02/27/2023 Washington D.C. (International Christian Concern) – When I think of struggling persecuted Christians, I think of Mrs. Mukhtar. She was married to a pastor in Pakistan, a man who was incredibly bold for Christ.
In Pastor Mukhtar’s neighborhood, people heard the Muslim call to prayer five times a day from minarets atop the local mosques. Not to be outdone, Pastor Mukhtar installed a loudspeaker on the roof of his church. He planned to broadcast short prayers and sections of Scripture to the neighborhood.
Pastor Mukhtar wasn’t some obnoxious rebel with a microphone. He had a great love for Muslims and was a compelling witness; many Muslims came to Christ because of his outreach.
His deep love for Muslims and his success in winning Muslims to Christ deeply bothered his Muslim neighbors, earning him many enemies. In fact, his effectiveness was practically a death sentence.
Strangers began to arrive at Mukhtar’s door to politely warn him against witnessing. Over time, the threats grew less subtle. He was told that he would pay with his life if he did not stop converting Muslims to Christianity.
After each visit, his wife asked him, “Who were those people, and what did they want?” Pastor Mukhtar kept these threats from his wife so that she wouldn’t be afraid. He would answer by saying things like, “Don’t worry, dear, it was only business.”
Despite the threats, Pastor Mukhtar couldn’t stop. God had revealed to him the key to life. He had to share that key with all those still imprisoned. Threats couldn’t stop him, even when his enemies offered to let him live if he would only stop preaching and allow the prisoners around him to quietly rot in prison. But Pastor Mukhtar could not accept such a small bribe. His deep love for the Father and for the prisoners around him forced him to keep going no matter the cost.
Pastor Mukhtar was eventually assassinated. His murder was highly publicized. His widow feared that the men who killed her husband would one day return and silence her as well. After his assassination, state security services forbade her from speaking with foreigners. These restrictions applied to us, so we met with her in secret.
When I met Mrs. Mukhtar, I was suffering from extreme jet lag and exhaustion after extensive travel. But I was there to find out how I could help her rebuild her life after the tragic loss of her husband, so I was eager to meet with her.
Mrs. Mukhtar had six children, including several older daughters at home. In Muslim culture, a girl without a father is vulnerable, so daughters stay with the family until they marry.
The stress of losing her husband and carrying the load of a large family left her shell-shocked. But Mrs. Mukhtar was stoic as she recounted the details of her living nightmare. From the outside, there was no sign that tragedy had engulfed her life just a few weeks earlier. Her lack of any outward emotion made it hard for me to relate to her at first.
When I meet someone’s unvarnished pain, I tend to respond with empathy. If I see a person’s tragedy and their sorrows, hurts, and scars, I share in their suffering. So, while listening to her story, I became ashamed of my lack of empathy. Mrs. Mukhtar had suffered so much. Shouldn’t I feel her pain? Shouldn’t I feel that deep sense of compassion that I experienced in similar meetings with other victims?
I was able to supply financial help for her and her family, but we had to cut our meeting short due to security concerns. Before we left, I asked if I could pray for her, and she consented.
As I began to pray, I felt compelled to place my hand on Mrs. Mukhtar’s shoulder. I knew that would be crossing a cultural boundary in fundamentalist Muslim Pakistan, but I felt compelled to do so. I followed the Spirit’s leading and began to pray aloud:
“Father, sometimes you ask us to carry loads that are too heavy for us. My sister here has one of those loads. Could you touch her and let her know the peace that surpasses all understanding? Lord, she has a desert to walk through, and I pray she would feel your hand holding hers as she journeys through it.”
As I prayed over Mrs. Mukhtar, her shoulders began to twitch. I continued to intercede for her, and her body started to shake. Soon the gentle, rocking motion turned to outright heaving and muffled cries. I kept my hand on her shoulder after I finished praying, and her tears turned to uncontrolled sobbing.
Mrs. Mukhtar after the loss of her husband when Jeff met her. In Urdu, she cried out in anguish, “How could they murder him? All he did was love people. He loved the Muslim people. I cannot forget him. How am I going to live without him? What if they kill my son, too?”
My Pakistani associate seemed uncomfortable with this strong display of emotion. He patted her on the back awkwardly, telling her, “Don’t cry. Everything will be fine. Please don’t cry.”
But everything would not be fine. God was still in control, and He would walk with her in her pain, but things were not fine.
Her life had been irretrievably broken.
I sat there with my hand on her heaving shoulder and prayed in the stillness of my heart. Then, my tears started to flow as well. The Word tells us to weep with those who weep, and I did.
My tears fell freely that day. I wasn’t ashamed, and neither was Mrs. Mukhtar. Before I left, she took my hand in both of her own and looked at me with her tear-filled eyes. I will never forget the expression on her face or the tone in her voice when she looked up into my eyes and thanked me.
What was she thanking me for? I knew it was more than the money.
I wish I could capture that moment in time. I wish you could see her eyes. Full of sorrow but coupled with gratitude after we cried, prayed, and cried together.
My job is simultaneously thrilling, exhausting, and rewarding. I’ve heard and seen too many accounts of horrific atrocities committed against Christians, many of which are accompanied by graphic photos and videos. When I sit in my D.C. office, reading a report from halfway around the world, I don’t always feel the pain of my brothers and sisters. But, when I’m sitting face to face with a victim or when my hand is on their heaving shoulder, I feel their pain.
When I meet with the persecuted, I become acquainted with their suffering. I consider the effect on my heart to be a great benefit. In the west, there is a superficial quality to life as we strive for wealth and continual ease and comfort. This phenomenon is consistent with our human nature, but it has a decidedly negative effect on us. We face a constant pull toward narcissism and self-absorption.
Carrying the pain of our persecuted brothers and sisters may be a burden, but it is a restorative burden. I believe that it is the cure for the frivolousness endemic to Western life.
The pain of the persecuted needs to become our pain. The Lord addresses this repeatedly in the New Testament when He refers to the Church universal as “the body of Christ.”
On the day I met Mrs. Mukhtar, her sorrow became my sorrow and still is. I left my meeting with Mrs. Mukhtar knowing that her heart had an exceedingly long desert to walk through. I also knew she wouldn’t be walking through that desert alone.
On that day, one exhausted and calloused heart was softened and restored.
In short, the persecuted were changing me. While I was paid to minister to them, I found them discipling me in what Christianity could or should be. They were bringing life to my heart and leading me up the mountain path of my spiritual journey. I couldn’t see the path ahead, let alone an endpoint since the mist around the mountain was thick, and hid the way.
So, I kept watching and listening to the persecuted and the martyrs, as I followed the master’s footsteps – one step at a time.
To read more stories like this, sign up for ICC’s free monthly magazine.