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Going to Church

I took going to church for granted growing up. 

I grew up in a CRC home where church was expected twice a Sunday along with catechism classes, cadets, and youth group mixed in there somewhere. Mostly I would complain if my parents forced me to go. I would sullenly sit and stir up trouble in any way I could without the pastor, cadet counselor, or youth leader feeling compelled to call my dad. I not only took it for granted; I rebelled against it.

In the Middle East country where I serve, the rebellion is going to church, not in the avoidance. It is a subversive act against the State, and it is an embarrassing and shaming act against your family. Those who brave the storm created when they become believers live in a world where their next meal could be their last… literally. Poisoning meals is the preferred method for families dealing with shaming and disobedient sons and daughters. The local police never involve themselves in “family matters” as long as it is taken care of discreetly. 

Fully half of the prayer requests are for church members who have been missing

I disciple and train a close friend who is in this community. It is a community where I could never walk because of the color of my skin and the language I speak. Just my presence would cause too much unwanted attention from the ever-constant security police. There are many hidden churches with numbers of 10 to 100 that meet irregularly in various locations for security purposes. My friend pastors the pastors of these churches.

In the Western Churches, we typically fret about members not attending because of the latest big sports event and wonder how we can compete with modern entertainment. Here in the Middle East, we fret about people who are missing from church because their parents or some family member has found out about them. Fully half of the prayer requests are for church members who have been missing for more than one week and no one has been able to text or call them. 

In the Western Churches, we wonder what is the best time for services, should we have one or two, what week day would work best for the most people, and even what kind of food to make sure we have there to keep the complaints down. Here in the Middle East, they send out nebulous texts and worship, pray, and study with whoever shows up and can break away from family and security at that time and in that place.

Our faith is so easy in the West, so easy that we rebel against even the worship services

In the Western Churches, we make sure the service is never more than one hour and fifteen minutes or people will walk out, complain, or just not show up again the next week. Here in the Middle East, if they can get together, they spend all the time they can together in prayer and study until they have to go home or raise suspicion. Sometimes it’s just fifteen minutes; sometimes they pray all night for missing members and their families.

Imagine going to church as a subversive and rebellious act wherein you might not make it out alive … yet you go anyway. 

Imagine being thankful for just 15 minutes with fellow believers who have become your new family because your blood family has rejected you and your life. Or, imagine praying all night for the physical needs of your new family and even prayers for the family of those you know have killed their own children because they were a new believer.

I was born and raised in the CRC and I have never experienced faith like this until I came to the Middle East. Our faith is so easy in the West, so easy that we rebel against even the worship services because they don’t meet our expectations. Here is, as Nick Ripken calls it, the “ragged edges of faith.”

My petty rebellion against cadets and catechism class embarrasses me in the face of the rebellious act of just going to church in the Middle East as a new believer.

This Sunday is the International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church.  The resources focus on the persecution of the church in Afghanistan.  Join us in praying for the Afghan church using various phrases from our confessions. 

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