In January of 1986, the believers in a small church in the south were arrested and kept in jail for a week. Although we had no details, we knew it was the normal practice to make those arrested “uncomfortable.”
As a result and subsequent pressures put on them, those believers were intimidated and the little church fell apart. The authorities were encouraged by these results.
A year later, the pressure moved closer to home. Early one morning, they 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 the authorities 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 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. We praised the Lord for this.
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 incident.
We knew from previous events that Satan would, after this frontal attack, try to attack from within by getting those who had been taken in 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.
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 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 the authorities found his address book with the names of most of the believers and workers, and he had to explain who all these 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.” 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 so 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.
Picture: where the cell church was formed