This morning in church, we were pleased to welcome a missionary guest. One of the stories he shared particularly touched my heart. As he lives and works in an area of high security, the names in this story have been changed --Bear in mind - this story is true - with the exception of the name changes.
For eight years Mark had been a soldier in Saddam's army - responsible for the annihilation of hundreds of thousands of people --burning villages, murders --horrendous acts. After his retirement from the army --he tried to go on with his life as normal - with his wife and four children, but was unable to escape the relentless guilt he felt for taking part in so many ruthless killings. For years, he searched everywhere - studying the Koran - and trying to find some way to free his mind of the guilt. He prayed to God and asked him to help him. Not long afterwards, while sleeping, he was awakened from his sleep with a start! "Mark, Mark, Mark, wake up!" He awoke to see a man standing before him. The man continued, "I am Yeshua, Messiah, Jesus - Follow Me!". Mark went back to sleep and when he got up the next day --there was no more guilt --he had such peace of mind - such freedom! Something he had never experienced before! He had accepted Jesus as Lord of his life. He had sought God - and found Him - because he was seeking with all of his heart.
Knowing that to share what had happened to him would mean certain estrangement from his wife and four children, and possibly death, he chose to keep his conversion to Christianity to himself. Over the course of the next year, he scrounged around in church dumpsters, looking for scraps of paper with Scripture or teachings which he would study and learn and then hide them so noone knew he possessed them. He was never able to share any of this wonderful peace with his family because in his country, and his former religion - to convert to Christianity, one would be retured to his or her immediate family and be killed by a father or brother. It would be considered an "honor death" - because he had dishonored the family by becoming a Christian.
Finally he was able to live with himself no longer. He had to tell his wife--whom he loved very deeply - knowing that when she found out, she would pack up the children, leave and divorce him. After making the decision to speak with her, he found her in the kitchen, preparing a meal, weeping with huge tears rolling down her cheeks. "Mary?" he asked, "what is wrong?" Mary replied, "Mark, I have something to tell you - but I know that if I tell you, you will most certainly take the children and leave and return me to my father who will kill me. Don't worry, I haven't committed adultery (a crime punishable by death in their culture) but I have to share with you that someone called to me and woke me up in the night and said, 'Mary, I am Yeshua, Messiah, Jesus - Follow Me.' Mark, He was real --and I have chosen to follow Him because in Him I have found a peace I have never known."
With that, Mark embraced his wife and started jumping and crying with joy - explaining to her that he, too, had been visited by Jesus and converted to Christianity. Now this family serves the Lord together --spreading the Good News of the Lord whenever they are able. Grateful for the new life they received.
Mark and Mary had been visited by the Lord --just like Saul, in the New Testament. Saul was responsible for the persecution and deaths of many Christians --but the Lord appeared to him and changed his life forever.
As my husband and I were sharing our thoughts about this family over dinner today --we both sat and sobbed. Can you imagine having to scrounge around in a dumpster to find a scrap of paper with God's Word written there --to memorize it and hide it away in your heart? Can you imagine not having free access to His Word? Can you imagine not being able to share with your friends and loved ones the reason for the wonderful peace you have in your heart, not being able to openly pray for them --or openly gather with other believers and worship ---for fear of your life?
I charge you today --don't take the Lord for granted. If you are privileged to be living in a country where there is freedom of religion, don't take that lightly. All over the world, there are those who must hide their faith --those who risk their lives daily for the cause of Christ. May we, as Christians, be ever aware and conscious of His presence. And may we do all that we can to tell others of His wonderful love.