Today's 'thought' comes from a magazine/newsletter called "Weavings" (Vol. III, No. 3, May/June 1988). I do not know the author's name since the photocopy of the article which I possess (given to me by a pastor friend) does not
include it. Although, since its merely a true story recounting the events that ocurred at a church in Uganda on Easter Sunday of 1973, the facts really speak for themselves despite who put them together.
During the absolute rule of Islamic dictator Idi Amin, over 500,000 people were killed. And since the persecution did have religious overtones, many targeted for death were Christians, including Janani Luwum, the Anglican Archbishop murdered during that time. I found it to be an inspiring testimony of a faithful Christian pastor in the face of severe persecution. I trust his story might speak to you as it did to me. Enjoy.
"It was Easter Sunday, 1973. Uganda was under the absolute dictator, Idi Amin. Kefa Sempangi was a pastor in that tortured land. Under the growing shadow of Amin, Uganda was becoming a land of terror. Still fresh in Sempangi's memory was a face burned beyond recognition, the sight of soldiers cruelly beating a man, and the horrible sound of boots crushing bones. Sempangi was exhausted and wondered what difference his sermon that morning could make. He prayed for wisdom and strength and then delivered his sermon to seven thousand people.
Afterward he made his way to the vestry, tired but joyful. Five men followed him into the small building and closed the door behind them. Sempangi turned around to find five rifles pointed at his face. He had never seen any of them before, but immediately recognized them as the secret police of the State Research Bureau -- Idi Amin's assassins. Their faces were full of pure hate and rage.
'We are going to kill you,' said the leader. 'If you have something to say, say it now before you die.' Sempangi stood there feeling himself lose control. He thought of his wife and child and began to shake. Somehow he managed to speak.'I do not need to plead my own cause,' he said, 'I am a dead man already. My life is dead and hidden in Christ. It is your lives that are in danger, you are dead in your sins. I will pray to God that after you have killed me, He will spare you from eternal destruction.'
The leader looked at him with curiosity. Then he lowered his gun and ordered the others to do the same. 'Will you pray now?' the leader of the assassins asked. Though fearing it was a trick, Sempangi asked them to bow their heads and close their eyes. 'Father in heaven,' he prayed, 'you have forgiven men in the past, forgive these men also. Do not let them perish in their sins, but bring them unto yourself.'
Sempangi lifted his head waiting for the men to pull their triggers. But then he noticed their faces. Gone was the hate and rage, and when the leader spoke again, it was without contempt.
'You have helped us,' he said, 'and we will help you. We will speak to the rest of our company and they will leave you alone. Do not fear for your life. It is in our hands and you will be protected.'
Relief and joy flooded through Sempangi's heart. God's love had given him the strength to say a simple prayer -- one that changed the lives of thse five men forever and saved his own."
Sempangi's story made me think: What would I do, say, or pray, if I had five angry, hateful men pointing their rifles at my face and telling me I would die because of my faith in a matter of minutes? Would I have the confidence in Christ, and His love, and the eternal life He promises, that would give me the courage to confirm the truth they were going to kill me for and pray for their salvation? Only God knows for sure.
Yet simply asking the question is helpful, since it calls us to ponder if we truly believe what we say or claim to believe. It's one thing to bodly and joyfully confess our faith in a room full of similarly-minded Christian people. It's something altogether different to do it when our lives (here on earth) might end because of it, leaving our spouse widowed, and our children fatherless or motherless. And given the fact that the persecution of Christians worldwide has increased dramatically in the past century (more Christians have been martyred in the past 100 years than in all the previous 1900 combined) -- it's not a simple flight of fancy to at least consider the possibility, remote as it may still be.
Soli Deo Gloria, Pastor Jeff