March 18, 2015

Somebody pinch me!

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10930901_10100677138845824_5468509646584539614_nThere I was, in front of 70 sixth, seventh, and eighth graders, in a public school, praying with them for the persecuted church. Is this really happening? Somebody pinch me so I know this is real!

Who hasn’t struggled with relationships at school (at work)? Who hasn’t felt left out, not liked by those you want to like you? Who hasn’t felt really alone?

You could tell these students knew those feelings and likely some were right there right now. And that’s how our time together started. That’s how a young student named Hadassa felt in her school in Zanzibar, Tanzania. There was a time when she was as close to being alone as one can be. She was the only Christian in a school where everyone else was Muslim.

Our students in the United States know about bullying. Even those of us who don’t have children in school hear stories about bullying and being bullied. We all detest it. Whatever the reason – we detest it. Hadassa was bullied because she believed in Jesus. And she found no one who detested her bullying. At best, her teachers looked the other way, and at worst, participated or even led the bullying. The subject might have been History, Science, or Math, but Hadassa’s teachers would start talking about their Muslim faith and the evil infidel Christians. There were times when Hadassa would rise and object, and she would be heckled and harassed and shouted down.

Hadassa’s parents understood. Such was their life too. When shopping in the stores, they were harassed. When walking down the street, they were mocked, laughed at, maybe even shoved around. The family found no peace; even when they were at their church worship service, people would be throwing rocks at the church to make noise to disrupt the service inside. Hadassa saw their church bus set on fire. No one seemed to care. No one came to help. And just like at school, no authority showed up to hold those responsible accountable for their actions.

Hadassa knew that God’s Word told her to forgive her enemies and to pray that God would bless them (Matthew 5:44, 6:14). But how do you do that? Haven’t we all struggled with forgiving someone who has hurt us? Someone who continues to hurt us? They even seem to enjoy hurting us! How often we think, “They don’t deserve to be forgiven.” Oh my, as I write the words, I feel the Holy Spirit speaking to me, “Kevin, you don’t deserve God’s forgiveness either. But He forgives you anyway.” Hadassa also knew these passages from Jesus’ own lips:

“God blesses those who are persecuted for doing right, for the Kingdom of Heaven is theirs. God blesses you when people mock you and persecute you and lie about you and say all sorts of evil things against you because you are my followers.” (Matthew 5:10-11 NLT).

Oh, Jesus, how You understood what Hadassa would be facing 2,000 years after You spoke these words! If you have spent any time with a group of sixth, seventh, and eighth graders, you know that 70 of them together are … uh … loud. As these students entered the lobby of the old gym, it seemed to me that all 70 of them were talking, laughing, shuffling around, and before the program began I could hardly hear myself think. But now, at this point in Hadassa’s story, I noticed that when I paused, you could hear a pin drop in that lobby. It was as if the Holy Spirit had these 70 students in a trance as He ministered to their hearts. I was in awe of Our God’s work, and humbled that He would choose to use me.

God was doing a work in Hadassa’s heart. And He was doing a work in the hearts of all of gathered in the gym lobby too. What an awesome God we serve!

Hadassa found a friend in a young boy who was born into a Muslim family and had accepted Christ when he was 12 years old. His parents disowned him and kicked him out of the house. He found a home in the place where his new church family met. And he found a friend and someone he could talk to in Hadassa. On one particular Sunday morning, he didn’t come to the worship service. Folks called him on his cell phone – he didn’t answer. They went to the room where he stayed and knocked on the door – he didn’t respond. The pastor later went on in his room and found him – beaten to death.

Hadassa cried like she had never cried before. It seemed like she couldn’t stop crying. For days she cried. And through all those tears, Jesus was with her and showed her how to forgive and how to pray blessings for her enemies. She found her tears for her friend now included her confession of forgiveness for those who killed him. She found her cries to Jesus now included prayers that her enemies would be blessed.

Hadassa shared these words:

“Jesus was persecuted and killed and He forgave. Many other believers have been killed. We must not lose faith. Jesus is worth it … No matter what you are going through, always remember that God is by your side and He sees your suffering and He knows your pain. Be strong and hold on.”

As I finished reading her words, I looked up and saw 70 sets of eyes fixed on me. Still quiet as a mouse, now for a full 20 minutes. I told them that Hadassa’s story was not an isolated case of one lone girl in the world; rather, it was just an example of the millions and millions who don’t have the freedom to share their faith like we do. And when I asked if we could join in prayer for Hadassa and all our persecuted family, heads nodded and bowed in unison:

Heavenly Father, we thank You so much for our freedom to worship You and praise You. Even here in a public school. We thank You for calling these students together today, for Mrs. Kelly’s leadership and for calling her to invite me to speak today, and for calling me to come and speak. Father, we thank You for giving us Hadassa’s testimony and we are inspired by her witness for You. Father, a story of being excluded, of feeling left out, of not fitting in, is one we can all identify with, whatever our age. A story of being hurt so bad, so deeply, and so often, as to not know how to forgive, and not knowing how to pray for those who hurt us – well, You know, Father, that we have all been there. And some of us may be there right now. Father, Hadassa’s story reminds us that You are the God of Forgiveness. You are the God of Redemption. You are the God of Presence – always with us. Father, we pray for Hadassa, that she will be remain strong in her faith and grow even stronger. We pray that she will continue to be an effective witness for Jesus. We pray that You will use her to encourage other Christians in her community and around the world. We pray that You will use her to show others who Christ is and to draw them to You. Father, we join Hadassa in prayers that you will bless her dream to become a lawyer and to return to her hometown to represent Christians under the law. Father, we pray for all our family all around the world who are suffering because of Jesus today. And we pray that all our enemies will be blessed with the ultimate gift – a saving relationship with Jesus. We offer these prayers in the Name above all names, Your Precious Son, Our Lord and Savior of the World Jesus Christ. Amen.

And then, as quickly as the hush had come onto the room, the noise erupted. Like a blast from the Old Faithful geyser. They scurried out of the gym lobby, putting on their jackets or hoodies, and their backpacks as they went. Lord, I ask You to bless those students and use Hadassa’s story to draw them closer to You. And I ask You to bless Mrs. Kelly – in every area of her life, I ask in Jesus’ name, please bless this Godly woman who is burdened with the spiritual health of these students. Amen.

Loving the Journey,

Tio Kevin

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