Now brother will deliver up brother to death, and a father his child; and children will rise up against parents and cause them to be put to death. And you will be hated by all for My name’s sake. But he who endures to the end will be saved” (Matthew 10:21, 22).
They meet in secret at night. They don’t meet in the same place too often. They don’t tell their families about these meetings. They draw the curtains to keep the world out. They speak in whispers. Every day they meet, it is a gamble. At any moment, they could be discovered. The risk is great. They live in fear of being arrested, tortured or killed. Is it worth it? To the members of the underground churches, it is. They risk everything for their belief.
Life for Christians is terrible in places like North Korea, Nigeria, Kenya, Tanzania, India, Egypt, Iraq and Syria. It is ironic that it was to Egypt that Joseph fled with Mary and Jesus to escape Herod’s murderous rampage yet today, Christians are under great pressure. Secret believers like In Syria, Christians had to flee their homes.
Those of us who are living in the West, we can worship openly in church buildings. We don’t have to speak in whispers. We can sing and pray out loud. We enjoy religious liberty. Some of us may face opposition from our families. Jesus warned us of this. “Do not think that I came to bring peace on earth. I did not come to bring peace but a sword. For I have come to ‘set a man against his father, a daughter against her mother and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law’; and a ‘man’s enemies will be those of his own household’” (Matthew 10:34-36).
Just recently, I read a story of a father who forbad his daughter from going to church. Her family was from an Orthodox background so they had a problem with her wanting to attend a Protestant church. She resorted to sneaking off and going to church. There are other stories of men and women persecuted, beaten, ostracized and even murdered by family members because of their faith.
It’s hard to believe that Christians persecute other Christians. However, this is prevalent in Ethiopia. Christians from the Orthodox churches who leave to find more vibrant churches are pressured to return. In the days prior to the Reformation, many believers were forced to hide. Such groups were the Waldensians who were forced underground because they were declared heretics by the Roman Catholic Church. They rejected the teachings of the church and what they believed to be the idolatry of the church and considered the Papacy as the Antichrist of Rome.
Many were driven from their homes and into the mountains when in January 1655, the Duke of Savoy commanded them to attend Mass or sell their lands and go to the upper valleys of their homeland. It was in the middle of winter. The Duke didn’t expect them to choose to leave their homes and lands in the lower valleys. Yet, they did and it was written that the old men, women and the sick “waded through the icy waters, climbed the frozen peaks and at length reached the homes for their impoverished brethren of the Upper Valleys where they were warmly received” Sadly, the horrors of persecution were about to be unleashed.
When the Duke realized that his efforts to get the people to conform to Catholicism, he tried another approach. Under the guise of false reports of uprisings, he sent the troops to the people. It was a ruse to gain them easy access. Then, on April 24, 1655 at 4am when the people would have been sleeping, the troops were given the command to go and massacre them. They didn’t just slaughter the people but they looted, raped, tortured and murdered. Peter Liegé reported the following:
Little children were torn from the arms of their mothers, clasped by their tiny feet, and their heads dashed against the rocks; or were held between two soldiers and their quivering limbs torn up by main force. Their mangled bodies were then thrown on the highways or fields, to be devoured by beasts. The sick and the aged were burned alive in their dwellings. Some had their hands and arms and legs lopped off, and fire applied to the severed parts to staunch the bleeding and prolong their suffering. Some were flayed alive, some were roasted alive, some disemboweled; or tied to trees in their own orchards, and their hearts cut out. Some were horribly mutilated, and of others the brains were boiled and eaten by these cannibals. Some were fastened down into the furrows of their own fields, and ploughed into the soil as men plough manure into it. Others were buried alive. Fathers were marched to death with the heads of their sons suspended round their necks. Parents were compelled to look on while their children were first outraged [raped], then massacred, before being themselves permitted to die (Wikipedia).
Print illustrating the 1655 massacre in La Torre, from Samuel Moreland’s “History of the Evangelical Churches of the Valleys of Piemont” published in London in 1658.
The Piedmont massacre happened during Easter. In fact, it became known as the Piedmont Easter and it was estimated that about 1,700 Waldensians were slaughtered. Its brutality aroused the indignation of the European nations and sanctuary was offered to the remaining Waldensians.
Today, many Christians face the same kind of brutality for their faith. Women have been attacked, beaten or murdered because they converted to Christianity. Girls have been brutally raped for their faith or their parents’ faith. According to a report in the New York Times: “Christians in areas of Egypt that are largely dominated by Muslim militants continue to suffer from violence and humiliation. These believers are under constant threat of their houses and other properties being burned down, or possibly being mugged while walking along the streets. Even church buildings are not spared as they are desecrated and marred with hate graffiti written on the walls.” Christians are living in fear. Some of them are secret believers like Femi* and Alim*
November 6 is the International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church. I encourage you to watch the moving video, Pray With Them from Open Doors and try to imagine what it would be like to live in a country where you have to go underground in order to worship or face prison, persecution, torture or death.
Keep the fires of faith burning. Do not let anyone or anything extinguish them. Hold fast until our blessed Lord Jesus Christ comes and you receive your crown.