When I came to faith in Christ as a young adult, I may have received a few puzzled looks from some family members and had a few strained conversations with friends as I attempted to explain in my overeager, faltering way what Jesus meant to me. But I certainly didn’t experience persecution.
When I graduated as a teacher, not many years after coming to faith, I experienced a calling to serve and spend time with marginalised and disadvantaged communities. As a new teacher, I chose to work at a disadvantaged government boys school in Sydney, despite being offered a much higher-paying job at a private Christian school nearby. I didn’t think I should put my personal and teaching skills and gifts, such as they were, to service of those who, comparatively speaking, were already well resourced. And I was convinced that I would be a better witness to God’s grace in a place with fewer Christians and no strong Christian presence than in a place where most of the staff, and the majority of the students, already professed Christ. But I certainly didn’t experience those choices as any kind of loss.
Faith in Jesus has brought many challenges. It was, and still is, a profound personal shift. One in which I am no longer the centre of my own universe and in which I can no longer live for myself but am set free from sin and shame to live for another, who also lives in me.
But I have had to give up little. Have suffered little. Have lost little. My social standing and respect remains unchanged. I have all the privileges of birth and rights of an Australian citizen. I am welcome in my family, even if my relatives don’t all share my faith.
Our time in Nepal introduced me to Christians who had been rejected by their own families. Who had been scorned or shamed by their neighbours. I met people who had been beaten in attempts to force them to turn their backs on Christ. Almost every one of the first generation believers I met had been forced to leave their homes and cut off from their families. They had lost their inheritances and were often discriminated against for jobs, or in trying to find rooms to rent. Even after the wave of persecutions and imprisonments of the very earliest believers and pastors receded, in a majority Hindu nation Christians were still regarded as traitors to the deep and rich cultural and religious traditions of their country.
Peter began to say to him, “Look, we have left everything and followed you.” Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields, for my sake and for the sake of the good news, who will not receive a hundredfold now in this age — houses, brothers and sisters, mothers and children, and fields, with persecutions — and in the age to come eternal life. But many who are first will be last, and the last will be first” [Mark 10:29–31].
I have friends who have never been allowed to return to their family homes after becoming Christians. Friends who were made homeless, and would have had nowhere to stay if other Nepali Christians had not also shared their houses and been willing to live out in practice the truth that we are brothers and sisters in Christ.
I find it hard to imagine the loss and the pain these friends have suffered. Yet these losses and this grief are, at the same time, a witness to the most profound gain imaginable – adoption into Jesus’ family and eternal life by his grace.
Breathing the Bible is an INF Australia blog series, exploring how life and service in Nepal influenced the way people read and respond to Scripture.
Ben Thurley worked in Nepal as Advocacy Advisor with United Mission to Nepal 2008 – 2012.
Other posts in the series:
Breathing The Bible: Family
Breathing The Bible: Fellowship
Breathing The Bible: Prayer
Breathing The Bible: Story
Breathing The Bible: Sacrifice
Breathing The Bible: Kingdom
Breathing The Bible: Justice
Breathing The Bible: Wedding