American Christians know astonishingly little about their brothers and sisters overseas, say Dr. Carl Moeller and David Hegg, co-authors of the book The Privilege of Persecution: And Other Things the Global Church Knows That We Don't (Moody). Moeller, who heads up persecution ministry Open Doors USA, says many people believe his job must be depressing because they think he works with needy, third-world believers who live in fear. In an interview with Crosswalk.com, however, he says nothing could be farther from the truth.
To start with, he says, “the most surprising thing about the persecuted church is its joy.” He can tell story after story of Christians who are excited to live a life of persecution. They don’t enjoy being martyrs, he says; instead, “they do have something those of us in the United States don’t have very often, and that is a deep and intimate reliance on Jesus Christ. The fact that they know Jesus is enough in a practical way is a way that we can gain from them.”
Moeller smiles in the interview, and says, “The joy permeates these people’s lives in a way that maybe should make us stop and think a bit… They don’t have an economic or political or social bank account that gets bigger in the situation that they’re in. No, they understand that the presence of the Lord, having him and him alone is enough to provide for joy.”
However, Moeller emphasizes that American Christians should not listen to stories of the persecuted church and think these overseas Christians are naturally superior, as if “these people are cut from a different cloth.” Instead, they have faced different circumstances that have tested them in different ways. Moeller points out that “Paul wasn’t kidding when he said everyone who wants to lead a godly life will be persecuted,” and even small acts of persecution the Western church experiences serve a purpose.
“The fact of the matter is, our persecution may look quite different,” says Moeller. “Our persecution may be an internal thing – the struggles with self-doubt, the struggles with family members or lifestyle choices that we make to follow Christ that come into conflict with our work, or some things that may come about in our life because we follow Jesus.”
He turns to baseball for an analogy, noting that he plays softball for fun. “That doesn’t mean I don’t care about what happens in the major leagues. It doesn’t mean that I can’t be inspired by a great homerun hitter to play my best in my little softball league,” he says.
“If our persecution doesn’t rise to the level of being arrested and tortured, that doesn’t mean that we don’t go through hardships. It doesn’t mean that we can’t be inspired to go through those hardships with more joy and more faith like our brothers and sisters do in the persecuted church because we’re not persecuted like they are.”
More than once in the interview, Moeller points out that American Christians need to stop thinking of the persecuted church as a world apart. “There is no us and them in the kingdom of God,” he says. Instead, we each have ways to bless the other – for instance, the persecuted can teach a reverence for and reliance on God’s word that Westerners often lack, while American Christians can provide the physical and prayer support the persecuted church craves.
The book also recounts story after story of Christians in difficult places living generously, loving extravagantly, and worshipping joyfully. Moeller thinks we’d benefit from their example more than we realize.
“[Showing] Jesus’s light and love in dark places might put us into a little hot water with some people and it might give us a little more challenge to our normal comfortable Christian lives,” he says. “But it will inspire us and bring us more joy and more faith and more happiness really in the long run, more joy than we can ever imagine.”
Dr. Carl Moeller is president and CEO of Open Doors USA, the American arm of Open Doors International, a worldwide ministry which has supported and strengthened persecuted Christians living in restricted countries since 1955.