Now I rejoice in what I am suffering for you…(Colossians 1:24)

It is quite an astonishing thing that Paul says, isn’t it, that he rejoices in suffering for the sake of the gospel (you can read about details of it in 2 Cor 11:16-33). Like Jesus, his Master and Saviour, he endures it for the joy awaiting him of seeing people reconciled with God, who wouldn’t otherwise be had it not been of the gospel, the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes (Romans 1:16). Paul’s joy in the midst of suffering is akin to women’s experience of pain during childbirth. I remember vividly, how despite the exhaustion, Sue still managed to welcome all of our children into the world with overwhelming joy and love.   

I recently came across a true story about two modern day Pauls, Maryam and Marziyeh, Muslim converts from Tehran, one of the top 10 most dangerous countries in the world to be as a Christian. They became friends at a conference in Turkey. Not only did their friendship blossom but so did their commitment to share the gospel with Muslims in Tehran.

For three years they looked for gospel opportunities and distribute accurate translations of the New Testament throughout the city in Farsi as the ones allowed in the public shops are rewritten to support the Koran’s view of Jesus as just a great prophet. This means they have to covertly transport copies of the New Testament into Tehran. With copies in backpacks, they would hand them out at every opportunity they got, on foot, and share the gospel with people at great risk to themselves. Over a period of three years, they managed to safely distribute safely 20,000 copies of the New Testament.

However, one day in March, 2009, they were summoned to the local police station, arrested and thrown into a disgusting detention centre. It turns out they had been closely monitored. By the grace of God, they were undeterred. This is how they recounted their experience, “Most amazing of all, we were in the best place we’d ever been for witnessing to people hungry for the gospel of Jesus. We had spent ourselves and our resources travelling all over the country with the message of salvation, always mindful of the danger if the wrong person overheard us. Now we were stuck in jail, and God was bringing spiritual seekers in waves. The living conditions weren’t very good, but we didn’t have to deal with travel and traffic! And we could tell our fellow prisoners the story of Jesus openly because no one would come into this rat hole to spy on us”.

They were charged with sedition, threatened with torture, even execution before being transferred to Tehran’s notoriously dangerous jail, Evin Prison. They would call it, ‘Our Church’. Spending nine months there, they continued their gospel mission among the prisoners. They would eventually be miraculously released and tell their story in the book, ‘Captive in Iran: A remarkable True Story of Hope and Triumph amid the Horror of Tehran’s brutal Evin Prison’.

If Maryam and Marziyeh were willing to risk it and suffer for the sake of the gospel, surely, it is not too much to cop a bit of rejection, a loss to our reputation, or whatever it is, so that people have the opportunity to hear God’s ancient, life giving and life changing words? 

Christ in us, the hope of glory!