I was out of my hometown at the time of my last update from the Middle East. As I took the call while visiting the Oregon Coast, I was walking through a neighborhood that is located right up next to the mighty Pacific Ocean, the largest ocean on our planet. After prayer and our goodbye, I had to continue walking so that I could be alone a little longer with my thoughts, digesting some of the things I had just heard from my friend, Pastor R. For nearly three years now, I have been receiving updates nearly every week. I have gotten used to receiving both the jubilant reports of victory but also the accounts of the tragic events being visited upon so many of HOB’s dedicated and courageous volunteer missionaries. No matter how used to receiving these reports, I still found this week’s events difficult to take. R invariably apologizes for having to share the difficult news, especially as graphic as it so often is, but, at my request from the very beginning of this project, he has been faithful to give me at least what he can share in our short 20-40 minute conversations. I have thought through this week’s conversation many times and several Scriptures come to mind. One of them is found in Matthew 10:27-33:
Whatever I tell you in the dark, speak in the light; and what you hear in the ear, preach on the housetops. And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. but rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell. Are not two sparrows sold for a copper coin? And not one of them falls to the ground apart from your Father’s will. But the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Do not fear therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows. Therefore whoever confesses me before men, him I will also confess before My Father who is in heaven, but whoever denies Me before men, him I will also deny before My Father who is in heaven. (NKJV)
Many times in life, we feel like we are all alone with no one having any idea what we are going through. We go through difficult things that few around us may recognize. There are deaths, disease, accidents, job loss, homelessness, straying children, and divorce. However, the deeper our intimacy with our Lord, the more we come to realize that He has never left us; in fact, when we felt the most alone, it was He who was carrying us through the storm we’re caught up in, to the shore of safety. The Scripture above promises that God does not miss a thing–never!
There has also never been a martyr representing Jesus Christ, the Messiah, that has died without the recognition of the whole kingdom of heaven. God is very much engaged with every single person that suffers for the testimony of Jesus. We find in Acts 7 that after Stephen had delivered his defense before his accusers,
…they gnashed at him with their teeth. But he, being full of the Holy Spirit, gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God, and said, “Look! I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God!” Then they cried out with a loud voice, stopped their ears, and ran at him with one accord; and they cast him out of the city and stoned him. And the witnesses laid down their clothes at the feet of a young man named Saul,. And they stoned Stephen as he was calling on God and saying, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” Then he knelt down and cried out with a loud voice, “Lord, do not charge them with this sin.” And when he had said this, he fell asleep.
Here we find that Stephen was not alone as he faced his accusers. He had the attention of Jesus Christ Himself! In fact, Jesus stood up from His throne to receive Stephen into His presence as he was killed. Regardless of the fury in which he was attacked and killed by those who chose to be his enemies, Stephen was still able to forgive them and ask the Lord not to hold their sin against them! With this, he died. A young man named Saul who was to become the greatest enemy of the early church of his era, was whom the killers gave charge of their coats as they stoned Stephen to death. God used this event to get under Saul’s skin. As we know now, Saul later became Paul the Apostle–who just happened to be used of the Holy Spirit to pen about two-thirds of the New Testament! You don’t know who you have influenced with your testimony; neither do I, but God does, and He makes the absolute most out of every word and action done in His Name!
But, now to this week’s update…
My good friend R could hardly hold his tears back this week as he told me of the latest events. He said that another 15 of House of Blessing’s widows were caught and murdered for sharing the Gospel of Jesus. Most of these widows had been trained by Mofida who was the first of the “Widow Sisterhood.” These brave women were caught by ISIS militants and, as I understand it, had their hands tied, then were humiliated by being stripped naked, then told that they must renounce their faith in Jesus and accept Muhammad, Allah’s prophet, as their saviour or die. Not a single one of these women renounced their faith in their Messiah Jesus. Each woman was then put in the hands of several men, who used their long knives to end the lives of these faith-filled believers, ripping and tearing as their twisted minds demanded.
I do not apologize for giving these details,because I believe that the rest of us in the family of Christ the Redeemer, sometimes need to hear these stories, both to recognize the bold faith of these martyrs, and also as a reminder of the covenant we have with our God. How do we know whether or not we might have to face the same circumstances before our Lord calls us home? Is your walk with God intimate enough that it really does not matter what the cost of serving Him will be for you? He died for us and if it costs us our short temporal life, so be it…In light of the glories of an eternity in the presence of our KING, it is nothing!
Brother Omar, who at great cost to himself and his brave wife, has overseen the missionary work in Iraq, shared some news from the city of Mosul in northern Iraq. Two separate groups of believers were caught, once again by ISIS, as they were sharing the greatest story ever told–the story of our Creator and His enormous love for the fallen human race and His provision of eternal forgiveness for anyone who will accept it. These missionaries, one group of 15 and another of 20 were brought a single location. Their hands were tied, and, just as with the widows in Syria, their clothing was stripped off, and they were forced to lie down on the ground. They were then brutally beaten. They were then also given the same choice as were the widows: Deny their relationship with Jesus Christ, accept Allah and his prophet Muhammad as their saviour, or die there where they already lay bleeding. Each of these brave souls, as well as the captured widows, said much the same to their captors, “It does not matter what you do to us, we will never turn back from our faith and love of our Jesus!! All 35 chose to die rather than deny their Lord Jesus and so were martyred in whatever method each killer chose–whether knifed to death, beheaded, dismembered, or whatever hellish means came to their demon-possessed minds.
A third story, of probably many more that have not yet been told, is of ten of HOB’s missionaries in Syria who were in a group of about 180 people that were all killed when a missile from one of Bashar al-Assad’s jet fighters hit their location. The ten missionaries just happened to be there testifying about Jesus and His love for them when the missile was fired.
Folks, it is too easy for us to see these events as far away and having nothing to do with life’s reality for us–especially in the West. I believe most in the West are not hearing the urgency which has been coming from the Throne of God! We are too caught up in all of the distractions that our materialistic, morally corrupt culture offers. Where are the warnings…His warnings? Where is the strong Word being spoken that causes people to examine themselves in light of God’s expectations and requirements? Why are most afraid to label sin for what it is? Why are we so afraid to offend? Why is it so offensive to give the warning God is requiring His ambassadors to give? The prophet Noah preached God’s urgent warnings until the day that the ark was finished and God told him to get himself and his family aboard the ark! Once God shut the door of the ark, it was TOO LATE! We are very, very near to the same place in our own generation! Is God’s urgency moving you, or is it easier to just ignore the message?
These folks that are filing in under that great altar described in Revelation 6:9-11, are gradually adding their numbers to the total that God has pre-recorded in the record books of heaven. Soon, the last one will give his or her life, and God will say, “It is enough!” God is taking careful note of every single one of these precious souls. I am reminded of a portion of Scripture in Hebrews 11, where it mentions the heroes of the faith, starting in verse 35:
…Women received their dead raised to life again. Others were tortured, not accepting deliverance, that they might obtain a better resurrection. Still others had trial of mockings and scourgings, yes, and of chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, were tempted, were slain with the sword. They wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins, being destitute, afflicted, tormented–of whom the world was not worthy. They wandered in deserts and mountains, in dens and caves of the earth…
Jesus told us that the greatest commandment was to love the Lord with all of our heart, all of our soul, all of our mind, all of our strength, and our neighbor as ourself. We do this through our obedience to Him. We pray for those of our family who are going through difficulties unimaginable to most of the rest of us. And, even though Pastor R very seldom mentions the need for financial help to meet the huge needs, we help, none-the-less, because it is part of our fulfilling that very greatest of commandments. As each of us obeys the leading of the Spirit of God, the needs are met, and souls are reached.
One thing that is really needed, is serious, earnest intercessory prayer for these folks, especially those who are leading. Pastor R asked me to pray for him as he usually does, but especially for strength for him and brother Omar in Iraq. Even though they have seen so much death, mutilation, and brutality of every kind, it still leaves them in tears, nonetheless. Each of these brothers and sisters are real people. They have families, children, husbands and wives. It is hard to watch these things continue to happen…yet they know that each of these precious souls that has died are now in the presence of our Master. They will never suffer again! So it will be for us very soon!!
Forever in His Service,