Today is a very important day... It's a Sunday, but more important than that, it's the International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church. I bring that up because we took a trip this past June, and we spent some time in China and Vietnam. We were able to talk to a lot of the people... the church leaders that are struggling in these countries. It was brought on by a friend of mine who said, "If you're really interested in helping the church on a broader scale... rather than reading about the suffering that's going on, rather than reading it in books and in newspapers... why don't you go and sit across the table from these people and listen to their stories."
So that's what we did. We took this trip and I sat across the table from a lot of these church leaders. One in particular was a man named Pastor Li. He's becoming one of the more well known leaders of the underground church in China. He was explaining to us about the last time he was in prison. He was saying that he had been shackled with these handcuffs around his wrists. They had shackles on his ankles... there was a bar that was running in between his feet, probably about two and a half feet long. His wrists were attached to that bar so he basically was sitting like this (squatting down) for three and a half days... without any food and without any water. He's used to prison because he told us he keeps a little bag packed and keeps it next to him, because every Tuesday, there's a good chance he's going to be arrested. Because, every Tuesday, he preaches the gospel.
Things like this are going on all over the world. There are 200 million people all over the world that are being persecuted. What that means is... as simple as people being discriminated against in certain jobs all the way to people having their homes bulldozed, taken away from them. They're being tortured. In some countries, they're being sold into slavery. They're being beaten and killed because they believe in Jesus Christ. I couldn't believe that! And I remember listening to these people tell us all these horrible stories about the different things that had gone on... about homes being lost and destroyed, and family members and friends that had been killed. But the thing I remember the most is the way they told these stories! You see they would tell us these things... and they would smile. They would laugh. And I wasn't really ready for that. You see, they believe in a really big God. A God that's big enough, and on a regular basis... comes into the worst of their nightmares and brings laughter... and brings joy... and brings peace.
And I began to wonder about that. I began to wonder about my God, wondering if my God was capable of coming into the worst of my nightmares. And oftentimes, I didn't think that he was. But the truth is that he is the same God. The people of China and Vietnam believe in something else. They believe in a cross! ... a cross that means freedom. Freedom, probably not in the sense that we think of it, but more in a sense that it doesn't come from a government... that doesn't come from a leader, it doesn't come from a building or a dictator. It comes from a cross! It's the kind of freedom that means when they are in the middle of the worst beating of their lives, they can sing. When they're in a prison cell, they're free. When their homes are destroyed and they don't think they have anything left... they have everything! They're a people that know what it means to suffer, but more importantly, they know what it means to have a God that gives them joy in that suffering.
It was an amazing experience and today they've asked us for our prayers. They don't really ask us to pray that the persecution would stop... another sign of freedom. What they ask for, though, is that they would endure and that the church would keep growing.
We had the chance to sing for the people in China. They heard we were a musical group and they said, "Would you sing a song for us?" We didn't really know what to sing for them... these people that had been through so much and had taught us so much. But we had this one song that was written as a benediction to the church... mostly to the body of believers in the United States, but that was just because our vision was a little short. We learned that the body of Christ is a lot bigger than that. And this song was one that we sang to the people over there as a benediction for their church and the church around the world. And we'd love to sing it to you guys tonight!
All heavy laden acquainted with sorrow