…on this rock[a] I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. Matthew 16:18 (ESV)
The Church is alive and well. That’s what I continue to discover in my travels to places of dire poverty; in areas of severe persecution; and where governments are highly restrictive.
On my latest visit to see the Church in action, I observed a country that has literally been shut off from the world. They’ve had few outside resources and have felt themselves isolated. Even their lines of communication have been filtered coming and going. So what’s happened to the Church in the meantime? The people have learned to lean on God and each other. They have reached inside to develop their God-given creativity and have trusted God rather than organizations and institutions to provide their needs. And they’ve found God faithful.
In a number of places hurricanes have blown down the buildings we mistakenly call the Church. Parishioners have continued to meet in shelters, in homes, in any place they could gather to worship and to praise the One who continues to bring salvation. And the Church has survived even when the buildings were gone.
In another place the pastor was accused of a heinous crime, which was later proved untrue. The shame was so great, he one day poured fuel over his body, stood in front of the altar, and lit himself afire. He died singing a hymn. Twelve young girls surrounded the altar and pledged never to let the Church die. Then they opened the doors and invited everyone in for a celebration of the pastor’s life and the life of the Church. More than eighty years later, the few remaining of those “girls” continue to fan the flames of the Church.
In another country where a revolutionary government fought to obliterate the Church, instead of disappearing, the Church went underground. Bibles were confiscated, believers were tortured and imprisoned, and buildings were demolished. Today in that same country, Bibles are freely distributed as the Church has come out of hiding, and where people freely worship the One who established the Church.
Jesus’ promise is true. Hell and all its powers cannot destroy the Church. Let us pray for all those who trust and who gather secretly today so that his Word does not fail.
Father, how humbled we are to see the faithfulness of your people, our brothers and sisters around the world, who serve you and who follow you whatever the cost. Encourage and be with them now and forever. In Jesus’ name. AMEN.