The True Heroes of 21st Century Christianity

Thursday, July 17, 2008

The True Heroes of 21st Century Christianity

I draw deep inspiration from brave Christians I’ve met in the developing world. Let me introduce you to a few of these amazing people.

Which do you want to be—a hero or a celebrity?

Our narcissistic culture tempts us to sell our souls for five minutes of fame on a reality show. It’s not much different in some churches today, where we’ve developed a celebrity culture that morphs pastors into motivational gurus and worship leaders into pop stars.

But when I visit places like India, Nigeria or China, I don’t typically find Christian celebrities. I find humble heroes. And these simple people have rocked my world. They have become my role models.

“But when I visit places like India, Nigeria or China, I don’t typically find Christian celebrities. I find humble heroes. And these simple people have rocked my world.”

Kelechi is my bravest African friend. Still single, he started a ministry in Nigeria a few years ago that focuses on evangelizing dangerous militant gangs. Some of these para-military groups have kidnapped oil company workers in Nigeria’s petroleum-rich delta region during the past year. But Kelechi is not afraid of their guns or machetes. In fact, he has allowed himself to be kidnapped in order to get a face-to-face conversation with a gang leader.

Kelechi also trains college students to reach the leaders of Nigeria’s campus “cults.” These mysterious fraternal organizations are involved in occult rituals, and sometimes the members engage in human sacrifice. Yet Kelechi and his friends risk their lives every day to share Christ with these people.

I met 29-year-old Jeet during a trip to northern India in February. His Hindu father disowned him when he became a Christian at age 17. “My father said that if I deny Jesus I can come back,” Jeet said with a resolute tone. He has not returned to his parents’ home in 14 years.

Jeet has a slight frame, but his heart is ablaze with courage. He has been planting churches in two of India’s most resistant states—Bihar and Orissa. Just last Christmas, a group of Hindu fanatics attacked him and ordered him to stop his meetings. They also threatened to kill one of his colleagues. “They told me there is no need to preach the gospel here,” Jeet said, “but I tell them it is a commandment from Jesus to preach to all people.”

I met Otoniel, a Guatemalan pastor, seven years ago during my first mission trip to that country. He lives in an area that was deeply scarred by Guatemala’s 36-year civil war. After he was baptized in the Holy Spirit, he planted a church in 1980 in the town of El Rosario. The growing congregation has become a beacon of hope to a needy region.

Today, from his modest, three-bedroom house, he feeds lunch to most of the poor children in his town, runs an orphanage and a vocational training center, and preaches the gospel on the radio daily. “One day we will go to other nations and spread the gospel,” Otoniel told me.

Jeyasingh is a brave Indian lady who refuses to fit in anyone’s box. In a nation where women still suffer unimaginable discrimination and abuse, she has worked tirelessly as a leader among India’s growing Pentecostal churches. Now 54, Jeyasingh trains young pastors from her isolated school in the state of Bihar, in northern India, where Hindu tradition is strong. She is particularly burdened to train more women; those who convert to Christianity struggle to learn the Bible because they have been denied education.

I saw a fire in Jeyasingh’s eyes that I don’t see often in my own country. It was a mix of holy courage and relentless love. “This whole nation will be set ablaze,” she said of India’s future.

Xuan is a church planter in rural China. I met him at a secret training conference held near Hong Kong seven years ago. He told me how militant Buddhists used medieval swords to attack him when he tried to evangelize an area of northern China a few years earlier. During the conference he saved soaps and shampoos from his hotel room to take on his missionary journeys. He had no money, but his faith was big.

These people are my heroes. They have denied themselves to take up the cross. They endure persecution from government officials, angry villagers and family members—yet they live, eat and breathe one passion: to make Christ known to a broken world.

In his book A Time for Heroes, Dutch evangelist Brother Andrew issued a call to all of us to become heroes rather than celebrities. He wrote: “Brothers and sisters, the time is now. Christ goes before you, accompanied by many heroes of the faith who have gone before. Learn from their example let us heed God’s call to be heroes of the faith, so that we can say with the apostle Paul, ‘I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.’”

J. Lee Grady is editor of Charisma.

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