of the reformation in the early 1500’s when this was a big, big deal and they were savagely persecuted by those from other Christian-based groups (both Protestant and Catholic) who held to infant baptism. Although there were other differences in their beliefs, this form of baptism seemed to be the major divisive issue. It was surely one of the saddest periods in Christian history and most dishonoring to God.

We’ve attended an Amish church service which has little similarity to any other church we have ever visited. However they sing, pray and have a message (actually messages) which are preached from the Bible. However in the old-order type we visited, the entire service was in German so we didn’t understand any of it.

There was one part of the service that seemed especially peculiar to us. During the service, after we had just knelt at our benches in prayer, everyone stood up together but did not turn around to face the front. Instead the congregation continued to face the back of the room as the bishop read Scripture. Afterward we turned around and were seated in our benches. Asking our host about this later he said it had something to do with honoring the memory of past years of persecution when various members of the congregation were on duty to watch for those who might quietly sneak in and attack the congregation as they worshipped.

An important book in their culture is known as the “Martyrs Mirror” which chronicles accounts of persecution. One famous account involves the story of Dirk Willems. The lead image today is the iconic scene of his life (just Google “Dirk Willems images”). He was an Anabaptist being pursued by his persecutor.

Here’s the description:

Willems was born in Asperen, Gelderland, Netherlands, and was baptized as a young man, thus rejecting the infant baptism practiced at that time by both Catholics and established Protestants in the Netherlands. This action, plus his continued devotion to his new faith and the baptism of several other people in his home, led to his condemnation by the Roman Catholic Church in the Netherlands and subsequent arrest. Willems was held in a residential palace turned into a prison, from which he escaped using a rope made out of knotted rags. Using this, he was able to climb out of the prison onto the frozen moat. A guard noticed his escape and gave chase. Willems was able to traverse the thin ice of a frozen pond, the Hondegat, because of his lighter weight after subsisting on prison rations. However the pursuing guard broke through the ice yelling for help as he struggled in the icy water. Willems turned back to save the life of his pursuer, thus being recaptured and held until he was burned at the stake near his hometown on 16 May 1569.

Surely one of the saddest forms of Christian persecution was this type, which is sort of like domestic violence. Even in our own lifetime we consider the conflict in northern Ireland between people with a Christian heritage. Growing up with my best friend Dave, being a Catholic and me being a Protestant, it’s just hard to imagine this being a source of major conflict let alone deadly conflict. In my extended family we have people from a variety of religious backgrounds, Catholic and Protestant, but it’s not a source of conflict since love and acceptance prevail over our differences.

Thankfully, the incidents of conflict leading to persecution among those who claim Christ as their Savior, has decreased greatly since the horrible times of the Reformation but all over the world Christians are being persecuted.

Tomorrow we will be attending a Voice Of The Martyrs conference on persecution. Muslim dominated lands are especially brutal. We read the accounts of fleeing refugees across the Mediterranean where Muslims throw Christians off the boat and the horrible persecution in the refugee camps. But many consider the worst country for Christian persecution is North Korea.

Most reading our message today have never experienced real persecution although it is increasingly happening here in the USA especially among those who take an historic Biblical/moral stand against sexual immorality. A Grandma florist fined several hundred thousand dollars for refusing to participate in a gay “wedding” is certainly persecution. At a chaplain’s conference I spoke to a military chaplain who was in trouble for teaching historic Christian beliefs on marriage and sexuality. These types are on the increase and one only wonders what is next on the horizon for those who are devout in their Christian faith.

When we are not undergoing persecution it is so easy to forget about those who are. Yesterday we were able to get out for the first time after the big storm to make some chaplain visits as well as stopping by Costco and Lowes. We enjoyed a delicious salad bar luncheon. It’s so easy to forget how brutal life is for those who suffer at the hands of persecution when we’re out and about enjoying our material blessings and freedoms. But let us not forget that all over the world millions of those who follow Christ are being persecuted due to their belief.

This is not our typical daily encouragement message and in fact may not necessarily be encouraging at all. But Scripture tells us to remember those who suffer. We encourage you to consider some of the articles and videos we post below as a means of seeking to understand how hard things are for many.

Be encouraged today,

Stephen & Brooksyne Weber

Praying manDaily prayer: Father, we are told in Hebrews that we are to remember those in prison as though we ourselves were suffering in prison. That way we will pray more faithfully and fervently when we put ourselves in place of our brothers and sisters who face persecution and even death as they remain faithful to their witness for Christ. May their faithful example serve as a witness to their accusers and help to lead them to faith. As one brother often prays, “May the soothing presence of the Holy Spirit be as salve to their wounds”, whether they are physical, emotional, or mental. Speak peace and assurance to family members who are desperately waiting for their release, and increase their faith in the midst of it all, we pray. Amen.


Today’s Suggested Music and Supplemental Resources
Persecution.com

Christian Persecution Amazing Testimony  Video

The Muslim Brotherhood’s Persecution of Christians  Video

North Korea Christian Persecutions  Video

Escaping from North Korea in search of freedom | Yeonmi Park  Video  Actual speech starts here.

Secret Worship: North Korea Defector Tells of Survival  Video

North Korea has the deadliest level of Christian persecution in the world   Video

Observations on attending an Amish church service (scroll down below message)

A brief overview of the Anabaptist movement, their persecutions, and their eventual arrival in Pennsylvania.

Information about the Voice Of The Martyrs Conference tomorrow. Local mid-state Pennsylvania readers may want to consider attending.

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