“If a man hasn’t discovered something that he will die for, he isn’t fit to live.” – Martin Luther King, Jr.
In my early twenties, I had the opportunity to live in the Republic of Bulgaria for a little over a year and a half and serve as a Baptist missionary. Before and during my time there, I was exposed to a lot of history about the nation of Bulgaria itself, as well as the Christian church in general and the Protestant Baptist church (with whom I partnered and worshipped) in particular.
For those that may not be aware, Bulgaria was a satellite nation of the Soviet Union before its collapse in 1989, and took many of its “marching orders” from the Kremlin in Moscow. Those with even a passing historical familiarity with the Soviet Union are probably also familiar with the atrocities committed against those who dared raise a voice of dissent against that totalitarian regime, so there’s no need to go into much detail there.
Suffice it to say, however, that the Bulgarian Baptist Church was no exception to this persecution. Though it’s been nearly six years since I returned from my missionary service in Bulgaria, I still receive updates about the missionary work that is continuing there and recently read one update in particular that I think should speak to us all on a multitude of levels; whether one calls him or herself a Christian or not.
Below is an excerpt from that update that is basically a summary of remarks made by a gentleman who was a key leader in the church during the years under communism.
In the days of communism, pastors of the Baptist churches and other evangelical denominations were tried and convicted often accused of being spies for the West. These men were imprisoned. Some of their families forced to relocate and live in Roma (Gypsy) communities. Those families that remained in their cities found their friends now turned against them and working menial jobs to just survive. People fled the church for fear that their children may not be able to get into university or that they may lose their jobs. Beyond the suffering of people, church buildings were confiscated…in the city of Russe on the Danube River…the communists were so bold as to confiscate the church, fill the baptistry with cement and turn the building into a meeting place for an Atheist club seeking to declare that religion was dead. Pastor Angelov [the key leader] shared about the day after the fall when they received the keys for that church again and how the members of the church later with joy tore out the concrete from the baptistry. After sharing much more than this, Pastor Angelov concluded with this thought. The communists thought that in removing the pastors and leaders of the
church that they would be able to cut off the head of the church and
destroy it. But what the communists did not know is that the head of the church is Christ and that nobody can remove Him as head.
I should probably point out that this essay is not meant to be entirely “religious.” It is, however, meant to provoke some critical thinking. As Americans whose lives too often reflect an attitude of “If a man hasn’t discovered the latest trend, latest product, latest self-help philosophy…he isn’t fit to live” rather than the above King quote, the questions remain: What have we discovered that is worth dying for? Have we discovered any such thing? Or have we become so imbibed with popular culture, our favorite television shows, and the mentality of “going along just to get along” in the marketplace of ideas that we cannot honestly look at ourselves and say that we would take a stand for anything; our faith, our freedom, or our families…let alone DIE for any of these things?
The Bulgarian Christians knew that Christ was the head of the church, and the head of their lives, and as such they were neither ashamed nor afraid to admit it and even die for it if necessary. For many like-minded people of faith (myself included), we too would like to think that we would have the same courage as those Christians who stood in defiance of tyranny and in defense of their faith so many years ago. And for those who do not consider themselves people of faith, perhaps they would like to think of themselves as willing to give their lives in another worthy cause; the cause of freedom from terrorism and slavery, the cause of justice for the oppressed, or perhaps the cause of poverty alleviation.
Who knows? Maybe we would. However, the above excerpt also mentions those that “fled the church” for fear of losing their jobs and their opportunities for worldly success.
Which category are we really in?
We must determine if our lives reflect the unbending and unshakable determination to live as those who are “fit to live” in the spirit of Dr. King’s immortal words? Or do we balk at the first sign of opposition in a worthy cause as we realize perhaps too late that fear is perhaps a greater enemy than any earthly threat we could face?
In the final analysis, our lives won’t be judged based on how much money we made, how much fun we had, or even who we chose to share our lives with. Rather, our lives will be judged by those values and principles for which we steadfastly stood and sought to pass on to those who followed us in posterity.