North American Christians have paid special attention to the suffering of Christians in the Global South ever since 1996, when a coalition of Catholic, Protestant, and Jewish activists began raising awareness about the persecution of Christians outside the West. When Christians, especially in the West, have shown concern for the persecution of majority-world believers, they have often approached it through the lens of human rights. In this installment of the Global Conversation, Sri Lankan pastor and evangelist Ajith Fernando helps us focus on suffering as an essential part of Christian discipleship, but especially for those called to be church leaders.
I write this shortly after returning from a week of teaching pastors in the deep south of Sri Lanka. These pastors' experience shows that when people pioneer in unreached areas, they usually wait 10 to 15 years before seeing significant fruit and reduced hostility. In the early years, they are assaulted and accused falsely; stones are thrown onto their roofs; their children are given a hard time in school; and they see few genuine conversions. Many pioneers give up after a few years. But those who persevere bear much eternal fruit. I am humbled and ashamed of the way I complain about problems that are minute compared to theirs.
When I return from ministry in the West, my feelings are very different. I have been able to "use my gifts" and spend most of my time doing things I like. But when I resume being a leader in Sri Lanka's less-efficient culture, frustration hits me. The transition from being a speaker in the West to being a leader in Sri Lanka is difficult. As a leader, I am the bond-servant (doulos) of the people I lead (2 Cor. 4:5). This means that my schedule is shaped ...1
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