One of the great things about going to Ethiopia with Petros recently was the interviews with the indigenous pastors, and the stories of their lives that circled around the group. Much as I’d love to tell some of these stories, I think people with a western paradigm, even in churches, would have a hard time believing some of them. This is actually a sad thing for me, because I know that western Christians are dying to see God move, but if He did move, it’s unlikely they would believe what they saw with their own eyes. But this is an aside. The thing that was impressed upon me over and over again by the Ethiopian pastors was their unwillingness to give details about the hardships they were going through. This puzzled me, and I’ve been thinking about it since. If it were me, I would think I would want to tell the first person willing to listen about the troubles I’ve been going through.
Now cutting to the story of Jonah. For those who are unfamiliar with the story of Jonah, it’s found conveniently in the book of Jonah in the Bible. Jonah was, to say the least, a reluctant prophet. He was sent from what is currently Israel to a city called Nineveh near the modern city of Mosul, in Iraq. His initial reaction was to go in the opposite direction. After some not so gently coaxing, he ended up going to Nineveh and delivering the message God had given, that in forty days Nineveh would be overthrown because of their evil. After delivering the message, Jonah went to an overlook to watch the ensuing destruction. But the people of Nineveh’s reaction was not what Jonah had expected. The Bible says that the people of Nineveh believed God, proclaimed a fast, and put on sack-cloth and ashes (a sign up humility and brokenness), from the greatest to the least of them, even the king. And the king put out a decree that everyone should cry out to God, and let everyone turn from his evil ways and from the violence that is in his hands. God saw their repentance and humility, and he relented from the disaster He said He would bring.
This made Jonah angry to no end. I’m not sure what happened to Jonah to make him this way, but as I said before, he was a reluctant prophet. It seems that the only thing that would have satisfied him was the destruction of a city of 120,000 people. I guess sometimes you’re able to deliver a message without actually learning anything from it yourself. So the only one in this story who was actually lost was Jonah himself.
This brings me back to the pastors in Ethiopia. Their reluctance perplexed me. I interviewed a pastor, and one of the questions I asked him was, “what opposition and hardships have you had where your church is?” His initial answer was, “Nothing”. I knew this was not true, because we’ve heard the stories over and over again, and seen what’s happened. But the pastors are reluctant to tell it themselves. So I pressed a little further. The only detail I was finally able to get from him was, “Yes, we have opposition, but God takes care of it.”
At first I though that it’s just the humility of the pastors that keeps them from saying more, but then it occurred to me that there was much more to it than this. In Matthew 5 Jesus is speaking, and he says the following; “You have heard the law that says, ‘Love your neighbor’ and hate your enemy. But I say, love your enemies! Pray for those who persecute you! In that way, you will be acting as true children of your Father in heaven. For he gives his sunlight to both the evil and the good, and he sends rain on the just and the unjust alike. If you love only those who love you, what reward is there for that? Even corrupt tax collectors do that much. If you are kind only to your friends, how are you different from anyone else? Even pagans do that. But you are to be perfect, even as your Father in heaven is perfect.”
These verses hit much closer to home for these pastors than they do for us. Someone says to us, “Happy holidays” and we think we’re being persecuted. Many of these pastors have been stabbed, stoned, beaten or chased out of town by angry mobs. But they come back again, and it’s their forgiveness and compassion that eventually breaks through to people. It was realizing this that awakened me to the truth. It’s virtually impossible to love your enemies if you’re simultaneously complaining about them. If you truly love them, you realize that God loves them as well, and it’s only His forgiveness that’s made you any different from your enemies. This goes for me as well. I need to learn the balance between confronting lies and just being a complainer. I will learn from these men (and women) how to be a man of action who is quiet when quietness is prudent. I will learn not to simply complain because complaining never did any good, and because I can’t love someone when I’m complaining about them.