By Jill Ireland, SF South Asia
One of the parts of my job that I love as I seek to support our Sports Friends leaders in South Asia is the time we spend reading the Bible together over Skype. We have just started a new series reading 1 Thessalonians. Last week we were coming towards the end of our study together and we were considering the effects of the Thessalonians’ faith on others. Our Bible notes asked, with reference to 1 Thess. 1:7-10, to share about someone whose faith has had a significant impact on us.
My colleague, Rachael (name changed), started to share about her sister. Rachael was 13 and her sister was 15 when they were both baptized to declare their allegiance to Jesus. As their father and extended family were all devout Hindus, they did not tell their parents and family about their new faith in Jesus and that they had been baptized. However, their father found out!
He immediately locked the girls in their bedroom, refusing them food and to be let out of the room until they denied their faith in Jesus. Every night their father would come to the bedroom, open the door and with all the family present he would ask:
Will you deny Jesus?
The girls answered, “No” and with that, the food that had been prepared for them was taken away and the door was locked shut. The following night the same scene was repeated, their father unlocked the door, asked if they will deny Jesus and renounce their faith, with all the family looking on. Again, the girls replied, “No!“. The door was slammed shut and the food taken away. The third night proceeded in the same vain, this time with their father detailing the shame they were bringing upon the family by turning to follow Jesus and being baptized – throwing the food on the floor before them in his anger.
By day four, Rachael explained how as a young teenager wanting to please her father and now beginning to feel quite hungry, and anxious about the distress she was bringing upon her family, was beginning to wonder if they ought to acquiesce and deny Jesus. Rachael recalls how her elder sister was resolute and encouraged her to remain faithful to Jesus and Jesus would remain faithful to them!
Their fathers displeasure and disapproval also remained resolute. He was a respected leader within their Hindu community and did not want it to become known that his daughters were baptized followers of Jesus! Each night for a week, their father sought the denial of their faith in Jesus; each night the girls stood firm and refused.
On the seventh night their father had a dream. In his dream, someone appeared to him and said, “Why do you persecute me?”
The father did not know what it meant or who the man in his dream was. In the morning he asked his wife what it might mean. Their mother was not a Christian at that time, but had some prior exposure to church and the Bible and recognized it to be a direct reference to Saul’s encounter with Jesus on the road to Damascus in Acts 9 where Jesus asks Saul, “Saul, Saul why do you persecute me?”
The father realized at once he was indeed persecuting his own daughters for their faith in Jesus. He immediately went to their room, unlocked the door and let them eat – allowing them to follow Jesus but requesting that they keep their faith private.
Rachael recalls how significant the steadfast faith of her sister was in that moment of testing and persecution from their own father. What a wonderful gift our Christian friends and family are in encouraging us to stand firm for Christ. We ended our study time together by giving thanks to God for the faith of her sister! Her mother and father are now also faithful followers of Jesus!
This is the situation facing many of the young people we are seeking to reach with the gospel through sport in South Asia.
Recently, our same leaders in South Asia were telling me about a 14-year-old girl in their church who is following Jesus, despite the intense disapproval of her family. She attends the church secretly. She is beaten if found reading her Bible, yet she wakes in the middle of the night to read it under her bed covers as her family sleeps!
Join us in praying for God’s protection over our young brothers and sisters in South Asia. And join us in thanking the Lord for the bold and unwavering faith of those like Rachael’s sister!