In January of 1986, the believers in a small church in the south of the country were arrested and kept in jail for a week. Although we had no details, we knew it was the normal practice of the police to torture those arrested. As one of our local friends said, “They have to beat us some to bring us to our senses.”
As a result of the arrests and subsequent pressures put on them, those believers were intimidated and the little church fell apart. The police were encouraged by these results.
A year later, the pressure moved closer to home. Early one morning, the police began to arrest the believers in our city, one-by-one.
It all actually began with the apprehension of a car thief, whom Ivan had witnessed to. In order to get the attention off himself, the car thief told all he knew about the believers in the city.
With their mistaken ideas about Christianity, it sounded to the police like this was an illegal group of political activists, so they began to round them up.
By Sunday they had arrested several believers, including Harry, Ivan, Orin and Mr. Smith, plus some people who had merely shown interest in the gospel. They also visited the home of one worker, hoping to arrest him also, but he was away at the time.
We had to piece the story together from the newspaper articles and from what scant information we could get from distraught relatives. Much of what was in the papers was quite distorted and made those arrested sound like a group of terrorists.
We knew that it was very possible for us workers to be taken next, so I made preparations. Although I was very willing to go, I asked the Lord if I might just finish out the week of teaching, since it was the end of the semester; He graciously granted that desire.
On Thursday evening we got a call from a joyous believer, saying that all but one had been released and all charges had been dropped. The one person left in police custody was not a believer, but was someone who had been witnessed to. However, earlier, he actually had been involved in a terrorist group so was being investigated further. We praised the Lord that the authorities were able to see him as separate from the rest.
In the days that followed, I interviewed each one who had been arrested in order to put the whole story together and to be prepared for the next attack.
We knew from previous events that Satan would, after this frontal attack, try to attack from within by getting those who had been arrested to accuse each other. This was not long in coming; two had denied their faith and were very angry with those who had been so open in what they told the police.
We arranged a gathering for all those involved, giving them the opportunity to talk through their differences . It was a “hot” time, especially for Harry. Ivan, the first to be taken in, had given very little information, even when some “discomfort” was applied; he was a tough character, able to take the pressure the police put on him.
Harry, however, decided to be open right from the beginning, for he felt he had nothing to hide. He was helped along in this by the fact that the police found his address book with the names of most of the believers and workers, and he had to explain who all the people were.
We had asked Harry not to keep such a record of names and addresses, but he hadn’t listened. We, as workers, often did not even know each other’s last names or actual addresses so that when pressed by the authorities, we could say truthfully we didn’t know.
At first the police didn’t believe that Harry was leveling with them and applied a bit of “pressure:” hanging him handcuffed from a pipe, spraying him with cold water and applying an electric cattle prod to sensitive areas to encourage him to be truthful. However, when they saw that he was truly aboveboard in his responses, they abandoned that tactic.
Harry took the police to the homes of four believers, and gave full details about the fellowship and the situation there, including our names and addresses. In the eyes of some, this was betrayal, especially according to those who had denied their faith or had lied.
However, the final outcome was an acquittal of Harry’s approach. The prosecuting attorney wrote a powerful defense of our freedom of religion, including the right to meet, witness, and spread our faith. The authorities who dealt with the four who stood firm saw clearly that they were people who had done nothing wrong. From this standpoint the net result was a victory.
Those who had denied their faith, or lied, however, failed the test. This, in and of itself, was not bad, for only when our faith is tested can we see whether it is real or not. We hoped that those who failed would truly repent, as the Apostle Peter did and press on with the Lord.
We talked together as a fellowship about what the Lord was doing through this, uncomfortable as it was. We had to take our cue from Scripture: “…we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope” (Rom. 5:3-4 – emphasis added). But in the end, for some, that hope did not materialize.
Ivan, who was already under church discipline, expected to be welcomed back in because he didn’t deny Christ or “betray” anyone. However, he failed to see that his lack of obedience and discretion had unnecessarily precipitated the whole event. Everyone else saw this and said so.
Ivan was very surprised at this reaction, and tried to defend himself. When we stood firm, he threatened us. Later on, though, after several encounters, he stated that he saw how bad his actions had been and wanted to change. I wish that had been true.
The person who emerged from this as the spiritual one was Orin. His love of Scripture and his persistence in memorizing and meditating had prepared him for just such an event, and he shone.
He was not at all the hero type, being such a shy man and a complete gentleman. He just quietly – and I may say, joyfully – answered most of the questions put to him by quoting appropriate verses.
For instance, when asked what he thought of Islam, he replied with I Thessalonians 5:16-22: “Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. Do not put out the Spirit’s fire; do not treat prophecies with contempt. Test everything. Hold on to the good. Avoid every kind of evil.”
What could the police do with that? They just diligently wrote down everything he said!
When he returned home, however, his wife really gave it to him for all the trouble and shame he’d brought on his family. He quietly waited three days and then politely told her to stop haranguing him and she did! We hoped that she would carefully read the prosecuting attorney’s report and see how Orin did what was right before God and before the law.
Barbara and a local friend