Open Doors USA creates an annual list of nations where it is dangerous to be a Christian. When they prepare the list, they take into account factors expressed in five spheres of life (and other factors which I will not address here). The five spheres are:
- 1. Private life
- 2. Family life
- 3. Community life
- 4. National life
- 5. Church life
As I read about the way the World Watch List is prepared, I was motivated to think deeply about the way I live my faith. After all, whether I am persecuted or not, I live in those five spheres. People in those spheres of life view my actions and words. I had to ask myself, if I lived in a country where it was common to persecute Christians, would my behavior in all those spheres lead people to persecute me?
Our faith begins, of course, in our private life. Whether we come to the moment of decision in a church gathering or alone in a dark room, the decision happens inside before anything else matters. If nothing changes in my heart of hearts, then nothing changes. However, in my world, nobody is challenging my right to make that choice in my private life. I can sustain my private life, my personal time for prayer and Bible study, in any way that pleases me. I can create a tiny personal worship space if I wish. I can lay a Bible out on a table or light a candle or use a devotional book. My space belongs to me. It is very difficult for me to accept the idea that in North Korea, nobody is permitted to have a private life. Nobody in that country has ownership of private space or time. Finding any way to have private time or worship time is extremely challenging. So, I ask myself, if I lived in North Korea the way I live today, would anybody arrest me? Would the police come in and smash my private space and my belongings? Would they find any clue that I am a Christian?
We all live in families. There is probably no setting where it is more difficult to live our faith, because our families know all about us. We may put on a façade of righteousness when we go out in public, but the family knows. A spiteful, selfish attitude can’t be a secret from the sister with whom you share a room. Even a little child observes parents that live differently inside their home than they appear to be when they go to church. Our families push all our buttons. We may build relationships in the family, or we may destroy relationships. We may even build barriers around ourselves to prevent relationships. Within my family, is there anyone who would report me for being a Christian if the police wanted that information?
Even people on mountainsides or on sprawling ranches in the Great Plains have community connections. They buy groceries, borrow money, participate in food drives and so forth. When the community is devastated by some disaster, they either help or whine or run away. People in the community know if a person speaks truth or lies. They know if that person is light or darkness. If my community required people to live in districts defined by their religion, would anybody who found me in the atheist corner demand that I go back into the Christian district?
There may have been a time when there was land unclaimed by any nation, but no more. Google maps alone would put a stop to that. Everybody has a nationality. Some countries have religious liberty; some don’t. If I lived in a nation that required everyone to be a particular non-Christian religion, would I be arrested for failure to comply? Could the religious police discern from my attitude and behavior that I am a Christian? If I speak up in a country with complete religious freedom, will anyone be able to distinguish me from a secular thinker or a Buddhist?
And then there is my church life. Like my family, my church knows me well. Or do they? Does my participation give any clue that I am a member? If I fail to attend on Sunday does anyone even notice? Does my name appear anywhere in the list of contributors? Has anyone ever seen me work on a mission project? When my name shows up on a member list, do people scratch their heads? Will anyone know?
My life in Christ has numerous dimensions. This list of the spheres of life makes me ask: Do people see Christ when they see me? Or do they just see another mouthy do-gooder who wants her own way all the time?