Worst persecution—not knowing Jesus
Dec 21, 2012

NORTHERN AFRICA AND THE MIDDLE EAST (BP)—Nik and Ruth Ripken* have served in some of the toughest areas of Africa. They’ve known believers who have been martyred for Christ. They’ve interviewed hundreds of Christians experiencing persecution in more than 70 countries.

After all that, they’ve learned something about persecution.

“The most persecuted person is a lost person who has no access to Jesus,” Nik says. “Satan wants to keep people from hearing about Jesus. If he can’t do that, he wants to shut you up, to silence your witness.”

HELPING A SHEPHERD BOY Nik and Ruth Ripken (names changed) help a Somali shepherd boy fix a broken shoelace. “We need to pray that the peoples of the earth will have access to Jesus,” says Nik. They urge churches to BE His heart, hands and voice through the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering. IMB photo
Most American Christians fall into the second category. They experience no persecution because they tell no one about Jesus. Yet persecution of Jesus’ true followers has been normal from New Testament times to our day. The No. 1 cause? People coming to know Jesus. The key is how to make persecution count for God’s glory, as the early Christians did.

The Ripkens learned that truth the hard way. They served in South Africa and Kenya after sensing a call from God in the early 1980s. They experienced the drama—and trauma—of ministry amid racial apartheid, religious and tribal tensions and other challenges. But nothing prepared them for their next place of service: Somalia. The overwhelmingly Muslim East African nation was wracked by civil war, chaos and danger in the 1990s, as it is today.


“We fed the hungry. We clothed the naked. We were shot at. We buried a 16-year-old son,” Nik recounts (their son was fatally stricken by an asthma attack in Kenya on an Easter Sunday). And they watched helplessly as nearly 150 Muslim-background followers of Christ in Somalia were martyred. Four of their closest friends died on a single, terrible day in 1994.

The horror continued, and the Ripkens and other workers were forced out in 1998. They have not been able to return.

The Ripkens realized that many of these martyrs died not just for following Christ, but for being openly identified with outside Christian agencies. Thus began their long-term effort to understand the nature of persecution and how God works through it. Trying to stop it in every case or “rescue” every believer experiencing it is a misunderstanding of religious freedom, they contend.

“We need to pray intelligently, not that persecution will increase, but that the peoples of the earth have access to Jesus—all of them,” Nik explains. “When that happens, persecution is going to be a reality. Sometimes God needs to have Joseph in Pharaoh’s prison for a purpose. Historically and biblically, persecution is normal. In many places today it authenticates the faith. So persecution is not something you run toward or run away from. Persecution just is. It’s what you make of it that counts.”

VISITING SOMALI WOMEN Ruth Ripken (name changed) visits with Somali women in the Horn of Africa. The Ripkens spent years doing ministry with teams meeting desperate human needs in the Horn. Later they began a long-term effort to understand the nature of persecution and how God works through it. IMB photo
Now based in Northern Africa and the Middle East, Nik and Ruth specialize in training and research to help the global body of Christ, including IMB workers and Southern Baptist churches, understand effective Gospel witness and church planting in environments where persecution is the norm.


Everywhere they go in the world, they meet Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists and others hungry to know about God. “Every time we send a missionary through the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering, we’re saying, ‘We will not stop until every man, woman, boy and girl on earth has access to Jesus,’” Nik says. “Being His heart, His hands and His voice means we’re representing Jesus among all the nations.”

The nations are often much closer than we think. Immigrants arriving in America these days include people who are hard to reach with the Gospel in their home countries. Here, they can be reached by crossing the street. But you have to cross the street. 

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