On January 17, 2000, a mob of rioters ransacked and burned 200 homes and Christian businesses and 14 churches for four days on the island of Lombok, Indonesia. Afterwards, merchants of all persuasions met together to agree that the events had devastated the island economically and socially and therefore they would never again allow outsiders to come and incite violence on their peaceful island.
Despite this pledge to peace, the rumors of another attack continued (a common tactic to keep people in fear after a time of unrest). One simple suggestion kept local believers immobilized for days. Some considered leaving the island. Others retreated, afraid to boldly share the gospel.
At the time, my husband and I lived on Lombok and mentored a team of local church planters. In an effort to comfort them, I turned to Jesus’s instructions to his fledgling disciples in Matthew chapter ten. Jesus is clear that their calling will involve risk. After all, they are like sheep among wolves.
The risks to their ministry are spelled out quite clearly. They will be arrested and tried before civil and religious leaders, persecuted, hated by all including their own family, physically beaten, and maybe even put to death. After all Jesus, their teacher and example, has been insulted, misunderstood, and will be put to death. How can they as his students expect any less?
In response to these risks, Jesus tells them to stand firm in their allegiance to him for he is their priority above all else. Even though persecuted, they should acknowledge him publicly and proclaim the coming kingdom. When they experience persecution, they should be both wise and innocent in their approach.
Despite these risks, Jesus promises help. They need not worry about what to say for God will give them power and authority and the Spirit will speak through them. If they stand firm to the end, they will be saved, acknowledged before God, and rewarded in heaven. Thus they do not need to be afraid because God knows the exact number of hairs on their head—they are that valuable to him.
My friends on Lombok experienced some of these same consequences of following Jesus. Some left family behind. They were hated by their neighbors, chased from their homes, deprived of their belongings, forced to hide in forests, and had to begin again from scratch. For others, serving God means defending themselves in front of police interrogations, being arrested or put on trial, cut off from family members, and even death.
While we may never be unwelcome, betrayed, and hated to the extend the disciples (or my friends on Lombok) experienced, each of us must be ready to receive whatever comes our way. What God asks of us will be different from what he asks of our neighbor. Yet we need not be afraid as N. T. Wright reminds us:
You are worth more than a great many sparrows; so rest assured that God knows and cares about the details of your life, even as you face the temptations and dangers which so easily surround you. Followers of Jesus are bound to expect attacks at all levels. But they should also learn that the one they are serving is stronger than the strongest opponent they will ever meet.N. T. Wright1
What cost have you paid for sharing the good news of the kingdom of God?
Which of God’s promises do you need to cling to today?
Heavenly Father, the task of sharing about your kingdom is tough, frightening, and certainly not safe. So I pray for those around the world who face death for declaring their allegiance to you. Reassure them of their value and give them courage. Compared to them and my friends on Lombok, my service to you seems so small and insignificant—and safe. But I want to serve you no matter what. Embolden my weak heart today, I pray.
See the Remember and Tell series for the complete story of the Lombok riots.
1 N. Tom Wright, Matthew For Everyone Part One (Louisville, KY: Westminister John Knox Press, 2004), 120.