JEFFERSON CITY – Rick Hedger enjoys a reasonable feeling of security and safety from his office in the middle of Missouri, but the partnership missions specialist for the Missouri Baptist Convention (MBC) has seen the evidence of persecution first hand.
He tells a story about a 14-year-old girl in Senegal, one of the countries in western Africa the MBC has partnered with. A member of the “L” people group, she came to faith in Jesus despite facing great pressures from her family.
“Coming from a Muslim and animistic background, she was immediately beaten on a regular basis by her father and brother to get her to recant and she never, never would,” he said.”
She was not permitted to be baptized, and the beatings from her family continued for two years. When she was 16, the beating lessened simply because her family realized she was not going to renounce her new faith in Jesus. When she turned 18 and was legally able to make her own decisions, she was baptized in the ocean, knowing it could cost her family, her home, and any possibility of working.
In this case, the persecution turned into a powerful witness.
“When she was baptized, her Mom and Dad sat down with her and began to ask about the Gospel and why it was so important to her,” Hedger said. “Because she was steady through the persecution, she was able to share the gospel. I don’t know whether her Dad or anyone had turned to Christ, but the last I talked with our L People missionaries, the beatings had stopped.”
Much of Hedger’s experience is from western Africa, where Islam and animism (ancestor spirit worship) reign.
“Especially in that kind of ‘shame/honor’ worldview, turning away from that can bring trouble,” he said. “The decision to follow Christ goes against their family culture. It doesn’t matter if it’s right or wrong, it’s about bringing shame or honor on your family. Whatever they have to do to reverse that shame and restore that honor, they will do that.”
Hedger tells another account of a business man in Nigeria who, though he was not physically injured, still suffered for his decision to follow the one true God.
“He was public about it and the next thing that happened was that no one in the community would come to his store,” Hedger said. “They lived as though he did exist. In that culture your welfare, protection, food and everything is so intertwined with the community. If you don’t recant, they can shun you.”
Other times the end result is more violent. A 15-year-old boy in Indonesia, also a Muslim society, refused to recant his faith in Christ.
“They had their machetes and they started with the fingers, then took both his arms and legs, then finally took his life,” Hedger said. “That’s persecution we in America don’t have. People might make fun of us, or tease us, even yell at us. But in other places around the world, it can be that way.”