Christ’s promises fill us with joy and give us hope for eternity. In John 14:1–3, He promises “to prepare a place” for us in His home and to come again and gather us to Himself. This inspires us, and I have seen its power of encouragement after reading it with persecuted Christians who, because of their faithfulness to Christ, had been driven from their earthly homes. While Christ’s joyful promises for eternity should remain foremost in our thoughts, we must not overlook His other promises, including those about our plight in this world: • “I am sending you out as lambs in the midst of wolves” (Luke 10:3).
• “I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. … If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you” (John 15:19–20).
• “In the world you will have tribulation” (John 16:33).
In eternity, we will be Christlike. Having received His righteousness in exchange for our sin, we will be eternally without flaw and never have reason to sorrow again (2 Corinthians 5:21). But being Christlike in this world is another thing entirely — we are Christlike when we bear His shame, put to death our worldly desires and take up our cross daily to follow Him (Hebrews 13:13, Colossians 3:5–10 and Luke 9:23). We go forth loving, but rejected; forgiving, but abused; serving, but slandered. We weep as He wept, even while we overcome as He overcame.
Our bold and faithful Christian brothers and sisters in northern Nigeria exemplify this truth. It is important that we recognize their example not only so that we may serve them in their time of great need but also so that we may draw inspiration from their lives of faith. They remain as Christ’s witnesses in a place where they suffer extreme violence at the hands of radicals among their own neighbours. Even after many years of serving them, I cannot fully understand what it must be like for them to live in a place where they are surrounded by Islamists who may kill them with impunity. I can only stand in awe of the Holy Spirit’s power made manifest in them.
At VOM, we are providing assistance to more than 1,400 Christian widows and their more than 4,000 children, all of whom have lost their husbands or fathers to Islamist attacks in northern Nigeria. Many of them still live with the trauma of having witnessed their husband’s or father’s killing firsthand. We know there are more than 6,000 such widows in total and, because so many have been displaced and we cannot locate them all, estimate that there are more than 10,000.
These widows and children will see their husbands and fathers again in heaven. In the meantime, they — and all of us who follow Christ and faithfully serve as His witnesses in this fallen world — will be hated and bear reproach for His namesake. We are not called to a life of comfort; we are called to embrace living as lambs among wolves while we follow in our Saviour’s footsteps. Let us remember that He was “like a lamb that is led to the slaughter” (Isaiah 53:7) for our sake, for the sake of our Nigerian Christian brothers and sisters and even for the sake of their Islamist attackers whom we call to repentance.