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Missing but Alive: Following a Persecuted Savior

7th November 2023

By Aysha, a writer and filmmaker from the Middle East who was forced to leave her home country after she came to faith in Christ. She now lives in the UK, where she works with SAT-7 and other Christian networks on various communications projects.

Jesus’ ministry was marked by persecution, culminating darkly in His crucifixion. On the morning of the third day after, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome approached His tomb carrying fragrant spices. They were expecting to anoint a lifeless body, a decomposing corpse. But what they encountered instead was an angel, who delivered the message that Jesus Christ was missing but alive.

This puzzling proclamation, first given to frightened members of a young, endangered church, remains true to this day, especially in the Middle East. As persecution drives believers into hiding, community exclusion, and sometimes imprisonment or exile, they sometimes go missing. But as faith in Christ and the power of the Spirit sustains them, they also experience the new life that Jesus offers.

Coming to Faith in the Middle East

I first encountered Christ in my home country in the Middle East five years ago. When I started having visions, I was a Muslim Ivy-League educated artist and entrepreneur leading a film and TV startup. My father was dying of lung cancer in our living room, and I was wrestling with questions about whether God was real.

I had an existential crisis. In my darkest moment, salvation took place overnight and without preparation or warning. As I lost my father, I became vividly aware that my Heavenly Father was taking center-stage. I did not have a cultural claim to the Trinitarian faith, but through a divine encounter, it emerged as the truth. I became aware with all my being that Jesus Christ was the Son of God who was crucified and raised, who was and is the Savior of the world and the only way to the Father.

I did not have the infrastructure to support this turn of events in my life. I just began to serve the living Lord with what I had. I loved God, and so I pivoted my company into a faith-based ministry. I spent my time writing and directing Spirit-led independent films and music videos while sharing my faith and work with marginalized communities and the industry. I witnessed God move behind the screen and on camera in ways that overwhelmed me.

The Potential of Film and TV Ministry

I believed in audio-visual storytelling as a field for ministry because it was capable of growing worship communities: both during the production process with the teams that work on the projects, and post-distribution, through the impact a piece of content can have on the wider communities that engage with it. In a highly censored context, film and TV provided our societies with fresh narratives to watch together, connect over, and talk about more freely. It allowed faith to be experiential and contemporary.

I have seen this again so powerfully in the testimonies SAT-7 receives from viewers in contexts of persecution in the Middle East. Kia* from Iran told us how she and her sister-in-law were jailed because of their house church ministry. She had been storing 300 Bibles and Christian teaching books in her home; all of these were seized by the authorities. They were first given a 10-year sentence, but it was later lowered to five months. This, as far as Kia was concerned, was as miraculous as Peter’s escape from prison in Acts 12.

“We suffered a great deal in prison, but the Lord used us, and during that time, several people were saved. We give thanks to the living God,” said Kia.

People came to faith in prison because Kia went to prison. Upon her release, she began using SAT-7’s Persian channel in her ministry and for her own spiritual growth. “We had a house church, and everyone was taken; we are now under surveillance,” she said. “Now I don’t have a Bible and I am using your material and programs. I give thanks for the living God and for you.”

Rejection, Loss, and Exile

In my home country, persecution took a different form to Kia’s. It was not state-sponsored, but it was enforced just as relentlessly by society, with a focus on undermining one’s economic and social standing. New Christians found themselves bereft of the protective shield of religious law, rendering them perilously vulnerable and virtually devoid of legal recourse when subjected to harm.

Throughout a span of three years, I weathered recurrent episodes of social ostracism and character defamation. The commandment to extend love even to adversaries enabled me not to react, but this seemed only to heighten my vulnerability to injury. Ultimately, I lost my company, my livelihood, my community, and any hope of a future in that country.

Although I had never resided in the UK, I held dual citizenship. Seeing that everything I had built was now reduced to rubble, I packed my bags and left, overwhelmed by a sense of exile and rejection from my own people.

Dare to Believe?

My flight to London was similar in spirit to SAT-7 Founder Dr. Terence Ascott’s when he was deported from Egypt to Cyprus, not knowing it was where SAT-7’s international office would be established. In his book, Dare to Believe!, he writes:

As I landed in Cyprus, I felt a God-given sense of peace come over me. Yes, I did hope that I might be able to return to Egypt soon, but this was not the reason. I reflected on the story of Joseph, out of the Old Testament book of Genesis, and how he had been sold into slavery by his brothers. Later, during the great famine, the brothers came to Egypt to beg for grain and eventually discovered that Joseph was now in a position of great power in the country. They were terrified. But Joseph explained to them how God had allowed their actions so that many lives would be saved, showing how what they had intended as harm, God had used for good. This, I believed, would be my testimony.”

Today, I am missing from the persecuted Church in the Middle East but thankful to be alive in the Church in the UK, where I continue to grow in faith and ministry. I wish that my displacement had not been necessary. The journey was heartbreaking, isolating, and dehumanizing at times. My deepest yearning is for a day when everyone is free to be open about their faith and present in their own community, no matter who they are and where they are.

The persecuted Church in the Middle East may seem to be missing from the global Christian stage. Embracing faith in the persecuted Messiah is a dangerous lifestyle there. Ministry and faith often operate in camouflage. Social isolation, unemployment, homelessness, imprisonment, and even death are common experiences. Yet, what if we dared to believe that despite all that, it is not a lifeless body or a decomposing corpse, but active and alive in creative and Spirit-led ways? I see that so clearly in the work of SAT-7 as it brings worship, community, and the life of Christ to believers who are hidden, excluded, and missing.

On the International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church, please pray:

 

*Viewer name changed for security.

 

 

 

 

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