“For my thoughs are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways,’ says the Lord” (Isa. 55:8). Here are some encouraging stores about how God is working despite persecution.
Youcef Nadarkhani, 38, is an Iranian-Christian pastor. He spent three years in prison and was sentenced to death by hanging on charges of apostatizing from Islam and evangelizing Muslims. Although released in September 2012, he was rearrested and released on January 7, 2013.
His wife, Fatemah, was arrested in 2010 for apostasy and sentenced to life in prison but was released after serving four months. They live under constant threat of arrest and worse. The Islamic State (ISIS) is crucifying and beheading Christians and, according to the express.co.uk, is sending “teams of trained killers” disguised as refugees into refugee camps to “kidnap and kill vulnerable Christians” and murder them “in their beds.”1
Why does God allow such persecution? Clearly, He is able to protect. He protected the prophet Daniel’s friends—Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego—from being burned alive by Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar (Dan. 3). Yet, God’s ways are not our ways (Isa. 55:8). His plans and ways are inscrutable.
Consider China. The first known missionary to China was Alopen in AD 635. His love for Jesus initiated a period of evangelistic activity that produced several churches. Then in 845 China banned all foreign religions. There was no evidence of Christianity there for the next 10 centuries.
The first modern missionaries were Robert Morrison (coastal areas) in 1807 and Hudson Taylor (inland) in 1853. God used their pioneering efforts to recruit about 50 missionaries to China by 1860. During the next 40 years, that number mushroomed to an estimated 2,500 missionaries in 1900, with an estimated 100,000 Protestant Christians. For the next 50 years, the number of Protestant Christians grew to an estimated 700,000 in 1950.
Then, just as Christianity was starting to flourish, all foreign missionaries were expelled in 1953, when Mao Tse Tung rose to power. The Christian world wondered what would happen to the church in China. Could not God have kept the Communists from power? Could He not have protected the missionary movement, which was beginning to produce solid results for the Kingdom of God? Why would He let all of the sacrifices those missionaries made go to waste?
But God had a bigger plan. Today China has more than 163 million Protestant Christians. Billionbibles.org provides logical, conservative estimates based on the number of baptized Christians in the country’s state-sanctioned Three Self churches.
The last 60 years of Communist domination have produced explosive church growth. Today there are more Christians in China than in America, though the number of Christians still represents merely 12 percent of China’s 1.4 billion people.2 The Spirit of God has produced exponential growth, with approximately 128 million people attending house churches all over China.
Consider Iran. It ranks ninth among the 50 worst nations in the world for religious persecution, according to the 2016 Open Doors World Watch List.3 This aggressively Islamic country fiercely opposes Christianity and persecutes believers in the extreme.
Yet one ministry working in Iran estimates there are approximately 370,000 Muslim Background Believers in Iran today, up from a mere 200 in 1975.
In an October 2010 article, Charisma magazine reported that Iranian-born evangelist Lazarus Yeghnazar claims 3,000 Iranian Muslims convert to Christianity every month through his Farsi-language TV and Internet programs.4 Charisma also reported the following:
More than 200 former Muslims were baptized during a training conference in Europe….Brenda Ajamian, a former missionary to the Middle East,…said the event was unlike anything she’d seen during her  years ministering in Egypt, Lebanon and Jordan.
“That many Muslims who converted to Christ in one place boggled my mind because missionaries have worked in the Arab world and Muslim world generally for years and without much fruit,” Ajamian said. “God is at work among Muslims.” Ajamian said she was told at the conference that drug addiction and depression run rampant in many nations, particularly in Iran, where the cleric-led government has attempted to squash pro-democracy movements. “People are so fed up with the kinds of lives they lead….They’re turning to Christ even in spite of the very real possibility of persecution and death and imprisonment,” she said.5
Other Christians working in the Middle East report similar results. David Garrison, a veteran Southern Baptist missionary, documents some of these amazing works of God in his book A Wind in the House of Islam. Warren Cole Smith published an interview with Garrison in the July 2014 issue of World magazine.
Rather than inhibiting Christianity, God is using persecution and martyrdom to spread it.
When Joseph’s brothers sold him into slavery in Egypt, they had no idea God had planned to use their evil deed for good. When they saw
Joseph again many years later, he was the most powerful ruler in Egypt apart from Pharaoh; and he told them, “You meant evil against me; but God meant it for good, in order to bring it about as it is this day, to save many people alive” (Gen. 50:20).
So it is with persecution. Jesus said, “I will build My church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it” (Mt. 16:18). God will forge ahead His way, and nothing will be able to stop Him.
- Nick Gutteridge, “Heading for Britain: ISIS sends ASSASSINS into UN refugee camps to murder Christians,” Express, October 24, 2015 <express.co.uk/news/world/614249/ISIS-sends-ASSASSINS-UN-refugee-camps-could-come-Britain>.
- “Christianity in China,” 2014 <billionbibles.org/china/how-many-christians-in-china.html>.
- “2016 World Watch List drawn from world headlines,” World Watch Monitor, January 13, 2016 <worldwatchmonitor.org/2016/01/2016WWLmain>.
- Sarah Stegall, “Evangelists Say Muslims Coming to Christ at Historic Rate,” Charisma, August 20, 2010 <tinyurl.com/jbq7url7>.