We’ve lived under some “real” persecution.
When I think of some of the situations my husband and I have lived through over the past 10 years, it almost seems like I’m an outsider looking in on my life, watching someone else’s nightmare unfold on some crime show. It seems very surreal and outside of our existence. But the truth is, we have tasted persecution.
Only a few years after we were married, Ramazan and I had come home from work, eaten dinner and then turned on the news in our home in the nation of Turkey. Ramazan left the room for a few minutes and, like some kind of weird prank, suddenly his picture was on the television with a headline that I could make out even with my limited Turkish.
“Man Arrested for Plotting to Kill Pastor”
What!!?? At first I hesitated and doubted my translation. But I read the headline again and I was sure that is what it said.
I called my husband Ramazan into the room and in a very low moment of our relationship he explained to me that indeed someone had tried to kill him and that we had been living under police protection for several days.
Suddenly my concern shifted from the headline into anger towards my husband for hiding this information from me.
He didn’t want me to worry.
For the next 4 months, police were with us 24 hours a day.
The day after the news broke, I went to my teaching job at a Turkish school. During the lesson, the principal’s secretary came into my classroom and asked me to come to see the owner of the school.
I called Ramazan to tell him that surely I was going to be fired. We both assumed that the school was now concerned that parents would be upset after seeing my husband on the news. They may have figured out that the wife of a Christian pastor was teaching their (mostly) Muslim students.
We quickly discussed what I should say to the owner of the school and that I should ask for at least a few months of severance pay.
I was shaking as I walked into the office.
For several moments, the owner of the school chatted with me about how I was doing, what she could do to support me, and how she could help.
This kindness was unexpected.
She finished and I waited for the next part. The firing. But it didn’t come. And I said to her, breathing a sigh of relief, “I assumed you called me here to fire me.” She replied with a generous amount of grace, “If any of the parents of our students are upset that you are working here, they can take their child and leave this school.”
This was the first episode in an outpouring of loving kindness which we received.
Another almost comical story comes to mind. A close friend of ours went to do his military service. He was being trained as an officer. In one of his training sessions, the instructor gave a slide presentation. Our friend was surprised when a picture of my husband Ramazan came up as an “enemy of the state.”
So yes, we have faced some difficult days. Hatred. Threats. False accusations.
Ramazan was even “unofficially” arrested at one point.
But today I’m thinking about something else. Today I’m thinking about a different kind of persecution that has been pretty intense in our lives this year.
I hesitate to even call it persecution. But in so many ways, some of what we’ve been facing hurts even more deeply then having some stranger after your life.
And what more shall I say?I do not have time to tell about (those)…who shut the mouths of lions, quenched the fury of the flames, and escaped the edge of the sword; whose weakness was turned to strength; and who became powerful in battle and routed foreign armies…There were others who were tortured, refusing to be released so that they might gain an even better resurrection. Some faced jeers and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were put to death by stoning they were sawed in two; they were killed by the sword. They went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted and mistreated— the world was not worthy of them. They wandered in deserts and mountains, living in caves and in holes in the ground.
Whew! That puts our troubles into perspective.
With all that we have walked through, nothing has been as severe as that.
And yet, maybe comparing our persecution isn’t the point.
As I said, it has been a hard year for us. Hard in a different way. It seems almost laughable to call what we have lived through this year “persecution.” But I think it has the same roots. It comes from the same origin. Jealousy, anger, hatred, selfishness, fear. Whenever we become the object upon which these emotions are projected, I think it pretty much feels like persecution.
Its personal persecution.
Ramazan and I are the first to admit that we don’t have it all together. We still feel very young and inexperienced even though we are technically now middle-aged. We don’t claim to have all the answers and it is very hard when we are in the position of helping others and for us to know the best ways to lead, guide, and encourage the people we serve. We don’t take this role lightly and we feel very accountable to the Lord for our decisions and for the counsel we give. We know this is a big responsibility and a job we cannot do on our own.
This year we have faced some trying situations in ministry. We’ve gone into places of helping and guiding to which we haven’t been before. And because of the magnitude of the responsibility we feel, we have carefully and prayerfully plodded these new territories. We slowly and carefully made decisions which we felt were best for handling the relational problems going on in the church we serve.
But the problem is, sometimes people ask for help and then they don’t want the counsel you offer. Sometimes people become resentful of the ways we try to help. Sometimes they blame us for not fixing their situation. And sometimes they lash out. Sometimes they cut us off. Sometimes they choose to stay in their brokenness and become even more angry.
Persecution is defined as: hostility and ill-treatment, especially because of race or political or religious beliefs; oppression. Persistent annoyance or harassment.
Persecution hurts because its personal. It hurts because we really love and care about the people we are trying to care for. It hurts when we try to do the right thing, to please and honor God, and then it is misunderstood as something else by others.
I don’t doubt that you’ve experienced the same thing. The same feelings of being the object of someone else’s wrath when you’ve truly tried to help. Its a lonely feeling. Its discouraging. And on the flip side, its the best place to be.
During our discussions, Ramazan and I always end up coming back to the same point. We did what would honor the Lord. Even when it was hard and unpopular. Even when we would have rather excused behaviors for the sake of staying on the good side of someone. Even when it was easier not to get involved. Even when it took us extra time and put us in awkward situations. And surprisingly we have found an ocean of peace in that place.
God has never asked us to be pleasers of people. He has asked us to be faithful. And the deepest place in our hearts yearns to be as faithful and honored as the Heroes of Our Faith.
Years ago, Ramazan chose to take what he thought was the easiest and best way to handle a terrible situation. He chose not to tell me about the man who was arrested for trying to kill him. He was afraid of what my reaction would be. He thought staying silent was the best thing for me (and for him). He thought avoidance would protect me. This kind of tiptoeing actually hurt our relationship more than it helped us. Since then he has definitely learned his lesson and the Lord has redeemed that situation by bringing us closer as we faced that deep trial together.
There are definitely times to stay silent, but fear shouldn’t keep us from making the right choices in standing up for our beliefs and encouraging others towards living lives of integrity.
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