How would you respond if you were asked to die for your faith?
He Has big faith
Occasionally, we come face to face with genuine spiritual giants—men and women whose faith truly has been tested, who, when threatened with death for the cause of Christ, did not flinch. The following story is about a pastor whose Christian faith nearly cost him his life. I will tell it as he told me, with a few details added from other interviews and newspaper reports on the incident.
Paul* was raised in a Muslim family and did not hear the name of Jesus Christ until a friend shared the gospel with him. He immediately accepted Christ as Savior. Soon after his conversion, he felt God’s direction to become a church-planter, even though his city is predominately Muslim and openly resistant to Christianity. When I met Paul he was recovering from injuries sustained in an encounter with Muslims who were determined to stop him from preaching in their city.
All good Muslims go to a mosque to pray on Friday. However, on one such day some Muslims diverted from their prayers to visit Paul’s house and issue a final warning. They made it exceedingly clear that if he continued to preach the gospel in the town the consequences would be quite severe for him and his family. They told him the best thing he could do was to take his family and leave the city immediately.
Paul knew the men were not making idle talk. The threats were meant to strike fear in the hearts of Paul, his family, and all believers in the city. He called his family together to pray and seek God’s will. He knew that sometimes fleeing a threat is the right thing to do. However, the family could not gain peace about leaving. Long ago they made the choice Peter and the Apostles made. “It is better to obey God rather than man” (Acts 5:29). With this conviction as their foundation Paul and his family decided to stay and continue their ministry.
For several weeks nothing happened. Paul’s wife and daughter went to visit family in another city, leaving him and his 17-year-old son (we’ll call him Timothy) at home. Early one Saturday about 1:00 a.m. Paul was awakened by loud voices in the street close to his house. Gradually, he realized the uproar was outside his gate. Frenzied voices were crying out his name, ordering him to come outside. His failure to respond infuriated the mob, so they ripped the gates off the hinges, pouring into the yard and house like running water.
The angry crowd grabbed Paul, tied his hands behind his back, and threw him to the floor. The horde began kicking him and beating him with sticks. One vicious blow broke his left arm. The mob leader demanded a list of all the believers who attended his group. Paul refused the demand—adding fuel to the flames of their anger. Insults were hurled at him with the same viciousness as the blows. “Give us the list or we will kill you,” screamed the mob leader. One man struck Paul several times on the head and face with a stone until he lost consciousness.
Paul’s teenage son ran from the house and tried to call the police after the crowd invaded. Some of the mob turned on him, snatched the phone from his hands, and began to beat him. Before losing consciousness, Paul worried about the Timothy’s safety. He was concerned, not just because of the physical danger, but because his son had been a believer for only one year.
Paul wasn’t sure Timothy was equipped to resist such threats. However, God was with Timothy and gave him the strength to face this trial. Later, Timothy told Paul he was not afraid for his own safety, but feared for his father’s life.
The enraged crowd searched the house, gathering all the Bibles, study books, and other literature they could find. Piling everything in the street, they set it on fire. Barely conscious, his body saturated with pain, Paul was dragged into the street and laid near the fire. The torture and threats continued. One of the leaders shouted, “Say that you reject Jesus Christ! Say you are not longer a Christian, or we will throw you into the fire.”
Incredibly, someone in the hate-filled crowd responded, “Don’t waste your time; he is a Christian. He will never reject Christ…he has big faith.” What a statement! In the face of death, Paul resisted the temptation to deny Christ. And this remarkable declaration was uttered by one of his attackers.
As Paul told his story, I could not help but notice his countenance. A peaceful smile lit his face. A spiritual twinkle sparkled in his eye, as if he saw something beyond the room in which we were sitting. Gentleness infused his words as he described those who persecuted him. I sensed a deep faith words cannot adequately portray or express. I knew I truly was sitting in the presence of a man of big faith.
Could that be said of me if I were to face such a time of testing? Would I be able to stand firm and hear those seeking to kill me say, He has big faith?
Paul continued to suffer abuse and threats as several of the mob persisted in trying to obtain a list of all the believers in the city. Eventually, one of the attackers choked Paul until he passed out. Some thought he was dead and the crowd dispersed. Police arrived, planning to arrest Paul for inciting a riot but let him go because the jail was locked.
Paul and Timothy made their way to the hospital, and the family reunited in another town. After several weeks of recovery, Paul’s family returned to their town and resumed their ministry. He found his small congregation strong in their faith with new members drawn to the group by their faithfulness during persecution. Paul exulted, “I am so grateful that they have survived the trial of their faith!”