Revive Our Hearts Podcast

Learning from Today's Martyrs

Michele Rickett: The gospel has always gone forward at the cost of blood.

Leslie Basham: Michele Rickett opens our eyes to persecution around the world.

Michele: There are more martyrs in our day than every previous generation put together, but I ask you who’s doing all that bleeding? It’s not you and me. We are free here to share the gospel. It’s our brothers and sisters who suffer to serve.

Leslie: This is Revive Our Hearts for Monday, October 5. If you’ve been following Revive Our Hearts over the last several weeks, you know we’ve been in an in-depth study of the letters to the church in Revelation, including the letter to the suffering church in Smyrna.

Last Friday we took a break from the series to focus on Christians being persecuted for their faith today. Nancy will pick up that conversation.

Nancy Leigh DeMoss: There are so many verses in the Scripture that tell us that we are to have a concern not only for our own interests, but also for the interests of others. I think we’re innately selfish as human beings and even as believers, our first concern often tends to be our own need, our own circumstances, our own situation. We have a God who cares about us. We have a God who wants to care about others through us as well.

I’m thinking about that passage in 1 Corinthians chapter 12, where the apostle Paul says we are one body with one head, Jesus Christ, and if one member of that body suffers, the whole body suffers. We all suffer together (see verses 12-26).

Our guest on Revive Our Hearts this week is Michele Rickett who has within her heart a sense of burden and concern about women around the world who are oppressed, who are persecuted in situations that we can hardly fathom going on in the world today as we are listening to this program.

So, Michele, thank you for joining us on Revive Our Hearts. Thank you for letting the heart of Jesus reach out through you to bless and minister to these women in other parts of the world.

Michele: It’s my pleasure to be here. Thanks, Nancy.

Nancy: Michele, you’ve started an organization called Sisters In Service. I love that title because you’re connecting women who are part of the same family of God, sisters in Christ, and serving together. Not only us serving these women in other parts of the world, but you have found that there are ways that these women can be a blessing to us as well.

Michele: That’s right. They have so much to teach us about faith and faithfulness while they endure the unimaginable. Women everywhere have challenges and hearts’ desires that are longings that seem not to be met. Yet imagine overlaying that with oppression, persecution, hunger, a lack of education, a lack of dignity.

Nancy: And a lot of this persecution is related to religions that are contrary to the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Michele: That’s right. Religions and cultures. Jesus said it would be so. Those who hate Him would hate those who lift Him up and who follow Him. What we have found, of course, is that Jesus loves every person He created, even women, even children. So in cultures that don’t offer that dignity to women and children, often it is contrary to the teachings of the gospel where every person is valued by God.

So the hardships that Christian women endure in cultures that are least reached with the gospel, just regular hardships of the culture, are overlaid with this oppression because they are Christians—the persecution of believers.

One the one hand, for instance, in China, the highest rate of suicide of any segment of any population anywhere in the world is among rural Chinese girls and women as they are so devalued by their culture through the history of the one-child policy where girls were buried alive and starved and dropped off at market places.

But the flip side of that is 75% of the new believers in China are women, so they are first responders to the gospel. Their lives are so terrible without Him and then they hear, “Oh, that’s not the deal. There is a God who loves you, and He has created you. He knit you together in your mother’s womb and gave you as a gift to this world, and He has wonderful plans to use your life.” It transforms their identity as we know it can transform our identities as well.

It’s just I think by contrast when we look at the hardships under which they serve and follow Christ compared to ourselves, we can kind of get lost in the sense that we have to feel guilty because our lives aren’t hard. But in fact, I have a theory and that is that God has preserved a tiny percent of the whole Christian population—we only make up about 25% of all Christians in the world—and yet we hold all the opportunity, all the freedom, all the wealth, the history of being able to study God’s Word and have several copies in our homes if we want.

God has done that for His purposes. We don’t need to feel guilty about that. The question is, what will we do with all that God has given to us?

Nancy: Now you talked about women coming to faith in Christ and being eager to respond to the gospel when they hear it, but in many of these countries even hearing and being exposed to the gospel in the first place is not easy. It’s not something that they can just pick up a Bible or just turn on the TV and hear a gospel presentation. The gospel is in many of these countries not openly received.

Michele: Yes, and that is the job of Sisters In Service and many other organizations too. Trying to get the gospel to places least reached. For women who are cloistered away in their homes in these cultures or illiterate and can’t read the Bible or don’t have a radio, the very best way we have found is to work with local Christian women who know the language and culture and already have a passion to reach their neighbors for Christ.

So Sisters in Service gets behind their efforts and in this process of operating that way. We have met some phenomenal women. I traveled to China about three years ago to meet with as many of the young Chinese women who were co-workers throughout China. I anticipated that when I got to my hotel room in Shanghai I would first of all meet with one or two leaders of these networks of women’s ministry teams throughout China. When I got there, I was shocked to find out the room was overflowing with young, beautiful, single Chinese women.

Some of them had come from inner-Mongolia on a cattle cart. They heard that the president of this organization was coming and was going to pray over them. That was their only reason to come and be prayed for by some women in North America. They wanted to be connected to us. They knew they were part of a body and they also valued the power of prayer.

Well, I asked them, tell me about your ministry in China. Tell me about your life. And they said, “Well, we remain single like the apostle Paul because we have to be fleet of foot to outrun the authorities, and we can’t leave a family behind.”

Nancy: They have chosen singleness for the sake of the gospel.

Michele: Yes. And they’re beautiful, lovely young women. They said, “We’re normal women. We would like to have a husband and children, but there are girls who are killing themselves before they hear the gospel. We can’t live with that. We have to take to them the hope that we have received in Jesus.”

Many of them talked about in their going that they had interrogations. I said, “Tell me about these interrogations. What happens to you?” They said, “Oh, sometimes they yell at us because we’re young, and they think we’ll be frightened.”

Nancy: So they’re being taken in by the authorities?

Michele: They’re taken into custody, yes, because it is illegal, for anybody to share the gospel under the age of 18 or to anyone who’s under the age of 18. And you cannot travel as we have the freedom to travel. I could come from Atlanta, Georgia, to Little Rock, Arkansas, to Michigan, to California, and I don’t need anyone’s permission. I just buy a ticket. Well, in that country, you may not go freely from province to province, village to village without permission papers. And yet these women know that they simply must go, so they go.

Nancy: And they take that risk.

Michele: And they do take the risk. They say sometimes we’re slapped. Sometimes people punch us. One woman said, “Show her your tooth. He knocked your tooth out when you were hit in the face.” And then another girl showed me her finger. She had lost the tip of her finger under interrogations. I could hardly breathe. They began to shake and sweat as they began to tell me the truth of some of the things they had gone through. And they said, “We can’t even tell you some things.” It was unmentionable what they had endured for the gospel.

They said one lady who so wanted to be here with us could not come. Her crime was she and her husband opened their home to have a Bible study in a little house church and they were found out. They took her husband into custody to hard labor camp and confiscated her home. This woman’s story is in the book, Daughters of Hope.

She was taken in by a family in the community and a few weeks later the interrogators came to follow up and interrogate her. They wanted the names of other Christians. They wanted locations of other churches, and they wanted money. She endured an entire day of interrogation.

Finally at the end of the day, she said, “You have taken everything I have to give. Can’t you see, I have nothing left to give you?” And the man in charge said, “That’s not true. We see that you’re wearing shoes. Give us your shoes. You won’t be going anywhere again.” And he ordered the officers to come and stomp on her bare feet with their heavy boots.

It just gives a whole new meaning to the verse, “How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news” (Isaiah 52:7).

Nancy: That’s what these women and women in all parts of the world are in some cases risking their lives to do because they believe in the truth of the gospel and the power of the gospel to set people free. They’re determined they’ve got to take that message to others.

Michele: The gospel has always gone forward at the cost of blood since Jesus died. When we went to East Africa as missionaries, I started reading books of other missionary women who had gone before me to try and learn from them. Some of the earliest missionaries who went to the African continent did not survive the boat trip or did not survive the first year once they got to the continent because of strange diseases or tribes that would martyr them.

I realized people have always paid a serious price to get the gospel where it needs to go. We in the West can be kind of out of touch with that. We’re told that there are more martyrs in our day than every previous generation put together, but I ask you who’s doing all that bleeding? It’s not you and me. We are free here to share the gospel. It’s our brothers and sisters who suffer to serve.

We began working in Indonesia. Indonesia is the largest Muslim country in the world. Some people don’t realize that. It’s an archipelago of 30,000 islands. We started focusing on this area to see who might be there to share the gospel with women and children and began working with a woman. We talk about her in the book, and her name is Wati.

Wati was a pastor’s wife, and she had the gospel herself. But when her children grew up, she thought I want to take the gospel to areas that are not reached with the gospel. So she got her training and then began to make little trips into remote villages on islands. She would be rowed out on a boat with a little oil lamp and just get off the boat and start sharing in the local language of the people about the love of God and Christ.

Women and children started coming to the Lord in very large numbers. This, of course, created a problem for Wati. She began to realize the job was so big she had to train others. So she started training other young Indonesians to go, started a seminary, started a missionary training and sending agency, and they all have to be as tough as she, willing to row out to an island and share the gospel.

Well, in many of these communities, when she would go back to help nurture the new churches that were there—they were almost all women and children. The local leader in the village is a combination of a Shaman and spiritual advisor, and he does witch doctor practices. But he makes his living by giving people bad spiritual advice, and these people were turning away from him to the living God.

So in more than one case, Wati has been stoned—twice. She’s been run at by a sword. I said, “Wati, don’t you need to be more careful. I mean shouldn’t you just protect yourself a little?” She said, “Oh Michele, you don’t seem to understand. If someone runs at you with a sword, it tells you in the Bible you invoke Jesus’ name; you hold up your hand and you stay you stop that, in Jesus’ name. And if Jesus wants you to live tomorrow to serve Him, the man’s arm will go limp and the sword will drop. One day Jesus may decide that He wants to call me home and that sword will fall to my neck. That will be the happiest day of my life as I stand before the Savior and receive my martyr’s crown.”

This is the caliber of the women who serve Christ so boldly. The way that I feel is I am so deeply loved; therefore, I can boldly live. I wonder if there are people listening to us who have been so deeply loved and just haven’t made that step toward boldly living for Christ and His name.

Nancy: As you’re sharing about Wati, Michele, I’m thinking about Hebrews chapter 11, that great list of the hall of faith where so many heroes of our faith are listed. Those who, according to that passage, through faith they conquered kingdoms, they enforced justice, they stopped the mouths of lions, they quenched the power of fire, they escaped the edge of the sword, etc., etc.

Then there’s a turn in that chapter, and it speaks I think of some of the women that you’ve been talking about. It says others did not have that outcome.

Some were tortured, refusing to accept release, so that they might rise again to a better life. Others suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were killed with the sword. They went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, afflicted, mistreated (Hebrews 11:35-37).

We don’t think of those as heroes of the faith and yet they are.

The very next phrase says, Hebrews 11:38, “,Of whom the world was not worthy.” Of whom the world was not worthy. They wandered “about in deserts and mountains, and in dens and in caves of the earth” (Hebrews 11:38).

The context there is that these men and women of faith saw something that God had promised to them that was a better country, a better place, eternal life. They determined that it was worth whatever the price, whatever the pain, whatever the loss in order to have Christ and eternal life and to serve Him. We have so little comprehension of that whole concept in Western Christianity as women today.

Michele: You’re really getting at the spiritual basis for the platform of Sisters In Service that I have learned from these women. It’s very clear from the Bible, from the Old Testament to the New. In Genesis God said to Abram, “I’m going to bless you so that you will be a blessing to all the nations of the earth.”

Jesus echoed, “We’re to love the Lord our God and our neighbor.” He reinforced that teaching about the good Samaritan. When His followers asked Him, “Lord Jesus, we love this kingdom we get to be a part of. When is it going to happen and how can we receive our place in that kingdom and Your ‘well done’?” He was very clear with them that the way that you did that, the way you received His ‘well done,’ He said, “When I was hungry, you fed me. When I was thirsty, you gave me something to drink. I was naked and you clothed me. When you’ve done this for one of the least of these, you have done that for Me” (see Matthew 25:31-46).

I think in our efforts of spiritual formation in the United States, we actually come to a place of what I call a spiritual malaise where we are so deeply loved, so grateful and in touch with all that God has done for us, and yet if we fail to make that step into "Okay, I am not here to bless only myself." As Christ was given as a servant and He was given as poured out wine and broken bread, we too are to pour out our lives. Jesus said, until this gospel of the kingdom is preached in the whole world. He said after that then the end will come. That is how we receive His “well done.”

When I talk to women overseas who make 50 cents a day busting rocks with a hammer to make gravel and they come to Jesus and they tell me they have everything, they have this effervescent joy about Christ because they’re building His kingdom and not their own. And then I come to the United States and speak to women all across this country and they sigh. They have no sense of purpose, no bedrock joy though they know they should, and they can’t figure out what the problem is. I have come to believe that that is the issue. As long as we only focus on our own spiritual satisfaction rather than the loving our neighbor part.

I love the picture in the book of Revelation chapter 1, verse 5. It says that there are those who have been "freed for their sins." God has made us to be a kingdom of priests to serve our God. Then it’s stated again in a different way in 1 Peter chapter 2, where we are to live blamelessly, reverently and bear the light. We are to do deeds of love and mercy. It is through our practical outworking of our faith that Peter said the watching world will see our Father in heaven and give Him glory on the day that He visits us (see verse 12).

So that’s what we’re made for. We really won’t find our identity and our joy until we get to the point where we are all about building His kingdom even if you can’t go overseas. You can bear the light of God’s love across the pew, across the street, around the world, and by vicariously sharing with these women who suffer to serve.

Nancy: Michele, what you just shared resonates so deeply with the mission statement of Revive Our Hearts. We’re calling women to freedom, fullness, and fruitfulness in Christ. So much of the teaching we do on Revive Our Hearts is helping women to experience the freedom that is available in Christ, to be loosed from the chains and the baggage of their past or sinful bondages. And then to experience the fullness, the power of God’s Spirit in their lives in whatever season of life they may find themselves.

But that can’t be where it ends. God calls us not just to freedom and fullness, but also to fruitfulness. As you’ve reminded us, we’ve been blessed to be a blessing. So I want to ask our listeners, God has given you freedom and fullness, are you being fruitful? Are you letting the life of Christ flow out from you and through you to others who need the life-giving gospel of Jesus Christ?

That may be the person across the street. It may be the other mom that you carpool with. It may be somebody that works in the cube next to you at the office. And it may be that God would want you in some way to have a part in helping to reach and touch these women that Michele has been talking about in other parts of the world.

I want to invite you to join us again tomorrow on Revive Our Hearts, and we want to give you some practical ways that you can be fruitful and a blessing in the lives of these women.

Leslie: Nancy Leigh DeMoss has been opening our eyes to the plight of believing women around the world being persecuted for their faith. She’s been talking with Michele Rickett who began a ministry called Sisters In Service. You’ll find a link to that organization at our website. The address is ReviveOurHearts.com.

Like Nancy just said, women are discovering freedom, fullness, and fruitfulness in Christ through Revive Our Hearts on the radio and the website. It’s possible because our listeners donate. When you support us with a donation of any amount, we’ll send you Michele’s book, Daughters of Hope, as our way of saying thanks.

Michele’s book will open your eyes to the plight of women around the world. You’ll pray more diligently after reading these stories. You’ll approach your own suffering with a new perspective as you become more familiar with persecution going on around the world.

Make your donation at ReviveOurHearts.com, and we’ll send you Daughters of Hope, or ask for it when you call 1-800-569-5959.

How do you maintain joy in the middle of suffering? Michele will show you next time on Revive Our Hearts.

Revive Our Hearts with Nancy Leigh DeMoss is an outreach of Life Action Ministries.

All Scripture is taken from the English Standard Version unless otherwise noted.

*Offers available only during the broadcast of the podcast season.