Part 1— Savio
Persecution can be differentiated based on characteristics such as demographics, levels of severity and outreach, and so forth. OpenDoorsUk “distinguishes between two main expressions of persecution: ‘squeeze’ and ‘smash’. ‘Smash’ is relatively easy to identify and track, since it refers to concrete acts of overt violence against Christians, because of their faith. ‘Squeeze’, on the other hand, is the persecution experienced as pressure in many areas of Christian life.”
For some Christians, persecution comes like a boa python. It gradually wraps itself, covering more and more of the person and squeezing the light out of his eyes a little more every passing moment. The pressure gets greater, draining all his strength, till, finally, the believer snaps and either leaves the faith or leaves his home.— Or, perhaps, the hostility heightens to the grim extent that a brother or sister of ours becomes a martyr.
This persecution isn’t just in some obscure, undeveloped village in the middle of nowhere. It occurs in the big city, among the well-dressed, the high class, the seemingly perfect family. It happens with the person who lives a life that seems to have nothing wrong to those who look on from the outside but is a dungeon on the inside.
Although not as severe as that of some others, the circumstances these believers find themselves in is still oppressive and dangerous. Such Christians are often ostracized and antagonized by their own family and community. Alone in their fight, they struggle to maintain and grow in the faith. If they have just recently become saved, their struggle intensifies because they don’t have sufficient knowledge of the Word and spiritual maturity and strength for the warfare they are incessantly under.
Ahead is the interview of a believer who had to leave his home and family. When Savio first became a believer, he was just eighteen, of the age to be trying to find his path in life. He was facing struggles enough without persecution to top it all. Fatherless and the only Christian in a family hostile to his beliefs, he struggled between faith and backsliding. Today, he is in full-time ministry, serving in the Kingdom through worship, teaching, missions, and even writing.
When did you get saved?
Hi. My name is Savio. I was saved at the age of eighteen.
How did you get saved?
One day, a couple of my Roman Catholic friends excitedly asked me to meet a guy from Kenya, Africa, who was studying law in our city. I went with them to see him. The first thing he said was that he was Catholic. I did not know the meaning then. I thought that Roman Catholic and Catholic meant the same thing. However, “Catholic” refers to the universal church; and Roman Catholicism holds beliefs that either don’t match the Bible or even completely contradicts it.
His saying that he was a Catholic got me to open up when he shared a simple gospel message and asked if I wanted to receive Christ into my heart. I said, “Yes.” I knelt down and accepted Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior.
Are you the only Christian in your family and area?
I was, for some time. Then, my younger brother was saved. I praise God that, now, thirty years after my salvation, more and more of my family members are entering the Kingdom.
From whom do you face persecution? Is it your own family or others? What happened during that time?
After I got saved, at first, the Roman Catholic priests at the cathedral we attended and my family started to mock my new-found faith in Christ. In the beginning, I would ask a lot of questions to the priests and the Bishop on several issues not taught or taught wrongly in the church. Sometimes, they would not entertain my questions at all. At other times, they gave me vague answers. A lot of what they answered had no foundation in the Bible.
They tried their best to discourage me from going to this “Protestant” group, but it was in vain. Once I knew the truth, I had even more of a hunger for God’s Word. When discouraging me did not work, I was threatened that, if I did not stop attending these meetings (for believers), I would be excommunicated from the Roman Catholic Church. I was intimidated and started to pursue my faith stealthily, trying to sneak away to Christian church services and other meetings during the week.
I was soon found out, and my family made it more difficult for me. None of my believer friends were allowed to meet me. I could not read the Bible or any other Christian literature, nor could I listen to any Christian music or tapes. I remember covering the Bible and other Christian books in newspapers to hide them and reading them when no one was around.
Due to this fear and intimidation, I went back and forth between the Roman Catholic church and a Christian church for several years. I could not stand firmly for Jesus.
Finally, one day, I took courage, prayed, and left the Roman Catholic Church. I never returned.
I was excommunicated from the Roman Catholic Church. My family called me the black sheep of the family. I was called all sorts of things because of my stand in Christ. These painful experiences took a lot out of me.
But the Holy Spirit guided and helped me during this process. I started growing in the Lord and in His Word. Fellowship with other believers strengthened my walk in God. I found my purpose and destiny in Christ. After a few years of growth, He led me into full-time ministry, which I am serving in with my family even today. What a good God!
What did you do in response to the persecution you faced?
During the time of persecution, it was not easy. I was emotionally blackmailed by my mom, who threatened me that she would commit suicide or that she would leave the house if I did not stop attending what she called a “Protestant” church. I was constantly living in fear. I could not meet friends from church, because they would be chased away as soon as they came to see me. I was ignored or mocked most of the time by the Roman Catholic church and my family. At times, I would feel very helpless.
What is your response to those who persecuted you?
There was not much I could do. I could not answer or make them understand what I believed, because everything I said had no effect on them. They would not listen or entertain anything I said.
How did this affect you physically, emotionally, and spiritually?
The process of standing for the truth was extremely slow. I was emotionally drained. I did not grow spiritually, as I would go to both the Roman Catholic and Christian churches for several years. A compromised lifestyle due to all this did not help either. However, by God’s grace, I am glad I did not backslide. He kept me in the palm of His hands.
Is there anything you need?
Now? Nothing. I now no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life which I now live, I live by faith in the Son of God, Who loved me and gave Himself for me. He is my all in all. I am complete in Him.
Is there anything you want to say?
“Then He said to them all, ‘If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross [b]daily, and follow Me. For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will save it. For what profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and is himself destroyed or lost? For whoever is ashamed of Me and My words, of him the Son of Man will be ashamed when He comes in His own glory, and in His Father’s, and of the holy angels.’ ” (Lk. 9:23-26)
*Are people of other religions getting persecuted in your area?
Yes, in some ways, Muslims are. There are also low-caste people and tribal people who are minorities being persecuted in India in different ways.
Savio’s testimony does not sound out of place in this corner of life. Many such Christians, especially those who are living with their families, are emotionally blackmailed. They face a lot of censure and bullying from their own loved ones. Facing harassment in school or a workplace is undoubtedly difficult; but, when such treatment comes from a person close to one’s heart, it hurts more. It is much worse, because the pressures of home linger longer and harder than trouble from without.
Savio’s situation was particularly precarious because his father had passed away several years prior. His older siblings were already married, so his younger brother would have been reliant on him, especially if anything were to have happened to his mother; and, in a country such as India, which places great emphasis on family, he was under both personal and social duress for causing turmoil and then for leaving.
Furthermore, he was undergoing a personal battle regarding following God and obeying His call on his life. In fact, called to be in the ministry, he was much like Jonah: Savio tried to join a ship instead (in the Navy). By God’s grace, it was failure, rather than a fish, that turned him towards God’s will.
Christians like Savio need prayers particularly for emotional and mental strength. It is no easy matter to balance one’s faith and one’s family when both are in opposition. They need fellowship and reliable support from the Body of Christ. Sadly, many of them grow cold because other believers do not reach out to them and take care of them.
Feed My sheep, visit those in prison, clothe and feed those who don’t have what they need— this is our duty as God’s children. It is not too hard to find a Savio, even in a place sheltered from severe persecution. The good Samaritan found a bruised man right in his path. Perhaps a Savio resides in your area. Perhaps God will place him right on your way. If so, in addition to praying, maybe you can be the relief that keeps the squeeze from choking the life out of that believer.