Following this ritual, Joel (the camera guy) would begin making a fire in order that coffee could brew. It seemed each morning was the same. I would sit on my cot, drink coffee, read a bit, listen to Jason Upton, and watch the team harass the children.
As the day began, we would travel to different locations and confront the devastation of persecution with medicines and encouragement from the Word. Before diving into the medical provisions we would hold a service-of-sorts. It was really a worship time followed by opportunity for them and us to share. The worship was quite sincere and very vibrant. It became quite routine and I am sorry to share that even their stories became routine.
They would start with the day of the massacre in which 500 of their community were killed. They told of their fear as they fled into the jungle around them. They would share various stories of God’s deliverance during the three days that they huddled in the rain without food or shelter. Most told of how God “shut the mouths of the bear and the tiger.”
The part of the story that was most challenging for me was when they spoke of returning to their homes. They shared that upon returning to their homes they found them destroyed and everything in them looted. They were met by the Hindu leaders of the town and told that if they would deny Jesus they could remain in peace. It is hard to imagine the courage it took to reject this offer, which then meant walking back out into the bush with what’s left of your family in tow and finding plastic in order to make a tent. But that is what they did; hundreds of them; all of them, with one exception. There was a group we visited that broke routine and told a different story.
We walked 8 miles one morning to visit a group that had been persecuted. Other than the hike, it seemed routine until we began our meeting. I noticed the joy that so amazed me in the other pockets of believers was not present. Their faces were sad as we sat down together. I expected they would be happy to greet us. I didn’t see much evidence that they were. As worship began it was lifeless; like sitting in a painfully dull church service where it is obvious no one around you wants to be there.
I was struggling to stay awake as they began sharing. It seemed no one really wanted to talk. Finally, one of their leaders stood and in essence said, “We are Peter. Unlike the others, we denied Jesus.” This burdened looking man now had my attention. His honesty was brutal as he began to share.
He told of the day the massacre began. He told of fleeing into the jungle and of the Lord’s deliverance. He then told they were presented with the same option as the others; to deny Jesus and remain in their homes in peace, or to leave. This beat up and bruised people decided they would deny Jesus and stay In their village. Thus, his comparison to being Peter. He slowly and painfully sat down in silence.
It was now my turn to speak as protocol would have it. In a somewhat stunned stupor I stood. One of my favorite stories in the New Testament raced through my mind. I told them of the story the day the disciples, including Peter, saw Jesus on the shore after the resurrection. They were out fishing figuring the gig was up. They had returned to what was familiar to them before they met Jesus.
What was Jesus going to say to him on the shore that morning? The rooster had crowed three times and Peter had done precisely what Jesus had said he would do, deny him 3 times. Jesus was bound not to forget or forgive such a thing, right!? Would He tell Peter, “I told you so.” Can you hear his heartbeat as he looked, or maybe didn’t look, into the eyes of Jesus?
I love what Jesus said at this point. Maybe, without so much as a glance, He basically said to them, “Hey, what do you guys want for breakfast?” I love that. I’ve been Peter before. This response from Jesus gives me great comfort. There is no condemnation. There is no need to repeat or dwell on what happened. It is redemption in it’s purest form and exhibits grace that knows no bounds. I saw relief on the faces sitting before me.
I was beginning to understand the reason for our long walk. I continued to share with them the story of Peter. I asked them how much time passed before Peter could once again be involved in what God was doing. I reminded them that 40 days later he preached at Pentecost and thousands were saved. I gently encouraged them to get back in the game!
Their relief turned to excitement as the Holy Spirit hammered into them the freedom of this truth. I was reminded again of the liberating truth of the gospel. The gospel is good news that sets our hearts free to soar on the wings of eagles. How big and how great is our God!