Pastor Tim: Free to believe

The Rev Tim Smith, pastor at Hele Road Baptist Church in Torquay. Photo: Contributed

The Rev Tim Smith, pastor at Hele Road Baptist Church in Torquay. Photo: Contributed - Credit: Archant

“Bible basher, God botherer, Holy Joe, Jesus freak”.   
I wonder if any of you who are Christians have ever been called by one of these nicknames, often used as an insult, over the years?   
I grew up going to church and have spent most of my adult life working in Christian ministry, and nowadays it wouldn’t concern me at all if someone called me a Jesus freak; in fact, I’d probably treat it as a compliment.  
But when I was a teenager at school, I kept my church attendance and religious convictions pretty quiet, worried about the kind of mickey taking I might receive if my school friends knew what I believed and what I did on an average Sunday.   
It’s good that today in this country we are generally free to openly express our faith in Jesus Christ, but many of you will be aware that believers in a large number of countries around the world do not enjoy this same freedom to practice their religion.   
Last week, the organisation ‘Open Doors’ held an online parliamentary launch for their annual “World Watch List”, which documents and ranks the top 50 countries where Christians face the most severe forms of persecution. Even in some countries that are predominantly Christian, there are many believers who suffer because of their faith.   
For example, last month during our weekly church zoom prayer meeting we heard about 12 year-old Daniela, who lives with her younger brother and her mother in Columbia.  A little over a year ago Daniela’s father, Plinio, a local church minister, was shot dead as he sat watching the television news at home.   
His murderers were part of a criminal group, reacting to Pastor Plinio’s denouncing of corruption and violence and his continued opposition to the illegal activities of local gangs and drug cartels. 
For the past twenty years, North Korea has continually headed the Open Doors World Watch List.  It’s estimated that around 400,000 Christians live there, but because they have to keep their faith so well hidden, it’s difficult to know for sure.   
It’s hard for us to imagine how tough it is to be a believer in North Korea, particularly when you realise that gathering with another Christian or a group of fellow believers to worship, is illegal, and if someone’s faith is discovered by the secret police then, at the very least, you, along with the rest of your family, will be imprisoned in a labour camp as a political criminal.   
Under Kim Jong-un, the system of labour camps has been expanded and it’s estimated that between fifty to seventy thousand Christians are currently held in these inhumane places!   
If you want to read more about the Open Doors World Watch List 2021, and also discover how you can prayerfully & practically support their work with suffering believers around the globe, visit www.opendoorsuk.org.   
Although it’s frightening to think that to be a follow of Jesus in certain countries means that you are never safe, those of us who are Christians need to remember what we’re told in the New Testament.   
At the beginning of Acts chapter 8 we read, “A great wave of persecution swept over the church in Jerusalem; all the believers were scattered through the regions of Judea and Samaria. But all who were scattered preached the good news about Jesus wherever they went.”   
The opposition and persecution of the early church believers didn’t destroy the church; in fact, the opposite happened, and the scattered believers grabbed the chance, in the towns and cities they were scattered to, to tell others, and more and more people believed and became Christians, and the church grew.   
The same thing is happening around the world today.   
And all of this underlines the promise that Jesus himself made to his disciples in Matthew 16:18: - “I will build my church, and the powers of death will never prevail against it.”