NORTHERN AFRICA AND THE MIDDLE EAST (BP) -- Nik and Ruth Ripken* have served in some of the toughest areas of Africa. They've known believers who have been martyred for Christ. They've spoken with hundreds of Christians experiencing persecution in more than 70 countries.
After all that, they've learned something about persecution.
"The most persecuted person is a lost person who has no access to Jesus," Nik says. "Satan wants to keep people from hearing about Jesus. If he can't do that, he wants to shut you up, to silence your witness." Most American Christians fall into the second category. They experience no persecution because they tell no one about Jesus.
Yet persecution of Jesus' true followers has been normal from New Testament times to the present day. The No. 1 cause -- when people come to know Jesus. The key is how to make persecution count for God's glory, as the early Christians did.
The Ripkens learned that truth the hard way. They served in South Africa and Kenya after sensing a call from God in the early 1980s. They experienced the drama -- and trauma -- of ministry amid racial apartheid, religious and tribal tensions and other challenges. But nothing prepared them for their next place of service: Somalia. The overwhelmingly Muslim East African nation was wracked by civil war, chaos and danger in the 1990s, as it is today.
Loss and sacrifice
"We fed the hungry. We clothed the naked. We were shot at. We buried a 16-year-old son," Nik recounts, referencing the death of their son from an asthma attack in Kenya on an Easter Sunday. And they watched helplessly as nearly 150 Muslim-background followers of Christ in Somalia were martyred. Four of their closest friends died on a single, terrible day in 1994.
The horror continued, and the Ripkens and other workers were forced out in 1998. They have not been able to return.
The Ripkens realized that many of these martyrs died not just for following Christ, but for being openly identified with outside Christian agencies. Thus began their long-term effort to understand the nature of persecution and how God works through it. Trying to stop it in every case or "rescue" every believer experiencing it is a misunderstanding of religious freedom, they contend. Read More