Josef is one of a small number of Afghan Christians. He witnessed so much violence in the name of his native Islam that he renounced the religion and began a spiritual quest. He studied Buddhism, Hinduism and Christianity. "I think I was impressed by the personality of Jesus himself," he says. "The fact that he came here to take all our sins, that moved me. I admired his character and personality long before I was baptized."
Seeking asylum in Germany, he was held in a refugee camp where he was visited by missionaries. Under their influence, he made Christ his Lord. He traveled to Pakistan to be with his wife. When his family learned of his new faith, his in-laws beat him and locked him in a room. He escaped, eventually returned to Afghanistan, and has been on the run ever since. Now his brother-in-law Ibrahim is hunting him to kill him. He recently offered a reporter $20,000 to tell him where Josef was hiding.
Richard Dawkins calls religion "the root of all evil" and likes to blame religion for violence such as we are witnessing in Iraq. However, the other side of the issue is that much violence is directed at religious people, especially Christians. John Allen, author of The Global War on Christians, calls the rising tide of persecution against believers "the most compelling Christian narrative of the early twenty-first century."
The evangelical group Open Doors reports that 100 million Christians worldwide today face interrogation, arrest, torture, and/or death because of their religious convictions. While 30 percent of the world's population identifies as Christian, 80 percent of all religious discrimination is directed at believers.
Is following Jesus worth such a high price? If I were asked to die for him, or—much worse—watch my family die for him, I hope I would remember this fact: what matters most is not when we die or how, but why. We will all die one day, unless Jesus returns first. Our death may be slow and agonizing or quick and painless, but it will eventually come. If we are asked to die for Jesus, we will show the world and ourselves whether he is our King or our hobby.
Polycarp was a second-century bishop of Smyrna, in the western region of modern-day Turkey. When the authorities decided to execute him, he refused to flee. When he was brought into the stadium, the proconsul pled with the elderly man to renounce his faith. But Polycarp declared, "Eighty and six years have I served him, and he never did me any injury; how then can I blaspheme my King and my Savior?"
The proconsul threatened to burn him alive, but Polycarp replied: "You threaten me with fire which burns for an hour, and after a little is extinguished, but are ignorant of the fire of the coming judgment and of eternal punishment, reserved for the ungodly. But why do you tarry? Bring forth what you will." And so he died for the One who died for him.
None of us can truly know if we will die for Jesus until such a moment comes. But we can each decide if we will live for him today.
Publication date: June 25, 2014