The 13 million Hmong Christians living mainly in China, Vietnam, and Laos are beaten, their houses are burned down, and they are placed in prisons and slave-labor, brick-making camps. Police north of Hanoi regularly stop them when they get off buses or trains, confiscate their Bibles, and beat them. But the Hmong do not hit back. They return to the jungle and bring thousands more spiritually hungry people to Christ. The communists are so afraid of the spread of Christianity in these three nations that they encourage the Hmong to return to their religions of spiritism, with altars of incense and gifts to the spirits—anything but Jesus.
Hmong Christian leader Sung Seo Pao, still in prison after seven years, is paying a heavy price for sharing the Gospel of Jesus Christ. In 1989, Seo Pao became one of the first Hmong of Vietnam to find faith in Christ. It wasn’t long before the storms of persecution caught up with this prayerful servant of the Lord. In 1990, his evangelistic work earned him his first jail sentence. He was released after eight months on the condition that he would no longer preach the Gospel. But he was unable to keep to himself what God had done for him.
On the evening of May 22, 1995, soldiers and police went to his home, handcuffed him, and dragged him away to the district police station. For three days he was beaten many times, then was transferred to a provincial police station. He was then incarcerated in Hong Ca Prison in Yen Bai province. He had five children when he was dragged away to prison, but he did not know his wife was pregnant. Four years later, he learned through a friend that his wife had given birth to a girl.
A Christian visiting Seo Pao wanted to know whether seven years of prison had destroyed his faith. He replied, “Our Lord Jesus said, ‘You will be handed over to be persecuted and put to death, and you will be hated by all nations because of Me.’ ” Clearly he has accepted the cost of discipleship.
“If I reject Jesus Christ,” Seo Pao added, “they will release me right away.” But rather than reject Christ, he has rejected conditional freedom, even though it would mean returning immediately to his family.
In early seventeenth-century England, religious persecution would play a major role in the founding of America. In 1604, King James I told the Puritans that he would make them conform to Anglican worship or “harry them out of the land or worse.” In 1620, the Mayflower sailed for America, with the Pilgrims settling at Plymouth Bay. A decade later, under persecution from King Charles I and Archbishop William Laud, came “the swarming of the Puritans,” more than one thousand of them embarking for Massachusetts Bay in 1630.
The Scots also were persecuted by Charles and Laud, who injudiciously tried to press down Anglicanism upon a Presbyterian land. The Scots responded by rallying behind a National Covenant upholding the freedom of the church (1638) and by joining the English Parliamentary forces by the Solemn League and Covenant (1643). The king was overthrown, and the English Puritans and Scots Covenanters produced the Westminster Confession of Faith. But with the restoration of Charles II, there was great persecution of non-Anglicans in England and Scotland. In England, two thousand ministers lost their churches. In Scotland, seventeen thousand Covenanters suffered in one way or another for conscience sake.
However, in England, Puritan John Bunyan’s imprisonment gave us The Pilgrim’s Progress. And in Scotland, Covenanter Samuel Rutherford’s confinement in Aberdeen gave us his Letters, which Spurgeon called the “nearest thing to inspiration which can be found in the writings of mere men.”
Because of Rutherford’s fatal illness, he could not answer the summons to be tried for treason. He regretted being denied a martyr’s death, as many of his fellow Covenanters were being executed at the Mercat Cross and in the Grassmarket in Edinburgh. Among them was 26-year-old preacher Hugh Mackail. He told the onlooking women, that they should dry their tears, for he was within a few days of seeing the face of Jesus Christ. Mackail is remembered for his “Seraphic Song on the Scaffold”:
“I leave off to speak any more to creatures, and begin my intercourse with God, which shall never be broken off.”
Etched forever in my memory is a January day in 1956 when I was traveling on the Oregon coast. I was shocked by newspaper headlines telling of the death of the five Auca martyrs in Ecuador. Two of the five, Jim Elliot and Ed McCully, had been college friends of mine. On that day, I was in need of the balanced, Biblical perspective of Augustine:
“Martyrs are holy men of God who fought or stood for truth, even unto death, so that the Word of God may be made known and falsehood and fictions be overcome. Such a sacrifice is offered to God alone, thus the martyr is received in heavenly honor. This means that God has rewarded the faith of the martyr with so much grace that death, which seems to be the enemy of life, becomes in reality an ally that helps man enter into life.”
The Suffering Church
Muslim men in Pakistan regularly take advantage of Christian women with little or no response from the authorities. For this reason, Pakistani Christian Gulnaz Bibi had acid thrown on her face, arms, and legs by a Muslim man when she refused his sexual advances. However, while receiving medical care in the hospital, she stated: “I can only read a little, because I have a fifth-grade education, but these days I remember Psalm 92. Also I will behave like Job, and I will pray for my parents who are suffering with me in this situation. My mother and I thank the Christians around the world who are praying for us.”