I have it easy, even on the days when everything seems to go wrong. You know the days where you get a flat tire and then, on cue, the heavens open with torrential rain — even on those days, I have it easy.
I can pick up my grande skinny vanilla latte on my way to school where I get to work with incredible students who love me (most days…). I have a home, a family and not a day goes by where I fear for my safety because of my Christian faith. I can attend church on Sunday, I can pray before I inhale my burrito bowl at Chipotle, I can talk about Jesus when it strikes my fancy. I live in the Bible belt for goodness sakes, and at worst, people might think I’m a little odd, but persecution? No way. Like I said, I have it easy, and I was reminded of that when Pastor Steven Khoury shared his story a few weeks back at Sunday night service.
Khoury was born in Jerusalem, grew up in Bethlehem (yeah, the same one as baby Jesus) and is now the youngest Arab pastor in Jerusalem. His father has a church in Bethlehem. Living in a community of Jews and Arabs, with only 15,000 Christians in Israel, Khoury knows persecution all too well.
Khoury’s father had a brother — Uncle George. At 6’6″ and 350 lbs., no one messed with Uncle George, not even his relatives. Khoury said his father had been beaten, stabbed and shot, but he had never seen him more scared than the day he knocked on Uncle George’s door to invite him to a three-day prayer conference at the Sea of Galilee. Let’s just say, Jesus wasn’t Uncle George’s thing.
“Is there free food?” George asked.
To Khoury’s surprise, Uncle George attended the conference, and to George’s surprise, God changed his heart. George came to a real understanding of the sacrifice Jesus made for him, a sacrifice that would become all too real.
In Eastern cultures, hospitality is the norm. Khoury said when a guest arrives at your door, it’s your job to meet their needs, and that’s just what Uncle George did.
The frantic man at George’s door knocked, pleaded and desperately tried to find help, and George knew the men waiting beyond were not waiting for a dinner invitation. They were waiting for revenge. With deep conviction, Uncle George provided a haven for the man. He stepped out to face the attackers. He sacrificed his life.
“Uncle George was martyred and beat to death that day,” Khoury said. “Through his death many people came to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ. As I was carrying Uncle George’s coffin, God told me, ‘You need to carry Uncle George’s message.'”
Khoury is doing just that. He is living out his faith in a place that does not welcome it, among people who despise it. He has been beaten with a chain, with scars to prove it. Loved ones have disappeared, never to be heard from again. Discrimination, persecution and death are reality for Israeli Christians, and yet they unashamedly cling to their faith.
Jesus told his followers, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it. What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit their very self?” (Luke 9:23-26)
Christians all over the world live out this verse every day in places and circumstances I can’t even fathom. I am thankful for their lives, their unwavering strength and their incredible stories that serve as a testimony of God’s provision and plan.
“The bigger the trial,” Khoury said. “The bigger the prayer, the bigger the faith, the bigger the miracle, the bigger God’s glory is.”