Here are some things I observed about the church this outing.
The Church does not need the support of the government to survive.
Whether or not the government sanctions or persecutes the Church, it thrives. This country allows the church to exist under its mandates and management. No free church movement legally exists. When the government was directly hostile to the Church in the country, Christ followers still gathered, served, and risked persecution as they lived out their allegiance to Jesus. But the church is not a governmental agency. It is a viral movement of relationships borne on the Spirit, blowing where it will. No human agency can contain it.
Christians respect the laws imposed upon them.
I asked a brother in Christ how he felt about all the governmental rules that regulated the church's work and membership. He looked at me like a big brother telling me something I should already know and said, "The Bible tells us to honor the government, so, we do what they ask of us." "Oh," was my wise response. With no argument or litany of how hard things were, he simply reminded me of the instructions Paul gave the church while it was ruled by the Roman Empire. (Romans 13:1-7)
Christians accept the consequences of their actions under the government's laws.
Every day at lunch my nephew and I ate with some of local pastors. They were joyful and loved to banter about home, family, theology and their churches. One afternoon, someone mentioned that one of them had served two years in prison for his faith, and his brother who was at the table with us had been in prison too. You would have never known it by their joyful attitude and energetic expressions of faith. The consequences of following Jesus was just part of being the church.
The church works best in houses nestled in neighborhoods rather than in buildings set apart solely for the purpose of gathering the church.
"House Church" took on a whole new meaning for me this trip. I had seen small groups of six to eight gather in a living room and ten to twenty in an apartment dedicated to gathering the church, but here pastors literally gave up a floor of their homes for the church to come together; or, in one case, built a new home with bedrooms off the meeting room. The pastor who was our host had four generations of over a dozen people living in six small rooms. There was a second floor to his house, but that was where we went on Sunday morning for worship, fellowship, and the hearing the Word. This house was also in the heart of a neighborhood which knew exactly what went on in the house. A seed of hope planted in the field of human relationships...
Leaders who serve the needs of those they lead are the best leaders.
Leadership in these churches is not a lucrative occupation. Actually, to be a pastor means you will give up a better paying job to live off the equivalent of $6-$20 USD/month. Yes, those numbers are correct. You serve because God has called you to be a servant of the people, not because you can make a career of it. I am humbled each time I serve with those who truly make sacrificial love their motive for ministry.
Jesus promised his followers that "the Gates of Hades will not prevail against" the movement he started. This viral movement, embodied in the Church, can not be stopped until Jesus returns to set up his rule permanently on the planet.
I am convinced after observing the Church in five oppressive countries that Jesus' promise is true, and we who have joined the Movement need not fear no matter the changing cultural and political climate that surrounds us. The Church of the Lord Jesus Christ will be triumphant.