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Christians understand costly realities of following Jesus

Editor’s note: This story is part of a series on global persecution, leading churches to pray for the persecuted church.

Ramsey* didn’t want to take his own life. Instead, he accepted missions that put him in harm’s way. Years later, after he became a Christian, Ramsey still doesn’t want to take his own life, but is willing to lay down his life for the sake of Christ and accepted a mission that puts him in harm’s way.

Being in harm’s way means loving those who were once his enemies. It means having his car rammed into a wall and t-boned and shots fired at him through his windshield. It now also means several months in a hospital bed, fighting for his life.

Ramsey is battling an invisible and internal enemy. His compromised immune system from circumstances in his past makes him more susceptible to the effects of COVID-19. He is still in the hospital, battling for recovery, though Christian friends report that his condition is improving.

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Road to Calvary

Ramsey joined the military before he was of legal age to escape a less-than-ideal home environment. He began taking the riskiest missions, not caring whether he lived or died.

A minister visited his barracks and gave him a Bible. Ramsey chased him out, tore up the Bible and threw it in the trash. He later felt remorseful and retrieved the Bible, tucking it in his vest. While on a mission, Ramsey narrowly escaped being shot. He saw this as the Lord’s protection, and it marked a turning point in his journey to Christ.

Not long after, he passed by a church and heard worship music and preaching. He froze, his attention arrested, and decided to go inside.

“Who told you all of this information about me? Why were you talking about me in the service?” he asked the pastor after the service.

The pastor told him it was the Lord speaking to him through His Word. Later, Ramsey committed his life to Christ.

Loving your enemies

Ramsey’s church began looking for ways to show the love of Christ to people in their community. Refugees began flowing into their country – refugees from a country that had waged war on his own country. Ramsey, having served in the military, had long been in opposition to the refugees’ home country. But when the pastor asked church members to step forward and meet the urgent needs of refugees, Ramsey felt the Lord leading him to respond.

Learning to love his enemy took time. A Christian who knows Ramsey recalls him telling refugees he now ministers among, “Of all the people in the world that I should hate most, it would be people from your country, but instead, you are the people that God has given me a love for most of all.”

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As he shares his testimony with refugees, he will often show the bullet wounds from where he was shot during the war.

When Ramsey entered the ministry, he began serving in supporting roles, but later became a leader, training other leaders in ministry. He now oversees a broader ministry and is the pastor of a house church.

Threats and death are not a deterrent

Ramsey and Christians in his country have no illusion of the cost of following Jesus, but they also know the worth of following Jesus. Christians whom Ramsey ministers alongside have been tortured, kidnapped, cut and in some cases, killed.

“If you are calling [someone from this region] to repent and believe in the Gospel and follow Jesus in a very real way, you’re potentially calling them to come and die,” said Sam Lawson*, an IMB worker.

“The people who aren’t truly interested are not going to pretend interest when there is such a high cost. The people who are truly responding see fellow believers walking faithfully in the midst of persecution, and it brings a lot of boldness.”

Lawson said believers exhibit a relentless pursuit of faithfulness, and they know they have eternal hope. There is a long history of volatility in the region, and Christians do not know how much time they have on earth, so they live each day knowing they are laboring for a reward that won’t perish.

Christians do not know how much time they have on earth, so they live each day knowing they are laboring for a reward that won’t perish.

Multiple churches in the areas where Ramsey ministers reported an increase in baptisms, and the numbers continue to increase.

Choosing to be baptized is an enormous step of faith in Ramsey’s country. The visible display of transformation and the public act of baptism do not go unnoticed. Baptism indicates the person is turning their back on their former faith. Persecution usually increases after a Christian is baptized.

One Christian who was baptized was martyred three days later. After his death, Christians pressed forward in boldness and obedience despite the risk of persecution and potential of loss of reputation, family and stability.

The difficulty for Ramsey and other Christians is not the threats they face, but the threats to the people they love. Entrusting family members to God’s care is all they can do.

Lawson said while persecution can slow down the spread of the Gospel, it almost always seems to accelerate the spread. Amazing growth in the body of Christ is taking place, and persecution has fueled the flame of church growth.

“We don’t delight in the crisis. We don’t delight in the human suffering, but we want to respond to it with love and acknowledge that God is sovereignly moving,” Lawson continued.

Lawson and other IMB workers said they have heard from numerous people that if they had not been forced from their country, they would have never heard about Jesus.

“The drive is to steward the crisis, steward the opportunity, and I’d say, even steward the persecution,” Lawson said. “God chooses to preserve life at times and miraculously protect, and Ramsey has experienced that. God also sometimes chooses to allow believers to be killed for their faith, and what we’ve seen is that the church will grow. The church will expand.”

Some believers have said, “They can’t kill all of us, and we’re going to continue moving the Gospel forward.”

Hope will not be deterred. Hope endures, despite the circumstances, and Philippians 1:21 is an anthem song – to live is Christ and to die is gain.

For more resources on how to pray for the persecuted church, visit imb.org/persecuted [3].

Ways to pray for believers in this area: 

*Names changed for security