MISSIONS, OPPOSITION, AND PERSECUTION, DURING THE GLOBAL COVID-19 PANDEMIC

Marvin Newell (( Marvin Newell (D. Miss. Trinity Evangelical Divinity School) served as a missionary in Southeast Asia for 21 years before becoming a professor of missions. He is now Executive Director of the Alliance for the Unreached (www.alliancefortheunreached.org).))

“I know enough about Satan to realize that he will have
all his weapons ready for determined opposition.
He would be a missionary simpleton who
expected plain sailing in any work of God.”

-James O. Frase

Globally, persecution against Christians has increased during the present coronavirus pandemic. After COVID-19 first emerged with a few cases in China, it spread globally through government mismanagement, mass travel, poverty, inadequate health support systems, and a myriad of unpredictable factors to become the pandemic of the century. As of this writing there has been over 57 million cases worldwide, with 1.3 million deaths. ((https://www.worldometers.info/coronavirus/)) Besides the grief of losing loved ones, many have lost jobs, income and financial stability. As this article goes to print, my oldest son, who for the past six years has been lead pastor of an international church in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, has regretfully packed up his family and is flying away permanently from his place of service as a direct consequence of the virus. All hope has been dashed to be able to remain in the country. This has become the fate of many international workers, whether in ministry or secular employ.
In many places in the world Christians have become the scapegoat for the virus. Open Doors, a charity that reveals the plight of persecuted Christians around the world, has reported that the pandemic has created more opportunities for persecutors to attack believers. Fear, self-preservation and bigotry have caused non-believers to react irrationally and sometimes violently in civil unrest against their Christian neighbor. This, by extension, has brought negative consequences to how we engage in missions.
Less the reader think this is an over statement and exaggeration of the current state of affairs, consider the following. The Union of Catholic Asian News recently reported that for authoritarian governments, which already limit religious freedom, the pandemic has become a pretext to step up persecution against Christians. They cite Release International, which has reported that in many developing countries Christians are denied basic food and pandemic-related health care assistance and support systems. ((https://www.ucanews.com/news/christian-persecution-increased-globally-after-covid-19/89174#))
In China churches are being demolished and Christians arrested for holding online prayer meetings. Online church services are “totally prohibited,” and the participants and their leaders are rounded up for preaching and distributing facemasks at public places. ((Ibid.))
The plight of Christians in other parts of the world is similar. In Eritrea, Christians who are fleeing persecution are barred from accessing shelter camps and other UN support systems. ((Ibid.)) As for Egyptian Christians, Voice of the Martyrs has reported on Mission Network News that believers face systemic persecution for their faith, and it’s only worse now during the COVID-19 pandemic, since Christians often do not have access to the same medical care and sanitation as other citizens. ((https://www.mnnonline.org/news/oppression-of-egyptian-christians-worsens-during-covid-19/))

COUNTING THE COST
In the current pandemic environment, those who engage in missions must consider opposition and hostility as a foregone conclusion. After all, one of the main reasons unreached people are still unreached is because they are located in some of the most hostile areas of the world to Christianity. Message-bearers must count the cost to their wellbeing as they contemplate their part in taking the gospel to those with no or little access to the good news of Jesus.
History has proven that it can be costly to serve as one of Jesus’ messengers. ((Much of the following was written by the author and originally appeared in Sorrow and Blood: Christian Missions in Contexts of Suffering, Persecution, and Martyrdom. Pasadena: William Carey Library, 2012.)) For some it can be very costly. The Gospel of Jesus is so counter-cultural that it stands as a threat to the prevailing worldview of every culture it encounters. In return, gatekeepers of those cultures threaten back as it makes inroads into their area of influence. They instigate backlashes and resistance that are manifested in acts of opposition, persecution and at times even in the taking of lives.
British missiologist Andrew Walls reminds us that Jesus took for granted that there would be rubs and friction accompanying our witness – not from the adoption of a different culture that the Gospel can bring, but from the transformation of the mind of those who believe in Christ. Accordingly, the follower of Jesus inherits “the pilgrim principle, which whispers to him that he has no abiding city and warns him that to be faithful to Christ will put him out of step with his society; for that society never existed, in East or West, ancient time or modern, which could absorb the word of Christ painlessly into its system.” ((Andrew Walls. The Missionary Movement in Christian History. Maryknoll, New York: Orbis Books, 2005. Page 8.)) If that be the case in general, how much more for messenger-bearers who are willing to minister cross-culturally.
With this perspective in mind, when it came to sending his disciples out into this fallen and hostile world, Jesus made three things perfectly clear: 1) he would not send them out with carelessness, 2) he would not send them out comfortless and, 3) he would not send them out clueless about the types and depths of opposition they would encounter.
Opposition and persecution was something which Jesus had much to say, because he knew his messengers would experience it while on mission for him. He knew that in every age his ambassadors would encounter opposition as they engaged the world. His mission would be conducted in the context of confrontation. Engaging the hearts of mankind would demand engaging an even greater power in the sphere of spiritual warfare. And there are always casualties in warfare. It is always costly for those who participate in it.

JESUS ON PERSECUTION IN MATTHEW 10
The discourse of Jesus found in Matthew 10 is a benchmark for understanding opposition, persecution and martyrdom in the context of world evangelization. By it Jesus candidly covers the topic rather exhaustively. Why did he so painstakingly focus on this topic? Because he wanted to make sure that the disciples who first heard it, and all his messengers who would follow after them, would know what they would face as they went forth. Consequently, this pointed instruction serves as a template on opposition for gospel-bearing messengers of all ages and from all countries.
In Matthew 10 we see Jesus for the first time sending his disciples out on a mission – albeit a short-term assignment. This would serve as a “trial run” or “warm up” mission to the greater worldwide mission they would initiate after his ascension into heaven. Notice all that he says about the resistance they would encounter.

REALITIES OF PERSECUTION
Degrees of Persecution

First, Jesus informs his followers that not all persecution is equally intense nor carries equal consequences. Believers experience various degrees of resistance, with martyrdom as the ultimate possibility. As he was sending them out, he explicitly cautioned that they could face up to six degrees of opposition.
Jesus used six phrases to describe the increasingly intense hostilities that opposition can take. He begins with the least severe form of hostility then progresses in ascending order to the ultimate experience. Christ shows that his messengers could expect to be: prevented outright from proclaiming the gospel, (“does not receive you,” v.14); rejected if given opportunity (“nor heed your words,” v.14); detained (“deliver you up,” (vv. 17,19); physically abused (“scourge you,” v.17); pursued with intent to harm (“persecute you,” v.23); and finally martyred (“kill the body,” v.28). When viewed graphically, the incremental progression becomes clear:

Notice that losing one’s life as a result of human hostility in a situation of witness is the ultimate hostile experience. Less one be tempted to shy away from service because of the possibility of experiencing this ultimate trial – martyrdom – a word on this most severe form of opposition is needful.
You may recall the story of John Allen Chau, American missionary of the mission agency All Nations, who at age twenty-seven, died at the hands of the Sentinelese peoples of the Andaman archipelago (India) in November 2018. The Sentinelese tribe that John had a passion to reach remains one of the most isolated, unengaged and unreached people groups in the world. When he set foot on their beach, they brutally killed him with spear and arrow. John had prepared himself for years to reach them, and even admitted that he felt contacting them might bring about his death. But he went anyway.
Martyrdom is not something a person usually anticipates or to which one readily aspires. It is an experience that God in his providence bestows on select individuals for purposes ultimately known only to him. Yet, the premature death of a follower of Christ as a result of human hostility has an enduring impact on observant believers. It causes most to pause and ponder anew the extreme cost of discipleship. It forces many to question whether they themselves measure up to the highest standard of devotion to Christ and his Cause. It motivates still others to abandon selfish plans and ambitions and turn to serve Christ in hard and difficult places. It creates a baseline for the Church from which to measure its worth – whether its activities are meaningful and truly important in light of death and eternity. We need to be cognizant of the fact that martyrdom has multiple values.


Lessons from Missionary Martyrdom
A few years ago, I did a study of missionary martyrs, all whom were graduates of a premier missions training school in America, the Moody Bible Institute. At the time I was a member of the faculty and interested in discovering whom of the school’s 8000 alumni who have served in missions, died as martyrs. In my research I discovered there were twenty-one of them, and I discovered a few facts about them that are helpful in understanding martyrdom. ((This research is contained in the book: Marvin J. Newell. A Martyr’s Grace: 21 Moody Bible Institute Alumni Who Gave Their Lives for Christ. Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2006.))
These martyrs were killed in a vast array of historical settings. From the little known “Hut Tax War” in Sierra Leone (1898), to the Boxer Rebellion in China (1900), through the bloody years of unsettled China and congruently the pioneering efforts in the Amazon basin in the 1930’s, right through World War II, to the Vietnam War and Simba Rebellion of the 1960’s, to present day unrest in the Middle East. They served as bush pilots, Bible translators, medical doctors, nurses, teachers, professors, social workers, pioneer church planters and field administrators. They were ordinary people performing ordinary mission tasks, who became caught up in extra-ordinary situations.
Reflecting on their lives of service, I discovered several compelling lessons that are important to us today. Notice the following.

  1. There seems to be no specific personal qualification for one to enter the ranks of martyrdom. While these men and women were students in training at Moody, none of them planned or expected to die as a martyr. Martyrdom is not something a person anticipates or to which one readily aspires. It is a trial that God in His providence bestows on select individuals for purposes ultimately known only to Him. He is not capricious in a matter as heart wrenching as this. God’s selection of those who so die may appear arbitrary at times. However we can say with confidence that His plans are sure and purposeful in each one of these deaths. The truth of Romans 8:28-30 gives perspective in this regard.
  2. Great gains are realized in martyrdom. Paul states that for the believer “to die is gain” (Philippians 1:21). Gains at death are especially true for the Christian martyr. Over and over stories recount gains that are achieved when the life of a servant of God is taken on account of service for Him. Gains achieved in martyrdom are best understood from three perspectives.
    Gains in relation to the martyr: Ultimately the martyr whose life has been sacrificed has reached a glorious new existence! The martyr is now in the untainted glorious presence of his Master, where “fullness of joy” and “eternal pleasures” abound (Psalm 16:11). That person now has become and enjoys all that God had intended for mankind from the very beginning. Unimagined benefits are experienced. But beyond that, martyrs rightfully receive a special recognition that will be noticed by all throughout eternity! A “crown of life” is a special emblem of honor, rewarding them for faithfulness until death (Revelation 2:10).
    Gains in relation to the work: Many times ministries initially experience a setback and even devastating loss immediately following the death of a martyr. Besides life being taken, property often is destroyed, followers scattered and the work left in disarray. However, once the impact of the death is felt around the broader Christian community, it is not long before greater gains are realized. In most instances more funds are given, more initiatives started and more volunteers come forward as the impact of the martyr’s death makes its mark. Following the Boxer Rebellion in 1900 (when two Moody graduates died), the number of Protestants in China more than doubled over the following six years. Powerful soul-cleansing revivals surged across North China, and wave after wave of new missionaries along with millions of dollars for evangelization and education were sent from the West. ((James & Marti Hefley. By Their Blood: Christian Martyrs of the Twentieth Century. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1979. Pages 44-46. )) Over and over this same kind of response has been repeated where martyrs’ blood has been spilt.
    Gains in relation to God: God always gains when His followers lay down their lives for Him! Satan attempts to make God look bad, weak and defeated by those deaths. But God has His way of showing otherwise. God gains by showing the world the cost of the cross – demonstrating anew through His martyrs the suffering of Christ himself. He gains when Christians so moved by the martyr’s example rededicate themselves to Him and to His Cause. He gains when ministries expand, bringing forth crops of new believers. But more preciously, He gains when His beloved martyr is welcomed into His presence to enjoy Him forever. “Precious in the sight of God is the death of his saint” (Psalm 116:15) is especially true when God welcomes home one whose life was taken because of His Cause.
  3. Much pain is experienced in martyrdom. We tend to romanticize the experience of martyrdom, believing that there is nothing but triumphant victory derived from the experience. The reality of the matter is that there is a flip side to be soberly considered as well: pain and hurt.
    Pain in relation to the martyr. To loose one’s life prematurely by human hostile action is in every instance a physically painful experience. Moody martyrs were beheaded, stabbed, choked, shot, speared, and stoned. There are times when martyr deaths are so glamorized that the gruesomeness is too often minimized. We need to be reminded that these people suffered pain as they spilled their blood. Some, as they went through a prolonged death experience, were traumatized through the course of it. Betty Stam, waiting her turn as she witnessed the beheading of her husband, appears to be a prime example. Others were taken quite suddenly, with but an instant of suffering. All experienced painful deaths.
    Pain in relation to loved ones left behind. Wives, husbands, children and extended family members forever feel the pain of loosing their martyred loved one. Some do recover from the ordeal and use it as a means of grace and growth. Others do not and for a lifetime bear the hurt, scars, heartache and consequences of having their beloved taken. It was discovered in interviews with surviving spouses of recent Moody martyrs that their children have not fared well since the death of their parent. Disillusionment, deep spiritual struggles, broken marriages and heartache plague many surviving family members, especially children.
  4. A special “grace” seems to be extended to martyrs. For those martyrs who have time to contemplate what is happening and see their death coming, God seems to grant a special “grace” to endure the impending ordeal. In many cases God grants a surreal, tranquil spirit, a serenity of heart and mind that transcends understanding. That spirit of peace leads to a genuine surrender that is derived from an overarching perspective on eternal life. An unshakable faith in something better in store for them helped many martyrs to calmly bear their ordeal.
    The great evangelist D.L. Moody was once asked if he had grace to die as a martyr. “No,” he replied, “I have not. But if God wanted me to be one, He would give me a martyr’s grace.” ((Howard F. Taylor. These Forty Years: A Short History of the China Inland Mission. Philadelphia: Pepper Publishing Company, 1903. Page 395.)) Several of the Moody martyrs exhibited that kind of grace. In the instance of the John and Betty Stam (in China), although there is no written record, by their example of humble surrender as they knelt to take the executioner’s sword exhibiting a martyr’s grace. Another martyr, Mary Baker in the Congo, while held captive by the Simba rebels awaiting her death could say, “…with me it was settled long ago, ‘by life or by death’ and there it rests!” As Esther Nordlund in central China stood next to the bodies of her two slain colleagues, she could calmly say to her executors, “Yes, you may kill me too.”
  5. In martyrdom “justice” is never served. Reflecting on the twenty-one Moody martyrs, in every instance not one perpetrator of the crime was ever brought to “justice.” Actually none were ever apprehended and therefore were neither jailed, tried, convicted, nor punished for their deed. Perhaps this is what qualifies their deaths as martyrdom – that the sacrifice is accepted as a non-punishable crime. After all, these individuals were proclaiming Jesus, the ultimate Forgiver, who at the event of his martyrdom could plead, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.” The highest priority of missions is to engage the lost by proclaiming a forgiving Jesus, not to seek justice. I believe every one of these martyrs would have been appalled to see justice sought for their deaths in this life, and that is probably why none of their mission agencies pursued such a course of action.
    Ultimately, in His time and in His way, it will be God who avenges the blood of His martyrs: “When he opened the fifth seal, I saw under the alter the souls of those who had been slain because of the word of God, and the testimony they had maintained. They called out in a loud voice, ‘How long, Sovereign Lord, holy and true, until you judge the inhabitants of the earth and avenge our blood?’ Then they were given a white robe, and they were told to wait a little longer, until the number of their fellow servants and brothers who were to be killed as they had been was completed.” (Rev. 6:9-12)
  6. Seeking after martyrdom is an unchristian thing to do. Martyr’s motives need examination. In a day of mind-twisted “suicide bombers” who glorify and justify the destruction of innocent lives as an act of martyrdom, it is right to question motives. It can be categorically demonstrated from Scripture that for one to seek after martyrdom is a very unchristian thing to do. The intentional destruction of one’s own life, by putting one’s self in harms way with the intent of being killed, cloaked in excuse that it is for the cause of Christ, is selfish, self-serving, and sinful. Those who would attempt this course of action are out for self-glory to make a name for themselves. It is their hope that others would applaud them for their action and thus bring a degree of admiration to themselves posthumously that they could not have achieved otherwise in life.
    Every instance of martyrdom in Scripture and the history of Moody is just the opposite. Rather than self-seeking, men and women were self-abasing as they served in the work of God when their lives were taken. They stood boldly, but not recklessly, for Christ when called to do so. Rather than realizing a name for themselves, they realized the glorification of God through their sacrifice. Rather than intentionally putting themselves in harms way, they were caught, dragged and forced to the place of harm. Rather than elevated as heroes and heroines, most martyrs of Moody were relegated to the annals of obscurity. That is why so many were forgotten.
  7. The martyr cannot be dishonored. Martyrs for the cause of Christ are appropriately given their due share of respect. Instead of being discredited, they are immortalized. One reason this study was conducted was to resurrect the memory and bring honor to those whose lives and deaths brought glory to Christ through their ultimate sacrifice. But that goal was not to be an end in and of itself. Rather the higher goal was to use these stories to encourage Christian workers in dangerous areas and hard places to continue to persevere in their callings, even though they are serving in life-threatening situations. To honor martyrs for providing this incentive is the right thing to do.
    Over 180 years ago, Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote about “compensation” in this regard. He stated that the history of persecution is a history of endeavors to cheat the natural order of things. Throughout the history of the Church, those who took a martyr’s life always thought they were discrediting both the person and the cause for which he was killed. However, to the contrary, the opposite became true. Emerson insightfully stated: “The martyr cannot be dishonored. Every lash inflicted is a tongue of fame; every prison a more illustrious abode; every burned book or house enlightens the world; every suppressed or expunged word reverberates through the earth from side to side. The mind of men are at last aroused, reason looks out and justifies her own and malice finds all her work in vain. It is the whipper who is whipped and the tyrant who is undone.” ((Emerson, Ralph Waldo. “Essays: Compensation.” www.bartleby.com/5/105.html.))
    Ever since the crucifixion of Christ, it has been common for the Christian martyr to be jeered, ridiculed, mocked, scorned, lambasted, and shamed as his life is being taken. This strategy is employed by the killers to make the martyr feel useless, worthless, wrong and his death seem senseless and useless. However we know, in fact, that in the cause of Christ these martyrs can never be dishonored.
  8. Martyrdom as a strategy of evangelism. Karen White has stated, in the EMS series article, “Overcoming Resistance Through Martyrdom,” that it is a revolutionary thought that martyrdom might be an intentional strategy of God to bring the world to Himself. ((White, Karen L. “Overcoming Resistance through Martyrdom.” Reaching the Resistant: Barriers and Bridges for Missions. J. Dudley Woodbury. Evangelical Missiological Society Series #6. Pasadena: William Carey Library, 1998. Page 159.)) A couple of decades ago a major mission strategy was to take the Gospel to the least resistant peoples of “ripe” fields. In recent years the strategy has been flipped-flopped. The focus is now on reaching the least reached peoples found mostly in resistant places. White suggests that we can expect more missionary martyrs as staunchly held Muslim, Hindu and Buddhist areas are penetrated.
    White reminds us that martyrdom has two sides to it. One is what humans do to God’s servants. The other is what God intends to accomplish through it. ((Ibid.))
    No martyrdom is an accident. God is never caught off guard by the death of any of His servants. He has purposes and plans by the calling of some to die while in His service. It is for the advancement of world evangelization, not the curtailing of it.
  9. Martyrdom as example to local believers. When compared to the number of missionaries that have gone overseas from Moody through the years, the number that has experienced martyrdom is minuscule. Less than one hundredth of one percent so died. By coldly reviewing raw statistics (much more needs to be considered), it could be argued that the cost has not been really that great. At least so it seems.
    However, the impact of those deaths on local believers in the locales where those deaths took place is immeasurable. In many instances not only has the work expanded and adherents increased, but the resolve of local followers to remain loyal to Christ is brazened. Resolve on their part to bear up under persecution is enhanced. By example of the missionary martyr, local believers have a model to follow and a death to emulate as they in turn stand against the oppression that comes with their commitment to Christ. For many, they will die as martyrs too, and their deaths will be more numerous than the missionaries who brought the gospel to them. Frequent communiqués from watch groups like Voice of the Martyrs constantly remind us of this sober reality.

SOURCES OF PERSECUTION
Returning to the text of Matthew 10 we note that Jesus did not want his messengers to be either surprised or naïve about the sources from which opposition would come. He delineates four specific sources that messengers need to beware of and consider with guarded prudence. He cautioned that opposition would spring from the community (“Be on your guard against men; they will hand you over…,” v.17); the state (“you will be brought before governors and kings,” v.18); religious leaders ( “hand you over to local councils and flog you in their synagogues,” v.17) and even from those most dear to them – members of their own family (“Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child…,” v.21). In his foreknowledge of the global context of world evangelism, Jesus informs us that in reality there is no safe haven or refuge within a society and no level of authority within a community that should not be considered a potential oppressor.

ATTITUDE BEHIND PERSECUTION
What is the underlying attitude that drives nonbelievers to oppose and oppress God’s messengers? Jesus sums it up in one word – hatred (“All men will hate you because of me…” v. 22). The form of the verb “hate” used shows this hatred to be ongoing, and can better read, “you will continually be hated because of me.” Unqualified hatred has been the harden heart’s emotional response to Jesus through the ages. Why is this? Because his message is a threat to preferred lifestyles and orientations. Mankind hates the light (John 3:20), and the source of light (John 15:20). Thus, their on-going distain for bearers of the light.
Later, in a more sober setting, Jesus painted a fuller picture of this Satan-generated hatred. Fast forward to the evening before his crucifixion. Jesus declared that the world’s hatred of his emissaries was intricately tied to its hatred of him. In John 15 Jesus declared:

If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you. Remember the words I spoke to you: “No servant is greater than his master.” If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also… They will treat you this way because of my name, for they do not know the One who sent me… He who hates me hates my Father as well. If I had not done among them what no one else did, they would not be guilty of sin. But now they have seen these miracles, and yet they have hated both me and my Father. But this is to fulfill what is written in their Law: “They hated me without reason.” (vv. 19-25)

RESPONSE OF THE MESSENGER TO PERSECUTION
With these three realities clarified, how should Christ’s messengers conduct themselves as they go forth heralding his message? Again in Matthew 10, Jesus mentions three appropriate responses.

Prudence
A messenger must exercise prudence in the context of opposition. Jesus warns his disciples to “be on your guard” (v. 17). He likely means that they should not naïvely entrust their wellbeing to anyone. Friends can quickly become foes, authorities become antagonists, and peaceful neighbors turn violent. Another prudent response is to “flee to another place” (v.23). There are times when getting out of harms way is the most appropriate course of action.

Courage
Fear is a natural response to persecution, and Jesus was well aware of that. Three times in this passage he tells his disciples not to be afraid. He reminds them to look at the bigger picture. First, he reminds them that ultimately truth will prevail: “there is nothing concealed that will not be disclosed, or hidden that will not be made known” (v. 26). In the end, God will correct that which has brought harm and injustice to his messengers.
Secondly, he reminds them that no judgment which others may inflict upon a messenger can compare with the ultimate fate of those who do the inflicting: “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell” (v. 28). While it may be true that persecutors can kill a person’s physical body, only God can condemn a man to the eternal death of his soul. That’s even worse.
Thirdly, God’s messengers should not be afraid, because of God’s loving and watchful care of them: “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from the will of your Father. And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.” (vv. 29-31).
As already mentioned, God does not send messengers out carelessly. By these tender words he proves it! He is not capricious in his watch and care over his loved ones, no matter where they are sent. A person’s worth, especially a redeemed person’s worth, is more valuable to him than the sum total of all other creatures. God is genuinely concerned when messengers pay a high price for serving him.

Discretion
Jesus colorfully draws from the animal world to bring to bear the necessity of his messengers to conduct themselves with discretion. He put it this way: “I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves” (v. 16).
If members of the animal kingdom can show discretion in survival, how much more should God’s servants? The servant of Christ should conduct himself in a manner worthy of Christ even in the midst of persecution. He should be like a sheep, a snake and a dove all at the same time. It is instructive to take a look at these three comparisons.
Sheep, when attacked, do not have the ability to retaliate – they are hopelessly harmless. In the same way Christ’s messengers should exercise a demeanor of harmlessness even when under attack.
Then there is the snake, which has a reputation for its shrewdness and keenness. These two characteristics are recommended as human qualities, involving insight into the nature of things and circumspection, common sense and wisdom to do the right thing at the right time in the right manner.
Finally, Jesus mentions the dove, which symbolizes peace and innocence. This creature reminds us that neither wrongdoing nor questionable practices should mar the reputation of God’s servant who is under fire. He is called upon to be discrete in his response, no matter how trying the situation, living uprightly in the midst of contemptuous circumstances.

COMFORT IN PERSECUTION
Jesus has detailed the cost of serving as one of his messengers. He has made it clear that he would not send anyone out carelessly nor clueless about the dangers they would encounter. These truths are evident up to this point. Finally, he explains that neither would he send them out comfortless. Comforting clauses are found throughout his discourse. Jesus knew these words of reassurance were important in giving peace of heart and fortitude in mind to those who would face opposition.
There is comfort in knowing that it is Jesus who puts us on mission with him: “I am sending you out…”(v.16). The double pronoun and choice of word “send” can better read, “I myself am commissioning you.” Granted, some may say that by their own free will they have chosen to serve, or volunteered themselves to Christ’s cause, and maybe to an extent that is true. But there is great comfort in knowing that it is ultimately Jesus who sends messengers to do his bidding, especially into hostile environments.
There is comfort in knowing that if put in the position of having to defend one’s ministry, that one should “not worry about what to say or how to say it. At that time you will be given what to say, for it will not be you speaking, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you” (v.19). God will provide the words for a proper defense.
Finally, there is great comfort in knowing that in due course, “He who stands firm to the end will be saved” (v. 22). One way a person proves his redemptive relationship with God is evidenced by his unwavering loyalty to God to the very end. People don’t allow themselves to be abused or lay down their lives for Jesus unless they really and truly believe in him. They prove their genuine belief in him by their willingness to suffer for him.

CONCLUSION
It is costly to serve as a cross-cultural messenger of Jesus, and Jesus made this very clear in Matthew chapter 10. Some messengers pay a higher price than others. Some experience minimal opposition, whereas others are severely persecuted. Some serve with little discomfort, whereas others pay with their very lives. All are expected to be aware of the fullness that is theirs in following Jesus, no matter what the cost.
Messengers of Jesus are both vulnerable and valuable. David Sills, in his book, The Missionary Call, helps keep Jesus’ teaching on persecution and martyrdom in global perspective. He states, “The dangers that exist are real, but only illustrate the fact that men and women need Christ. The suffering and dying of missionaries advance the Kingdom as nothing else could and the blood of the saints has ever been the seed and fuel of gospel advance.” ((David Sills. The Missionary Call. Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2009. ))
This is true, It has always been this way. Those who are on mission with Jesus must keep advancing, even in the face of hostility, whether there is a global pandemic or not.



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