What Really Counts in This World
Duncan Smith encounters the fiery love of the persecuted church: his heroes in the faith.
Sitting down on a “Taburrma”, a large traditional roll up mat, with the wonderful Fulani “Ardus” or tribal chiefs, watching the sun drop over the edge of the Sahel dry bush on the very edge of the Sahara, far away from all civilization, is just about one of the most incredible privileges any Christian could ever have. These men and their wives were among the most unreached people with the gospel just a few years ago. Every one of their ancestors as far as we know, perhaps going all the way back to the very first descendants of Noah, have never known or worshipped the true and living God. Until 200 years ago they were pagans and since that time they have been Muslims, converted by the sword by the Tuaregs and Bedouin Arabs. Now they are born again, radical lovers of Jesus Christ, carrying the Father’s Love in the power of the Spirit to their nomadic families and tribes across Niger and Mali.
"my heart is filled with the bursting love of God and His incredible affection for these precious people"
Listening to their laughter and joy as they make their beloved sweet, hot Chai Tea on a small wood fire, where they skillfully maintain just enough occasional flames to keep the wood burning as embers of charcoal, my heart is filled with the bursting love of God and His incredible affection for these precious people. I’m deeply humbled and in awe, watching their joy filled faces coming from their burning passion and fiery love for Christ. They are full of joy despite the overwhelming hardship that they face on the edge of the desert day by day: from famine to floods, from horrific ongoing war and terrorism to gross pillaging of their nation’s wealth by outside multinational companies, from snakes and scorpions that can easily kill a man to endless diseases such as Cerebral Malaria, Bilharzia and Salmonella Para-Typhoid. Getting water for the family can involve days of walking with donkeys and camels to a water source each week. Their entire worldly possessions are made of the mat that we’re sitting on, the clothes they’re wearing (including their “Rawanis”, which are their famous desert people’s turbans that keep the dust and sand from their ears and faces), their swords, their few very thin and emaciated livestock and their cell phones. Everyone has cell phones even, on the edge of the Sahara!
"Many of them have been entirely cut off from their families"
Above all, I’m most overwhelmed by their absolute willingness to embrace the terrible persecution from their families because they turned from Islam. Many of them have been entirely cut off from their families to the point that, as far as everyone is concerned, they are dead. Their relatives and old friends have utterly blocked them from all social interaction. Many are instantly disinherited by their fathers. Others have lost all of their wives, who, when given the choice to stay with them, have chosen to leave because their husband has become a Christian. All of them face the threat of Islamic Sharia Law, imposed upon them by the warlords of Muslim terrorist and militia groups, many of them followers of Gaddafi that have fled from Libya, into Niger and Mali, since the downfall of his regime. Yet none of the Fulani Christians would ever dream of renouncing Christ and would be willing to give their lives before they ever gave in to the persecution.
These incredible Christian Fulani leaders are champions in the Kingdom of Heaven. They are the heroes of the faith. Their love for God and their capacity to carry the presence of Jesus in power wherever they go is phenomenal. They are mighty men of the Spirit. During their bush gatherings they preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ, not just by words but by demonstrations of the Spirit’s power, and they see incredible healings, miracles, signs and wonders. After they preach, they wade into the crowd that’s come by Camel from far and wide, laying their hands on the heads of the people and everyone falls over like they’ve been struck by lightening. Each of these mighty Ardus are so anointed with the presence and power of the Holy Spirit, it’s 'insane' as we say in Raleigh, North Carolina!
They have been saved and discipled through Terje Liverød’s ministry, together with myself and many others, and they are incredible glory carriers. I love when we see the people saved and filled with the Holy Spirit; all the same manifestations that we see in Toronto, in Raleigh and around the world, we see in Niger among the Fulani. They have never watched Catch The Fire TV or a God TV televised conference and yet their bodily reactions to the presence of the Holy Spirit are the same as they are in the rest of the world. The only difference is that when we ask them what it felt like when the power of God came on them, each of them say the very same thing, “It felt so cold!” over and over again. I love it. The Lord seems to know that giving them the sensation of heat like we get would not be appropriate in the desert. He gives them Holy Spirit ice cream instead!
"I was ministering to people who would be killed or imprisoned instantly if the authorities of their nations discovered that they were in our meetings"
Being with first generation Christians from among the unreached people groups of the world has become my one of my greatest loves. Recently I’ve had the privilege of ministering to some of the most precious born again believers I’ve ever met. Together with John and Carol Arnott, Stuart and Chloe Glassborrow, Dan Slade and Stacy Long and teams from Catch The Fire churches in Toronto, Raleigh and London as well as some Catch The Fire World Changers and students from our Catch The Fire School of Revival, we held three one week International Leaders Schools of Ministry in two separate European nations at secret locations, and one in Lebanon. For the two in Europe we partnered with an outstanding ministry called 222 Ministries who hosted us and we were able to minister to hundreds of pastors and leaders from some of the most persecuted people groups in Middle-East, especially the Farsi speaking people groups. For security reasons I have to be vague about the details of the locations and schools.
For the first time in my life I was ministering to people who would be killed or imprisoned instantly if the authorities of their nations discovered that they were in our meetings. Most of the pastors and leaders had spent significant amounts of time, some up to ten years, in prison for no other reason than turning from being people of the Islamic religion to Christ. Many of them bore the scars on their bodies from when they were tortured by the authorities as they tried to force them to renounce Christ and to tell the authorities the identities of the people in their secret house churches. Everyone of them had been cut off from their families, their friends, lost their spouses and children and each of them lived under the constant threat of prison or death. One leader had been rescued by Western intervention within days of his scheduled execution. Everyone on each of the teams, on each of these three schools were overwhelmed by the passion, graciousness, sweetness, humility and extreme preciousness of these pastors and leaders from the persecuted church. We were all undone. Carol Arnott was particularly impacted and fell deeply in love with the Farsi people. It was so very special and humbling to be ministering to such hungry and thirsty people. Their single focus was their love for Christ.
It was glorious to see them get filled with the Father’s love, forgive their persecutors and torturers and learn to walk in an even greater level of grace, leaving justice and vengeance to the Lord. It was incredible to be able to teach them how to minister in the power of the Spirit and at each school the Lord did extraordinary miracles of healing among the people. When the Holy Spirit fell on them they were dramatically impacted, many having heavenly encounters and experiencing powerful manifestations of the Spirit. One night as Stacy Long started giving away the Holy Spirit at the dinner tables, the whole crowd began laughing uncontrollably for a really long time. When he and I spoke to the leader of 222 Ministries later, he told us that for many of them, this was the very first time they had laughed like that in their lives. Stacy and I were stunned.
"their circumstances are producing a hunger and thirst for Jesus"
The raw passion, the unadulterated, innocent pursuit of Jesus, their immense hunger and thirst for the Gospel, and the presence of the Holy Spirit, despite incredible persecution and hardship, without any hype, is just so challenging to me. Each time I’m in Niger with the Fulani and the Tuareg, or when I’m with the Lebanese or Middle-Eastern Farsi speaking new converts, I’m reminded about what really counts in this world. The persecuted church are living their daily lives in the midst of persecution and often poverty, but their circumstances are producing a hunger and thirst for Jesus that is of great worth to the Lord. He is giving them a bold, fierce love for Himself, themselves and their peoples as they cry out to Him; their hearts are burning and their faces shining with the fiery love of the Father. They will stop at nothing to see His son Jesus made famous and His Kingdom established here on earth in their nations, no matter what the cost, even if it means giving their very lives as martyrs.
They are my true heroes in the faith. They are the ones I want to be like. They are the ones that spur me on to greatness in the glorious Kingdom of our Lord Jesus Christ.
As I sit in one of my favorite places in the world, my screened in porch at home in Raleigh, drinking a hot cup of strong Lebanese coffee, I think of my friends among the persecuted church in the most unreached nations. I remember that we in the developed nations face our own enormous daily challenge, to live lives that are worthy of Christ, pleasing to Him in every good work, growing in the knowledge of Him, tenaciously resisting the temptation of living, easy, mediocre, lukewarm and self centered lives, obsessed by the pursuit of our own rights and destinies, rather than Christ and His glorious Kingdom. I’m so excited we can come to Him in faith and ask for the greatest thing we could ever ask Him for: a burning heart of love, just like His, to love Him with all of our hearts, to love ourselves and to love the world, even our enemies and those who persecute us.