Soddo Special Delivery    From Dr. Mark and Allison Karnes

 

“Did you know that I used to be a soccer coach or football coach as you call it?”  I watched as my students eyes lit up with surprise.  We were sitting in my backyard; the teenage girls were all dressed in their school uniforms,gathered around me in a semicircle.

“Really,” they echoed. 

“Yes,” I said, “I coached girls just like you!”  I had their interest.  I continued, “How would you like to join my football team?”  I could see the excitement in their eyes. 

Several of my more athletic girls quickly answered, “Yes!”

 “OK, I responded.  This is the deal.”  I moved to the white board that I always keep handy when teaching the Bible as an ESL class.  I picked up my marker and said, “If you join my football team there are a few conditions that you need to know about.  First of all, you will be persecuted.”  I wrote this on the white board.  “Number two, your friends and acquaintances will tell lies about you.  Not only will they tell lies but these lies may be very evil.” “Number three, you will be beaten and possibly tortured if you are on my team.”  Their eyes were like saucers.  I completely had their attention.  “And finally, if you join my team you could very possibly die.”  Do you still want to join my team?” I asked.

 All of them said, “NO!”

“Really?”  I asked with a smile.  “Would you believe that when Jesus asks people to join his team, this could very possibly happen to you?”  We opened up our Bibles to the eighth and final Beatitude, Matthew 5:11-16.  “God blesses those who are persecuted because they live for God, for the Kingdom of Heaven is theirs.  Blessed are you when you are persecuted for my sake.  God blesses you when you are mocked and persecuted and lied about because you are my followers.  Be happy about it!  Be very glad!  For a great reward awaits you in heaven.  And remember, the ancient prophets were persecuted, too.”

Because history is my passion, I showed the girls how the persecuted Christians radically changed the world for Christ.  By their fervor for Jesus Christ and their strong conviction that heaven awaited them, they took on the entire Roman Empire and over centuries radically changed that Empire and eventually most of the known world.  Living a life for Christ is not a guaranteed ‘better’ life, but it will definitely be a better life for eternity.

The next week I brought in Ingeborg (Inge) Roth, my Norwegian neighbor who lived in Ethiopia during the DERG.  The DERG was a terrible time of persecution of Christians, students and anyone who believed in democracy and freedom of thought.  The DERG was a militant communist government run by terror and fear that lasted for 17 years in Ethiopia.   She shared a story with the girls about a similar Bible class that she taught back in the late 70’s. 

Inge showing the cloth that her girls stitched to earn money to stay in school.

Inge showing the cloth that her girls stitched to earn money to stay in school.

These girls were passionate for Jesus Christ and were sold out for the kingdom of God.  It was a good thing too.  One day an officer of this communist government came to one of the girls and put a pistol into her mouth.  He said, “Do you believe in God?”  Of course she was terrified.  Who wouldn’t be terrified if a soldier put a gun into your mouth and asked this question? The young girl related later that God gave her the very words to say.  She relied on Mark 13: 9-11 where Jesus says, “Don’t worry what to say in your defense.  Just say what God tells you to.  Then it is not you who will be speaking but the Holy Spirit.  She was imprisoned and eventually most of Inge’s girl’s Bible study group were incarcerated.  One day Inge saw the soldiers bringing her Bible Study group to the hospital where she lived with her husband and family.  The girls had been beaten and abused in the prison and the soldiers had brought them to the hospital for treatment.  She ran out to them and asked the soldiers if they would allow her to bring the girls to her house while they were waiting to see the doctor.  They agreed.  Inge was thinking that she would quickly prepare some bread and tea and feed the starving girls.  When they entered her house she asked them, “What can I get you to eat?”  Their answer was a race to the bookshelf where Inge stored the Bibles for their weekly Bible study.“We need the word of God!” they responded, “We are hungry for God’s word!  We are not allowed to have our Bibles in the prison!” “We have to memorize as much scripture as possible before the soldiers come back for us!”  They said that each night they gather close together and whisper the words of God that they can remember by heart.  In this way, they were being sustained through their suffering.  So that day, for one hour they memorized as much of the word of God as possible.

The soldiers were brutal to the girls.  They were made to crawl naked on the ground through stones and briars while the soldiers beat them mercilessly.  If they would admit that they did not believe in God they could be released.  But the girls stayed strong in their faith even though their backs were scarred from the beatings.  They said, “They can take everything from us but they cannot take Jesus out of our hearts.”

The next time the girls came to the hospital they sent one of the hospital workers to Inge’s house and asked her to bring some small New Testaments.  Knowing that she couldn’t just hand them the Bibles in front of the soldiers, she put on a long white cotton cloth called a gabe, the traditional Ethiopian dress.  But underneath, she packed away small copies of the New Testament.  As she hugged each girl she whispered in her ear to take a Bible from underneath her flowing gabe.  In this way she was able to get the Bible into the prison to nourish her girls.

This was a sobering story for my teenage girls and for me.  This event only happened twenty years earlier in a city three hours south of us.  But because of the steadfastness of the Christians in Ethiopia, today the church is thriving.  We often hear sayings like, “They can take everything away from us but they cannot take Jesus out of our hearts.” There’s probably even a song with this verse.  I’m guilty of thinking statements like that are just a little too trite and flippant.  But the reality is…people going through persecution live that statement.  So we all asked ourselves that day, “Are we willing to die for our belief in Jesus Christ?” Could we do what these girls did?  We re-examined our faith and took a hard look at reality. Jesus doesn’t promise prosperity, good looks, riches and a life without sickness or troubles.   What he does promise is to stand beside us.  He will never leave us or forsake us and a reward like nothing we can imagine awaits us in heaven.  Are we ready to join that team?
   

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