The lesson begins in Cappadocia, in Turkey — a high, flat plateau that was very inaccessible due to having natural barriers all around.
There were only small villages with tribal chiefs, and it was never really under Roman control.
The area had two volcanoes that covered the area with ash, creating tufa — stone soft enough to allow homes, hideouts, and even churches to be carved into the mountains.
The area became a place of refuge, due to its inaccessibility. Persecuted Christians often hid there.
RVL takes the group to a press — a winepress or olive press. “Gethsemane” means olive press — where great a weight presses on the olives to produce the oil.
(1 John 2:6) Whoever claims to live in him must walk as Jesus did.
(Luke 9:23-24) Then he said to them all: “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. 24 For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will save it.”
RVL: “We want Jesus to carry his cross so we won’t have to.”
Why do Christians suffer? Because the rabbi did. Why else?
The group then climbs stairs carved in the rock to a church carved into the mountainside 1700 to 1600 years ago.
Crosses were carved into the wall. Light shine in from above.
RVL says that there are no records telling the story of those who built the church — which fact itself tells us something about them. They surely came to this place to flee persecution.
(Mat 5:10-12) Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 11 “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. 12 Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
(Col 1:24) Now I rejoice in what was suffered for you, and I fill up in my flesh what is still lacking in regard to Christ’s afflictions, for the sake of his body, which is the church.
RVL: “If we are the body of Jesus, we continue to suffer for the sake of others. … Ancient voices reaching out from the past to say: Walk with the rabbis! Be like him!”
RVL then has the group take turns reading from statements made by early Christians martyrs as these men and women submitted to torture and death.
RVL reminds us that these martyrs sit in the stands, cheering us on in our race for the Christ. We need to make our community both wider and deeper.
RVL: The disciple doesn’t ask where the path leads, only that he wants to be just like the rabbi, right to the end.
When we say that X “is my cross to bear,” we usally mean it’s something we have no choice but to bear — a disease, a sick relative, an unfortunate circumstance. But re-read Luke 9:23-24 above. It says that we must “take up” our crosses daily. We make a decision every day whether to carry the cross. The cross we carry is voluntary — and it’s an instrument of death.
(1 Cor 15:30-31) And as for us, why do we endanger ourselves every hour? 31 I die every day–I mean that, brothers–just as surely as I glory over you in Christ Jesus our Lord.
What did Paul mean by “I die every day”? Surely he included such things as suffering stoning in Lystra, only to get up and walk back into the city to preach some more. What else?
(2 Cor 4:10-12) We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. 11 For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that his life may be revealed in our mortal body. 12 So then, death is at work in us, but life is at work in you.
Paul seems to have taken the passage very literally.
These epitaphs found on the tombs of Christians contrast with the epitaphs found on pagan tombs —
These inscriptions were found in tombs in which the skeletons tell of persecution, of torture, and of fire.
“Here lies Marcia, put to rest in a dream of peace.”
“Lawrence to his sweetest son, borne away of angels.”
“Victorious in peace and in Christ.”
“Being called away, he went in peace.”
“Live for the present hour, since we are sure of nothing else.”
“I lift my hands against the gods who took me away at the age of twenty though I had done no harm.”
“Once I was not. Now I am not. I know nothing about it, and it is no concern of mine.”
“Traveller, curse me not as you pass, for I am in darkness and cannot answer.”
Stories of modern martyrs
David and Linda are a striking exception to the average Christian today. Eighteen years ago these present-day martyrs left their home and church in Brooklyn, NY to minister the gospel of Y’shua to the Jews in Israel. They have undergone severe persecution paralleling the ordeals of the early Christian church. David has had his back opened up many times from beatings; they have suffered threats and intimidation. Yet the gospel continues to go forward in Israel; their converts include Jews and Arabs and Gentiles. They must use extreme methods to preach the gospel to the Palestinians and Muslims; those who convert risk being ostracized and/or tortured. Many have lost their lives simply because they would not renounce their new found Savior. David must secretly meet believers in out-of-the-way places to minister to them and encourage them in the faith. They cannot worship openly and freely.
One of David’s converts, an ex-muslim, suffered much hardship. This new believer had lost everything. He was separated from his wife and children; he had lost his job and had been ousted from his neighborhood. He was living in an unsanitary “room” which was nothing more than a deep rectangular hole in the ground. There was very little light and fresh air. He had to rely upon others to bring him food. These others also put their lives at risk to minister to his needs.
Sialkot (AsiaNews) – The young Christian man who was arrested on 12 September in a village in Punjab accused of blasphemy was killed last night in prison. Police had Fanish, 20, remanded into their custody in order to continue their investigation. This morning prison guards in Sialkot district prison found the lifeless body of the young man with visible signs of injuries. For Nadeem Anthony, member of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP), his death was judicial murder. Condemning in the strongest terms the latest anti-Christian outrage, the activist told AsiaNews that for police the young committed suicide by hanging himself in jail, something that for him does not make sense. Instead, “it is a torture killing” because “we can see signs of torture on his body in the picture.”
AsiaNews also received photos of the lifeless body. In it the type of injuries that can be seen appear unrelated to strangulation by hanging.
The body is at the disposal of the legal authority, which has ordered an autopsy at Sialkot’s Civil Hospital.
Fanish (pictured in prison) was arrested last Saturday after accusations of blasphemy were made against him. A day earlier a Muslim mob had gathered in front of the church in the village of Jaithikey, not far from the town of Samberial, in the district of Sialkot (Punjab), to teach the local Christian community a “lesson”.
Extremists damaged the building before setting it on fire. They also pillaged two homes near the church.
A relationship between the 20-year-old Christian man and a young Muslim woman appears to be the cause of the turn of events.
Fanish was accused of provoking the young woman and of throwing away a copy of the Qur‘an she had in her hands.
Christians, who make up less than 5 percent of the entire population, are often treated as second-class citizens in Pakistan, where Islam is the official religion. Non-Muslims are constitutionally barred from becoming president or prime minister.
While some Christians rise to become government officials or run businesses, the poorest work the country’s worst jobs, as toilet cleaners and street sweepers.
It was the poorest class who lived in Christian Colony, a small enclave of bare brick houses where the mob struck Saturday. Its residents work as day laborers and peddlers in the market, often earning far less than the minimum wage, $75 a month.
The Hameeds were having breakfast when the mob descended, wielding guns, hurling stones and shouting insults (“Dogs!” “American agents!”) through their window. The Hameeds did not appear to have been singled out but had the misfortune of living where the mob entered the neighborhood and happened to be home at the time.
When the grandfather, Hameed Pannun Khan, 75, a house painter, opened the door to see what was happening, he was shot in the temple and crumpled to the ground. The crowd then pushed inside, and the rest of the family — at least 10 people — fled to the back bedroom and locked themselves inside. They listened from behind the door as the mob looted the house, dragging away a refrigerator and a cupboard.
Then came the smoke, thick white plumes under the door.
“Everyone was shouting to escape,” said Umer Hameed, 18. “There was no oxygen.”
They waited as long as they could, until they thought it was safe, and then made a run for it, but not everybody made it. Three women, the two children and a man were trapped when the roof collapsed in flames.
As he ran, Ikhlaq Hameed glanced back and saw his aunt. “She tried to come out, but the fire caught her,” he said. “The fire was on her face.”
The rampage began Thursday in a nearby village when Christians at a wedding party were accused of burning a Koran. Few here believed that, and state and federal officials who looked into the case said it was false. Still, local mullahs seized on the news, filing a blasphemy case against the Christian family.
“We were afraid because the clerics had been railing against us in the mosques,” said Riaz Masih, a Christian and retired math teacher whose house was gutted. “They said, ‘Let’s teach them a lesson.’ ”
Pakistan’s blasphemy law has been criticized as too broad, and many legal experts say it has been badly misused since its introduction in the 1980s by the military dictator Gen. Muhammad Zia ul-Haq. Anyone can file a charge, which is then often used to stir hatred and to justify sectarian violence.
“The blasphemy law is being used to terrorize minorities in Pakistan,” said Shahbaz Bhatti, Pakistan’s minister of minority affairs, in an interview in Gojra on Sunday.
The attackers here left a singed trail of destruction in their wake. The Hameeds’ house was a charred shell, its central room a heap of twisted fans, bicycles, children’s toys and a collapsed cage that had kept pet parrots. The kitchen was empty except for a teapot and a half-burned English dictionary open to the word “immoral.”
Their neighbor, a grain seller, Iqbal Masih (whose surname means “a follower of Jesus”), stood looking dazed, his dried corn spilled on the heap of twisted metal wheels that had been his sales cart. A chest for his daughter’s dowry had been destroyed.
Typical of such attacks, the police, overwhelmed by the mob, did little to stand in its way.
Christians here protested all day on Sunday, blocking the roads and refusing to bury the Hameeds until the authorities filed a criminal case. Late Sunday the authorities did, and the bodies were buried. That was little comfort to the Hameeds.
“Everything is gone now,” said Ikhlaq, his hand and arm blistered. “Our family. Our house. We don’t want to live here anymore.”
Hindu extremists launched a spate of violent but meticulously planned attacks on Christians in Kanhdamal District, Orissa State, on 24 and 25 December 2007. A total of 95 churches were burnt to the ground, as well as 730 homes of Christians. In cases where a Christian ministry operated from rented premises owned by a Hindu, the attackers were careful not to damage the building, but took all the contents outside and set them on fire. The death toll is unknown at the time of writing, but taking into account all known cases of “arson, murder and assault” the violence was, in the words of the All India Christian Council, “the largest attack on the Christian community in the history of democratic India”.
The attackers – members of the VHP (Vishwa Hindu Panishad) – were armed with guns, knives, trishuls (trident-like spears), home-made bombs and other weapons. They shouted slogans including: “Only Hindus to stay here – no Christians to stay here”, “Christians must become Hindu or die” and “Kill Christians”. At least nine Christians were killed. The reason the complete death toll is proving hard to ascertain is partly because the VHP have been assiduously hiding/destroying the bodies of their victims in order to prevent numbers being known. Another reason is that many Christians fled into the forest or to other villages, so some of those missing may still be alive. Those who have emerged from the forest already have spoken of the hardships and dangers they faced there, such as cold (5C at night), lack of food and especially water, and wandering tigers and bears. Most of the Christians were Dalits, a very low status group in Indian society.
Many Christians have reported how the police stood by, watching the carnage without trying to intervene. The only exception was a Christian police officer in Balliguda town who warned church leaders in Barkhama village on 24 December to run for their lives. The next day he was transferred.
In several places the VHP attackers were at pains not just to destroy but also to desecrate. At a church in Bamunigaon, they carefully took out the communion cups and all associated materials and crushed them under their feet. In Barkhama, where seven congregations had joined together for a combined open-air Christmas Eve service on church land, the VHP cremated the body of an elderly Hindu (who had died of natural causes) in front of the open air pulpit.
In Kutikia a small church was attacked and its minister and 12 church members taken to a field where their heads were shaved because they refused to deny Christ. Then they were ordered to eat raw rice mixed with goats’ blood so as to become Hindus.
It’s critically important that we not take stories such as these and let them incite us to hatred toward Hindus and Muslims. That’s not the point and that would be exactly the wrong conclusion. Rather, the point is that persecution of Christians is still very much with us.
And there are many fellow Christians who need our support and prayers — and missionaries — to overcome opposition. The solution isn’t anger and warfare — no more so today than it was in Roman times. The solution is courage in the face of persecution and vigorous conversion efforts. What we learn from this is that despite persecution, faith in Jesus can spread when the seed is planted.