Blessing borne out of persecution

23 Apr, 2017 | International
Inger R.
The hands of the potter in the Arabian Peninsula.   
Photo by Kathryn Berry
“But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.” – 2 Corinthians 4: 8, NIV

Displaying His strength in their weakness, God used Julyan Lidstone, Tony Packer and Trevor* to carry His truth into least-reached areas of Eastern Europe and the Middle East. Despite persecution and imprisonment, God’s greater purpose prevailed, causing the church to grow.

Hard pressed, but not crushed

“We are going to make you dust!” the chief police officer threatened OM worker Julyan and other believers from a house church in Turkey. Taken into police custody twice in 1988, Julyan and his friends faced investigation and intimidation to deter the group.

“The second time was more sinister,” said Julyan, recalling a week in a windowless basement. “There was no investigation, just harassment so we would give up.” Kept in solitary confinement for three days, the Turkish friends, including Ahmet*—who was seized at his wedding party—were blindfolded and beaten. Similarly, officers blindfolded Leyla* and told her she was in front of a swimming pool, threatening to throw her in (she couldn’t swim).

“The big nightmare for local believers was being arrested,” explained Julyan, who moved to Ankara in 1980 to plant a church. With only 50 known followers of Christ in a population of 50 million, Turkey was the world’s largest unreached country. “God allowed the nightmare to happen,” Julyan continued. “Although it wasn’t easy, He proved bigger than it.” 

A court case against believers demonstrated their legal right to worship—a breakthrough that emboldened them. Similarly, their shared hardship resulted in significant steps forward. “The big effect for us was overcoming fear and building greater trust,” Julyan emphasised.

During 11 years, Julyan saw the church in Ankara increase from three to 30 members. Around the country today there are 7,000 believers, gathering in small congregations.

“Seeing the church’s growth in Turkey built my faith,” said Julyan, now an ambassador for OM’s worldwide ministries among Muslim peoples. “God is doing a wonderful thing among Muslims; we are living in a time of opportunity!”

Persecuted, but not abandoned

Thrown into a cell for smuggling Christian literature into communist Yugoslavia in 1966, Tony cried out, “Why, Lord?” “A few hours later, the cell lit up,” Tony remembered. “I felt an arm around me and God saying: ‘Whatever they do to you, I will be with you.’”

Enduring a two-month imprisonment with another OM worker, Tony was beaten, starved and interrogated. Guards warned that, if anyone came looking for him, they could move him where no one would find him. “I look back on it now and know it could only be done through the Lord’s strength,” Tony acknowledged.

However, in their cells the young Englishman spoke to prisoners about Jesus in the Serbian language, sharing memorised Scripture and praying together.

Forty years after Tony’s release, an English pastor visiting believers in Albania phoned him with news of Bojan’s* testimony. Bojan told them he heard about Christ in prison when two Westerners were locked up in Titograd, Yugoslavia. On his release, Bojan started a Bible study in his home. “I was elated and rejoiced,” Tony marvelled. “When you hear things like that, all the pain, all the suffering, is worth it.”

Tony recently returned to former Yugoslavian countries. Fears of how he might react to soldiers dissolved on meeting Mirko*, an ex-soldier who later committed his life to Jesus. “We both broke down in tears and hugged each other,” Tony described. “It’s love for these people that drives me back.”

Still compelled to give everything to spread the gospel, former OM worker Tony speaks in churches and joins teams to reach Eastern European and Balkan communities. “God is working!” declared Tony. “It doesn’t matter what we go through; God has His plan.”

Struck down, but not destroyed

OM worker Trevor* smuggled Bibles into Communist Romania from 1983 until the country opened, always delivering resources to local contacts Marcel* and his wife, Corina*. Marcel repeatedly landed in prison for distributing literature. 

Fourteen years ago, Trevor visited Corina with an interpreter from OM. She spoke of her husband’s suffering. “He and other dissidents laboured in the corn fields,” Corina told Trevor. “They had to do the weeding—with their teeth.” Beaten and starved, Marcel was released once close to death. “He made it to our house and rang the doorbell,” Corina had shared. “I found him collapsed; I thought he wouldn’t make it.” However, Corina nursed her husband back to health. “When he regained strength,” Trevor related, tears filling his eyes, “…he wanted more Bibles.”

The couple never refused literature from OM’s Bible-smuggling team. “Despite attempts to stamp out faith in Romania, God made a way to get His Word in,” Trevor said. Willing to risk everything, Marcel and Corina leave a legacy that impacted many lives. Romania now has one of Europe’s strongest evangelical churches. OM continues to support them to tell others about Jesus at home and abroad.

“When you live a life investing in people and transmitting hope, one day your reward will be seeing lives changed by the gospel,” Trevor motivates. “Let’s make our lives count!”

*Name changed

Inger R. loves to give people a voice by sharing their stories as she writes for OM’s EurAsia Support Team (OM EAST). She is from Scotland, is half-Danish and likes drawing, playing the drums and a good brew of British tea…which she sometimes spills while laughing.

Credit: Inger R. · © 2017 OM International This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

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