This week, I’m on my 132nd international mission trip. I’m traveling in Central Asia with a group of Russian-speaking immigrants who live in the United States. We’ve been encouraging local Christians in two countries where it’s not easy to live for Jesus. And as I’ve eaten local food, visited local churches and listened to the struggles of local pastors, I am seeing the world through their eyes.
My American friends often ask me how the church overseas is different from ours. Of course that depends on which part of the world I’m visiting. But I can say unequivocally that (1) most Americans have no idea how blessed we are, and (2) the global church struggles in ways we don’t understand.
This week while traveling in a van on bumpy roads, I asked my Slavic team members how the global church differs from the American church. They all grew up in the former Soviet Union, and they came to America to flee religious persecution. Together we compiled this list of differences:
- Christianity has a high cost. In most countries of the world there are negative consequences for anyone who follows Jesus. Some lose jobs or are denied promotions. Some experience harassment, eviction, fines or arrest. And a growing number of believers worldwide are martyred—mostly because Christianity is growing in hostile areas. Jesus’ words in John 15:19 are so relevant to the majority of Christians today: “But because you are not of the world … the world hates you.”
- Bibles, Christian books and theological education are rare. Americans have access to a treasure trove of spiritual resources. We have seminaries, Bible colleges, unrestricted Christian broadcasting, unlimited access to Christian books and music, and more Bibles than we can read. But in many of the countries I visit, one Christian book is treated like a prized commodity.
Are you thankful for your copy of the Scriptures? The nation of Turkmenistan did not get a Bible in its native language until 2016—yet there are huge challenges to distributing it in a country that is closed to the Gospel. Uzbekistan did not get access to the full Bible until 2018.
- The global church doesn’t rely so much on buildings. I met a pastor from China who told me that he had to limit his congregation to 75 people because they had to meet in a small office. The government did not allow him to build a sanctuary. But because so many people were being converted, he had to start a new church every four months. I have preached in churches that meet in apartments, stores, huts with thatched roofs, caves, front yards, warehouses and on hillsides.
- There are restrictions on what can be preached. In several countries I’ve visited recently, American preachers have been permanently banned because they said things from a pulpit that are offensive to other religions. In many countries, local governments monitor what is preached in churches. Remember that the next time you rant on social media to protest whatever you want. I hope you value your right of free speech.
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SOURCE: Charisma News