BY PETER OWEN
I’ll Tell You
“What have I seen in all of this persecution that has touched and broken my heart? I’ll tell you...” Reverend Sam and I were well into our meeting at this point. We had discussed much regarding the status of Nigeria and the realities Christians continue to face. He had a profound way of communicating. He would often close his eyes and take long pauses, each word required careful thought and construction. At first his way of speaking caught me off guard; however, by now it was more familiar and rather expected. The good reverend’s hands also had a way of mirroring his words. It was like watching a dance between words and fingers; he would start with his fingers interlocked and hands resting on the table when searching for the finest word and then, almost all at once, as the words broke out, his hands would swing with the rhythm. Needless to say, he is a great communicator. In between the play of words and swinging hands, the good reverend continued to pour his heart out for his native country. We discussed the need for churches, the mounting strength of Boko Haram, the threats made on his life and the heartbreaking stories of Christian persecution. One story stood out, the story of Sarah, a humble lamb in a land of wolves. As I listened to the minister share the account of this surrendering sheep it was clear, this is what it means to “count all as lost” and follow Jesus.
Reverend Sam’s Account of Sarah
“The year was 2000 and in the midst of the Sharia crisis. Just before 3 p.m., I received a telephone call from one member of my church. She told me she needed me to come…and bury her sister who had been killed in the crisis….Well; we had just about an hour or so to go, because there was a curfew. I gathered some military police with me and we went. When I arrived to the house I asked her sister where Sarah’s body was.
They said, ‘It is inside.’
They said, ‘It is inside.’
I tried to look but I could not see her body. I tried to open the door (which had been melted shut by the fire hours before) but could not. I asked the military police to come around and help me open it. I went in and looked around. I asked the young man ‘Where is her body?’
He said, ‘This heap of ashes you are seeing is the body of our sister.’
When I looked at the pile of ashes…I…backed away. I went outside, and almost burst into tears…but then here I am with the sister and brother that I am trying to comfort. So I swallowed back my tears. I went back in and with a white cloth, and these hands, I swept up the ashes of Sarah. I cupped her remains into my hands and placed the ash into the white cloth. The only piece that was left of her was a small piece of her skull that the fire had consumed and left a small part. I took it and laid it in the cloth. The soldiers and the police helped me and we gathered all of Sarah’s ashes into the cloth. We wrapped the cloth shut and went out. I asked the soldier to help me and we dug a little hole, and placed Sarah’s remains in there.
We sung a few songs. I turned to her brother and asked ‘who will give a biography?’ Nobody could. The tears…the eyes were heavy…we were choking; I had to give the biography. We finished and covered her up. We had to run, because the crowd was on the rampage again, and was descending upon us…”
Anyone Who Loves Their Life Will Lose It
Did he not tell his disciples, and to all who follow him, “Anyone who loves their life will lose it, while anyone who hates their life in this world will keep it for eternal life.” (John 10:25 NIV) And in another way he tells us, “I am sending you out like sheep among wolves.” (Matt. 10:16a NIV) What a sign of care that he would again stress this point “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me” (Mark 8:34 NIV). Stories like Sarah and so many others teach us what it looks like to follow Jesus. They are humble lambs following their shepherd in sweet surrender. When we read stories of Christian persecution may we remember our fellow sheep in Nigeria and the good shepherd who cares for all his sheep. Reverend Sam put it best, “It is one thing that makes me to realize we are all pilgrims. There is nothing much in this life. We look at our bodies that we struggle so hard to try to preserve. What is it all about? What matters is the soul…Sarah left her body and it was burned…in all that we face in this life, let us remember, Jesus said ‘I am the resurrection and I am the life.’”