I was trying hard not to shed tears as I was listening to Chanthi’s story. I had asked him a very simple question, “So tell me about your time in prison for Jesus.”
Chanthi was from a remote tribe of spirit worshippers in Southeast Asia. He lived in a simple village high up the mountains and spoke a minority language that was different from the trade language of the country. If you know anything about ethnic minorities you know that all groups experience some kind of social prejudice just for being different; darker, poorer, less educated, etc. Chanthi’s life was even more radically different because of his faith in Jesus and he began to recount with detail his persecution story.
“It started back in 2008 when I first heard about Jesus from Brother Song.” He pointed at Song who was sitting right next to him. Also in the room were a bunch of other leaders from various village churches.
“Brother Song had just been released from prison for his faith but he still shared the Jesus story with me. At that time I was doing drugs and always getting into arguments and fights. I believed that God could help me and he did. In my village I was the first to decide to follow Jesus. Many people believed as well because they saw that I was a new person.
There were some villagers who claimed that I upset the ancestor spirits by following Jesus. They wanted to kill me so they went to the police. Soon after I was taken to the police office with 2 other Christians. They interrogated us from 6am until 12pm. They said we were believing in a foreign religion, accused us of many things and wanted us to sign documents denying our faith in Jesus. We did not so they let us go and warned us to never share this Jesus with anyone else.
We continued to share and the church in the village grew very large. One year later they came and arrested 4 of us. They drove us all through the night to the provincial prison. We were brought into a room where the provincial governor was waiting for us. He was very upset. We were in handcuffs on our knees. The governor took his gun and stuck it in my mouth and screamed, ‘Will you stop believing now!?’ I shook my head no. He did that with everyone. He was so frustrated that he struck us across the face with his gun.
We remained in prison for three months. The guards put us in leg stocks. They would come and mock us. One guard took a pen and began to draw a circle around my ear and said, ‘What’s wrong with you? Are you deaf?’ He took his sandal and struck me in the ear with it. Some days the Guards would not let us eat for a whole day and would only give us the bones from their meal.
They also interrogated us in separate rooms. I was afraid for my friends that they would deny their faith. I didn’t know what they were thinking. When we were reunited I was so happy to hear that no one denied Jesus. When they couldn’t get us to deny our faith they finally released us. They literally kicked us in the back as we were leaving the prison but we didn’t care because we were praising God. We continue to praise God for this miracle. Today there are hundreds of believers and many village churches. They don’t persecute us like this anymore because we stood strong.”
Chanthi had a big smile on his face and laughed at his own story, as if near death experiences were an everyday thing. You can tell that Chanti, Song and all the other leaders sitting around that room had no regrets. They didn’t feel hatred or bitter towards their persecutors. They didn’t feel guilty as if they had done something wrong. They were grateful. They were full of love. They viewed suffering as a miracle given by God and saw value in it.
Chanthi and his friends showed me that a suffering church should respond to persecution with perseverance and love. Not guilt or money like we are so prone to do….but perseverance and love.
November 1st is International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church. Here are some practical ways to love one another: