In Christian history there have been two great accelerants of the Great Commission: persecution and natural disasters. Today we are seeing a combination of both, and it may indicate that we are on the precipice of a great global awakening.
It’s always been this way.
When people are confronted with the frailty of life, especially when shaken out of times of calm and prosperity, they often end up on their knees with their eyes toward Heaven, looking for answers. And when people are persecuted for their faith, it demonstrates something supernatural about their relationship with Jesus Christ to their neighbors.
In other words, natural disasters shine a light on the love of the church, and persecution demonstrates the truth and power of the Gospel. Right now, we are seeing persecution of Christians on a scale unrealized before, at a time when our interconnected world is experiencing its first truly global natural disaster.
In the past, on a much smaller scale, moments like these have been the prologue to millions awakening to the Gospel. Imagine what could happen this time, in our interconnected, digital age.
When pandemics devastated the Roman Empire in A.D. 165 and 250, Christians met the obligation to care for the sick rather than desert them, and therefore saved enormous numbers of lives, according to one noted historian. Throughout history, Christians have run to help those in need when others run away to protect themselves. The Christian response to both Roman plagues resulted in mortality being reduced by as much as two-thirds.
These “healers” did so in the Name of Jesus Christ, and they did it with the Gospel on their lips. In fact, the testimony of Christians became so widely known that one of their early persecutors complained that the Christians “support not only their own poor but ours as well.”
The last pandemic—the 1918 Spanish Flu outbreak—was a time of global fear and tens of millions of deaths, but the church responded by helping those in need while making sure they also heard the Gospel. An Assemblies of God paper wrote, “The saints of God need have no fear, they can look up to Heaven and rejoice in the certain knowledge that their redemption draweth nigh.” Another edition of the same paper spoke of a missionary woman in India who worked “night and day caring for the sick” until she succumbed to the disease herself.
In 1946, Billy Graham’s message met open hearts in a riven Europe. He wrote in his memoir, “We were there less than a year after the end of World War II, and we encountered shortages, hardships and rationing everywhere.” God raised up Mr. Graham in a world that had barely survived the Spanish Flu, then Nazism, and was soon threatened by socialism and communism. Millions were searching for hope, and they found it in the Gospel message.
The great persecutions of the early church led to the Christianization of the Roman Empire, and the persecution of believers in Europe led to the establishment of the United States, which became the greatest missionary sending nation in history. The terror of Chairman Mao’s cultural revolution led to a Christian movement that has grown steadily through the decades, so that now China’s Christians number more than its Communist Party members. The persecution of the Christians by the Soviets led to today’s thriving Christian churches throughout the former Soviet Bloc and even in Russia. The fastest-growing Christian movement in the world may be Iran’s underground church, and one-quarter of those living in the world’s most populated Muslim country, Indonesia, are now Christians.
Pandemics and persecutions have often led to massive movements toward Jesus Christ. David Livingstone was right when he wrote, “The best remedy for a sick church is to put it on a missionary diet.”
Livingstone’s “missionary diet” consisted of enduring any hardship to the point of death in order to go wherever God led. The result was the spectacular launch of Christianity on a continent many leaders considered too spiritually dark to penetrate—Africa. And now, there are more Christians in Africa than on any other continent.
We may feel like we are living in a dark world today. The world has been brought to its knees by attempts to manage the pandemic. Churches were shuttered. Pastors have been silenced in many parts of the world. Missions were hampered.
And yet, God’s work has continued unabated throughout the world. Ask pastors like David Jeremiah, Greg Laurie or Jack Graham about the numbers coming to faith through web, radio and television ministries. Ask health care workers on the front lines of the pandemic working for Samaritan’s Purse or the pastors laboring behind the scenes around the world. Ask about the impact of schools and community health centers in India, or travel to the Middle East with me and sit with the leaders of Muslim nations who increasingly see Christians as indispensable blessings to their countries.
Paul’s words to the Colossians could have been written today: “All around the world the Gospel is growing and bearing much fruit” (Cf. Colossians 1:6).
As we know from Scripture, where sin abounds, grace abounds even more. So it should not surprise us that the Gospel seems to shine the brightest in moments of pain and persecution. We must hold fast to our faith and be prepared to care for others, always being a witness along the way.
History’s great struggles tend to be the impetus for its next Great Awakening. ©2021 Johnnie Moore
Johnnie Moore is the founder of The Kairos Company and president of The Congress of Christian Leaders.
Above: Medical personnel at the Samaritan’s Purse Emergency Field Hospital in New York’s Central Park pray for patients suffering from COVID-19 in April 2020.
Photo: Paul Sherar/©2020 Samaritan's Purse