During the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976) Mao Zedong sought to remove the remaining elements of capitalism, tradition, and religion from society and to impose his Maoist system as the dominate expression of Communism in China. His actions resulted in the elimination of his challengers and the establishment of the Red Guard youth, indoctrinated by Mao’s Little Red Book, to do his bidding. The movement spread into the military, urban workers, and party officials. Millions were persecuted as they suffered abuses raging from public humiliation, imprisonment, torture, labor camps, seizure of property, and execution. Large parts of the population were displaced as young people were forced out of the cities and into the countryside.
Throughout the decade, the little village in the Yunnan mountains saw their church destroyed and their pastor imprisoned, even while they continued to gather for worship. They did so in homes, outside in the fields at night, and then finally in a cave carved into the mountain. The soldiers came, just like before. This time, instead of executing a handful of teachers, they entered the cave and murdered the believers gathered from across the mountains; following Jesus through the valley of sacrifice and martyrdom and into the Church Triumphant .
When their pastor was finally released from prison (the Village Leader’s brother) he was escorted back to the village by government officials who declared that he could no longer preach and teach in the name of Jesus. And yet, as the officials stood and looked on in amazement, the pastor, standing next to the rubble of the destroyed church, called the believers to gather for Bible study and worship. The government officials simply walked away. This incredible story is a description that vividly follows the experience of the early Church Militant in Acts 4.
When they saw the courage of Peter and John and realized that they were unschooled, ordinary men, they were astonished and they took note that these men had been with Jesus. But since they could see the man who had been healed standing there with them, there was nothing they could say. So they ordered them to withdraw from the Sanhedrin and then conferred together. “What are we going to do with these men?” they asked. “Everyone living in Jerusalem knows they have performed a notable sign, and we cannot deny it. But to stop this thing from spreading any further among the people, we must warn them to speak no longer to anyone in this name.”
Then they called them in again and commanded them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus. But Peter and John replied, “Which is right in God’s eyes: to listen to you, or to him? You be the judges! As for us, we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard.” After further threats they let them go. They could not decide how to punish them, because all the people were praising God for what had happened.
Then, the story-telling was over. After a time of silence our friend turned his moist eyes and pained expression in our direction and asked, “What is it like for the Church in America?” We, haltingly, began to explain the nature of the American church and the ease of our lives, faith, and practice. When we concluded that the biggest struggle the Church has in America is that of apathy, he gently and humbly said,
“Then I will pray for you to experience persecution. It will help you grow and become courageous.”
Jesus’ words in Matthew 24 are very clear. The closer we get to the end of time – in this time between the times – the worse it will be for the Church Militant and the more we will experience persecution and struggle. “Then you will be handed over to be persecuted and put to death, and you will be hated by all nations because of me. At that time many will turn away from the faith and will betray and hate each other, and many false prophets will appear and deceive many people. Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold, but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved. And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come. (Matthew 24:9-14)
When it happens to us, I wonder how the American church will do. How will we follow in the train of the Miao –the Church Militant? It’s not a matter of if, it’s when. May God grow us and grant us courage, just as our friend prayed.
The closer we get to the end of the flight from Hong Kong to Kunming, the more excited and emotional I become. Every time since 2003 it has been the same. As the plane descends, its air filtration system begins to drink in the air of Yunnan and disperse it throughout the cabin. Whatever the filters do, they cannot remove the aroma that brings with it the rush of feelings, memories, and anticipation – instantly reconnecting that part of my heart that is always here, always in the Miao mountains. Before my feet touch the soil of Yunnan, I know I am once again privileged to step into the footprints of Morrison, Taylor, Pollard, Stephen, and the village believers and leaders.
Back on the path again, following in their train.