*Frank and *Patty were refugees from a neighboring country, but from the same people group we were focusing on. Already being political and social refugees, they added one more reason for their government to arrest them when they became followers of Jesus. We were initially cautious, waiting to see if their faith was genuine, but over time they proved to be some of the most faithful in our fledgling church plant – genuine pillars of consistency and faith.
Frank was a renaissance man, just as skilled in discussing ancient history books as he was in electrical and construction work. He was also hilarious, always ready for wordplay and practical jokes. Patty was barely literate, but a hard worker, hospitable, with a fiery temper and loyal spirit. Together with their daughter, they seemed to be a genuine household conversation, all three of them showing evidence of new life in the same season, and all three undergoing baptism together in weather so cold we joked God was preparing them to someday be missionaries to Siberia. You know it’s bad when those baptized shriek from the shock of the frigid water as they go under! But they came up alright, and after they stopped shivering, went on to laugh about their baptism waters of icy death.
Like many believers in our context, their faith for a season was demonstrated in front of their neighbors as an open secret. They showed that they were now followers of Jesus without yet stating it explicitly. To some extant, until something is verbalized in Central Asia, it is not yet acknowledged as fully real and threatening. Believers tend to witness in this way to their families for a while, talking about Jesus, reading their Bibles openly, and attending meetings with other believers. But when the direct questions come, “Have you left Islam and become a Christian?!” – that’s when the honor-shame persecution mechanisms kick in. Once it is spoken of in the bazaar, it has become reality, whether it is true or not.
One night, their neighbor took his gun and decided it was time for the truth to come out. He and his wife aggressively confronted Frank and Patty outside their house. They demanded to know if they had truly become apostates. Patty calmly and openly confessed that yes, they had indeed become true Christians and believers in Jesus. The neighbor and his wife proceeded to get even more aggressive, shouting and threatening and beginning to lay their hands on Frank and Patty.
The neighbor waved his gun in one hand and gripped Frank’s throat in the other, yelling into his face. Frank and his daughter kept their eyes on Patty, knowing that there was great danger in her fiery nature exploding on these neighbors. It had always been her personality to fight back even in response to small provocations, which here could lead to a dangerous escalation… and possibly to their deaths. So they desperately prayed. In their retelling of the situation, here’s what they said:
“We knew that she would start yelling and fighting back, but to our amazement, she was totally calm in the face of being attacked. We thought, ‘Patty has died and who is this new woman who takes this abuse so calmly?'” Frank said as his daughter laughed.
“It’s true!” his daughter chimed in. “Mom had never acted like that before!”
Patti was smiling, but you could see in her eyes that she was also deeply impacted by her experience that night.
“I have never experienced such a peace as Jesus gave me that night. It was totally different from anything I had known. I normally would have fought back! My family knows this. But instead I was so calm…” Patty said.
“It was a miracle,” their daughter said, smiling at her mom.
Frank, never one to miss the opportunity to joke around, said, “And we had just studied about persecution from Matthew 10 in the church meeting a few days before!” Rolling his eyes back and grabbing his neck with his hand, shaking his head to model what his neighbor had done, he couldn’t help but laugh.
“I just keep thinking as his hand was on my neck like this, ‘Now what was that second point of the sermon? It would sure come in handy right about now! I know it was about something important in the face of persecution…'”
In spite of the seriousness of the situation, all of us couldn’t help but laugh together. What had happened was a miracle, or rather, the evidence of a miracle. The new birth had radically changed this family. Patti was calm in the face of an attack. Frank was making jokes about the death threats. Yes, they had had to flee afterward and had lost their housing – and also Frank’s job, tied as it was to the property their housing was on. Yet there they were, full of joy and laughing to the point of tears.
Sure, we often have to laugh about things like this in Central Asia as a way to cope with life in a region so full of tragedy. Haha, remember that time when you almost got blown up? But there was something else going on that evening. It was as if God’s face was shining on our friends. They had lost so much (again), yet they were full of joy, belly-laughing in the genuine blessedness that can sometimes be experienced by the persecuted.
The promises of Matthew were coming true.
“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” (Matthew 5:10–12 ESV)
When they deliver you over, do not be anxious how you are to speak or what you are to say, for what you are to say will be given to you in that hour. For it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you. (Matthew 10:19–20 ESV)
*The names in this story have been changed for security