In China, prison sentences rarely come with a term, and Hui Liang had no idea when her fiancé would be released—if ever. Year after year she waited for him, not knowing at times if he was even alive. After she was released from the labor camp, her friends, family and government exerted tremendous pressure on her to renounce her relationship with him, but she refused, knowing that God was telling her to wait—and giving her the extraordinary grace to do so.
Finally, after two decades, her fiancé was released from prison. The couple was married—and continued to carry on the same activities that got them into trouble in the first place, including preaching, evangelizing and distributing Bibles smuggled into China by foreigners. Eventually they received a tip that they were about to be arrested again. They told the Lord they were willing to go back to prison if that's what He wanted, but He told them the time had come to leave. With a mere 24 hours' notice, they secretly left China for the West, where they live today far from family, friends and homeland.
Today the Chinese government continues to persecute Christians, and women are often arrested, tortured, burned with cattle prods, hung from their feet in prison cells and left to die. They and Hui Liang have paid the price to follow Jesus.
Light in the Darkness
Lily and Sara* also live in repressive situations. They pastor a church in Indonesia, the largest Muslim country in the world—and one that has been torn apart by war and violence. More than 2,500 people have been killed in Indonesia since early 1999. Most of the dead were Christians.
"[The war has] resulted in murder, rape, persecution and destruction," Lily says. "There have been many martyrs, including kids. Hundreds of church buildings have been burned to the ground."
Lily and Sara's church went on a 40-day fast and at the same time distributed food to the local poor, regardless of their religious affiliation. When fanatical Islamic mobs went on a rampage against churches, local Muslims remembered how Lily and Sara's church had distributed free food to the poor, so they barricaded the church building, preventing the mob from destroying it. Because of the free food distribution program, "they knew our church," Sara says, "and they protected us in a time of danger."
The women echo a plea that resounds wherever Christians are severely persecuted. "Don't pray that the situation would stop," Sara warns, "but that the churches [in Indonesia] would be strong and able to face this situation. There are many souls coming in right now, and it's very easy to evangelize and win people to the Lord. But many churches are not ready to face this situation [and are not prepared] for the harvest."
Sara and Lily have paid the price to follow Jesus.
Of Martyrs and Millionaires
There are other women I have met who stand out in my mind. There's Donna Sauñe, an American who became a missionary to Peru and married a local man well-known for his outspoken Christian witness. I met Donna at a memorial service for her husband, who had been brutally murdered by the Shining Path guerillas. It was the first funeral I ever attended for a martyr, but sadly not the last one.
I'm constantly challenged and inspired by persecuted Christian women such as these—and also by the ones I've never actually met but feel as if I have. There's Zhou Shiu Yon, a Christian woman I interviewed by phone who told me how she had fled China to avoid the abortion that the communist government was trying to force her to have.
There's the unnamed woman from Chiapas, Mexico, where Christians are regularly threatened and killed, a woman whose hands wove the delicate blue bookmark I keep in my daily devotional.
There's Hannan, a young woman from Cairo, Egypt, whose picture hung on my refrigerator for years. Her family arranged for the local police to put her under house arrest so she could not marry the man of her dreams—simply because she converted from Islam to Christianity to do so.
There's Debbie, an enormously brave young woman from the Middle East whose father took out a contract on her life when she converted from Islam to Christianity while studying in London. The British government recently refused her request for political asylum, and today she is on her way back to her homeland, knowing she might be killed, but praying she first has the chance to share her Lord with others.
Portraits of Persecution
Each of these special women represents millions of persecuted Christian women all over the world. Anna represents the hundreds of millions of refugees on all continents, women uprooted from their homes and families because of their Christian faith.
Hui Liang represents the wives of persecuted and imprisoned pastors. These are women who suffer—often in silence—for the bold witness of their husbands, women who must be bold and clever themselves in order to care for their families against tremendous odds while their husbands are imprisoned for their faith.