Recently I heard an interview on the radio that shocked and motivated me. Two women, each of whom spent nearly a year in Evin Prison in Iran, explained how they were arrested for talking about Christ. The government of Iran has laws against talking about Christ, telling people how to receive Christ in their hearts, or conducting private unauthorized prayer meetings. The government of Iran even regulates the version of the Bible that Iranian Christians in authorized churches may read. The women I heard were charged with talking about Jesus, proselytizing, and possessing an unauthorized Bible.
The prison where they served their sentence is notorious for its brutality. While imprisoned they suffered torture daily and were held in solitary confinement in total darkness for long periods. The cells used for solitary confinement are too small for an adult to stretch out full length on the floor and they have no widows. The interviewer asked if they felt afraid. One woman said that they actually felt freer in the prison because there was nothing more anyone could do to them. The prison with its tortures and brutality, including frequent executions, is the worst the government can do them, so they went ahead telling people about Jesus and leading prayer meetings.
In worse conditions than any normal American citizen can even imagine, these two women testified to the love of Christ and his forgiveness for all sinners, inviting prisoners and guards alike to receive Christ. What would I do in such circumstances? What would you do?
I ask myself what I do where I am. You should ask yourself the same question. Today’s rancorous public conversations are vicious enough to give anyone pause. People are careful not to say anything that might offend someone and set off the name-calling and personal attacks, but how does that sort of assault compare with a prison sentence that includes near starvation rations, horrific beatings, even on the soles of the feet, and constant death threats from both prisoners and guards. Given Christ’s call to all of us to make disciples as we go about our daily lives, how do we explain why many of us don’t do that?
It makes me look closely at the situation where I live. The US has historically been the place where people went if they were in danger of persecution for their religious beliefs. I live in the country reputed to be the freest country on earth. Yet I don’t feel free to talk with just anyone about my faith. I have had moments when I worried that I would suffer in some way if I spoke the name of Christ. Why do I do that?
A few days ago I found myself in a conversation with people online who were upset because Christians believe they should be able to talk about their faith openly. One of the commenters said he took extreme offense when people around him talked about Christ. He wanted a law that said nobody could do that if anybody objected. I actually read an article recently in which someone claimed that when a Christian insisted on talking about Christ in his hearing, it felt like a personal assault.
There are people in our culture who do not want Christ, God, or the Bible mentioned in their presence. They don’t want to see or hear anything Christian. They are so offended by Christ that they do not want to permit anyone to be obedient to Christ, either. Numerous commenters online have expressed the view that people who want to be free to live according to the principles of their faith, when their faith principles conflict with secular perceptions, were asking not for freedom but for privilege.
Against this backdrop, it is, indeed, a challenge to engage in conversation with a stranger, and then say, “Can I pray for you? Jesus loves you, and I want to pray for you.” Yet, to date, it is not a crime in the US to speak to anyone about Christ. You won’t be arrested and tortured if you talk with someone about receiving Christ in his heart. The person you speak to may or may not respond to your invitation, but you and the person you talk with are free to speak about Christ and protected by the First Amendment from being arrested or charged with a crime for doing so.
When I heard two women who have suffered imprisonment and even torture because they just could not stop talking about Jesus, I felt I needed to pray about myself. They are confident that they are simply doing what Jesus would do. I look around and I see people every day who need Jesus. These women know that every time they speak to anyone about Christ, they are at terrible risk. In the free country of the USA, why do I even hesitate to share the best gift in the world with people who need it? Why do you? What are we afraid of?