My heart has been experiencing mixed emotions since I heard of the deaths of Li Xinheng and Lu Ling Ling. They were missionaries from China serving in Pakistan who were targeted and murdered by ISIL extremists in recent weeks.
News outlets from Pakistan to India, from China to the West have been reporting on this tragedy. I have read statements of mourning and concern for their families and the church in China to criticisms regarding why they were in Pakistan, both by Christians and non-Christians alike.
Questions have been asked about whether they were sent wisely, whether they could have been better protected, or whether their legal reason for being in Pakistan was the problem that caused this tragedy (questionable business visa). It is natural for any one of us to want to ask “Why?” I do it. I did it. But, God is clear in his word as to how we should view this event, our lives, and our futures as disciples of Jesus Christ.
Jesus told us in John 15:18-25 that as he was persecuted, we will be persecuted. He said the world hated him so the world will hate us. Jesus also said in John 17:24 that his desire is that we will be with him when he returns to be with the Father. Jesus’ desire is not that we focus on preserving our lives on this earth. Jesus’ desire is that we glorify him until God calls us home to be with him.
I am also constantly reminded of Revelation 6:11. There seems to be a set number of disciples who will be martyred for the name of Jesus. Only God knows who they are and how many there will be. Theologian Tertullian wrote in the 3rd century, “The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church.” By going to Pakistan, these two had to have been living at a level of surrender to be able to serve in a place like they did. I am confident, even without knowing them personally, that they knew the risk of serving in that land.
As I meditate on these passages and several others, I am reminded that serving Christ has inherent risks that none of us can escape. Being associated with Christ has risk. Being redeemed marks us and the world wants to do everything it can to silence us. That is part of being a disciple of Jesus.
We need to embrace this reality of suffering. Admittedly, I would love to live a Christian life in a safe place with no problems. Who would not? But, that is not a reality for any Christ follower. We may all face different forms of suffering but we all face some level of suffering. We should never retreat from serving in a place that has a higher risk of suffering than where we may be living today.
Another point I want to address is their business visa. The Pakistani government seems to be focusing one of their criticisms on the reality that these two people were living there on a questionable business visa. Whether their visa was legitimate or not is not the cause of their death. That is an entirely different matter in the missions community that must be addressed more than it has been. But, they did not die because they lived on a questionable business visa.
Mr. Li and Ms Lu were targeted, kidnapped, and murdered because they were declaring the message of Jesus Christ to Muslims. That is it. That is why they were killed. ISIL does not care if they did business or studied the Urdu language. They only cared that these two and others were in Pakistan to advance the message of the Christ.
Finally, for many years, the Christian community, especially in the West, has been saying something to the effect that Chinese believers are better equipped to serve in places like Pakistan than Western Christians. They say this by declaring the assumption that people like ISIL care more about targeting Western Christians than people like the Chinese. That has never been proven and is unfortunately proven false by this event.
There is an incredible missions movement taking place within the Chinese church. From the original Back to Jerusalem to the younger Mission China 2030 to the many other smaller endeavors. China has joined and is officially part of the global missions community. They are as welcomed in these difficult countries and communities who need the gospel as Americans are. There are countries who despise the Chinese like they despise Americans. The presence of a Chinese Christian is not necessarily more effective than their Western counterpart because they are Chinese. The Chinese face the same risks that any one of us may face.
As the global missions community and those of us with a heart for China mourn the loss of Mr. Li and Ms. Lu, we need to pray for China and its church. We need to pray for the loved ones of Mr. Li and Ms. Lu. We need to pray and ask God to give them strength to persevere and not give up. We need to challenge the Chinese church to pray for ISIL and ask God to raise up modern day Apostle Pauls from within the ISIL ranks.
In closing, may we honor their death and sacrifice by persevering in our calling as God’s ambassadors to the whole world and to all peoples. May we remain steadfast in our commitment to be the disciple makers Jesus commissioned us to be. Let us not shrink back in fear because of what ISIL did but may we pray for our enemies, love those who hate us, and may we remain bold and faithful in taking the gospel to the ends of the earth, even if it requires that we join the honorable ranks of Mr. Li and Ms. Lu.