The wolf shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the young goat, and the calf and the lion and the fattened calf together; and a little child shall lead them. Isaiah 11:6
The country of Turkey is 99% Muslim and if you are a Christian young person, life can be hard. At school, your loyalty to your country can be questioned; you feel excluded, explains educator Catherine Hoard. This is why every year many Christian children attend Christian camps where both they and their faith are embraced and nurtured. A child may be the only Christian in their school, but at camp they are surrounded by those who, just like them, believe in Jesus.
Catherine worked with one of these camps for more than 25 years. Camp themes would follow the chronology of the Bible and the theme in July 2018 was Paul’s missionary journeys. The children learned and sang memory verses such as, “I am not ashamed of the gospel for it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes…” (Romans 1:16) and “This is my gospel, for which I am suffering, even to the point of being chained like a criminal. But God’s word is not chained. Therefore, I endure everything for the sake of the elect.” (2 Timothy 2:9)
What camp leaders didn’t realize when this theme was chosen, was that at the very time the children’s camp in the mountains was being held, Andrew Brunson, a missionary pastor who had been unjustly accused and held in Turkish prisons for almost 2 years, would be appearing in court for his third hearing. Most of the counselors either knew or at least knew about Andrew and had been praying for his release.
“With these high hopes,” Catherine recalled, “on the morning of Pastor Brunson’s hearing, we shared briefly about his situation since Andrew’s situation certainly paralleled Paul’s own struggles in this very land! All prayed earnestly for Pastor Andrew’s release; throughout the day children would ask if we had any news.”
It wasn’t until after the children went to bed that the adults learned that Andrew was not to be released. Catherine tells of feeling devastated,” I was so sad for Andrew but also sad for our campers whose heartfelt “childlike” faith had so earnestly prayed, believing that God would certainly move.”
Catherine recalls, “I wrestled with God about why He didn’t use this perfect opportunity to encourage these young believing hearts. Didn’t He know they would need this kind of concrete experience of answered prayer if they were going to endure slurs, and sometimes even violent rejections? I was amazed that Andrew Brunson could stand in court and say: ‘My faith teaches me to forgive, so I forgive those who testified against me…It is a privilege to suffer for the sake of Christ.’ I realized then that God had a deeper message for us all.”
Gathering the children together the next morning, Catherine told them about the hearing and shared Pastor Brunson’s words. The lesson was given about Paul being arrested, beaten, held in prison and then tried in Rome. The teacher put up a big paper boat on the wall and placed small blank papers and pens in front of the boat. She then invited them, to come up, write their names on the papers and stick them on the boat, signifying their commitment to go wherever Jesus called them to go.
First the younger children began to come quietly and place their names on the boat. The teenagers followed. Then the leaders. “Somehow,” tells Catherine, we all ended up standing in a circle singing, “I have decided to follow Jesus, no turning back.”
“Most of these children’s parents were Turkish ministry workers, very visible to those who would prefer they were dead. These children did not place their names on the boat unknowingly, they knew the cost. They knew that Andrew Brunson’s story could be their parents’ story…or their own.”
It’s an amazing account that forces us to ask ourselves, “Would we stand, knowing the cost, like these young heroes of the faith?”
Resource reading: 2 Timothy 2:8-13