Meriam is a 27 year-old mother of two. She was raised by her single-mother after her father disappeared when she was only six years-old. She was raised in the church, learning about God’s love for her; about his Son, Jesus, who died that she might have abundant and eternal life; about the Holy Spirit who lives within her and sustains her even in the most difficult of circumstances. Life isn’t easy for Meriam. She is married to her husband, Daniel, who is confined to a wheelchair and “depends on her for all the details of his life.” Her oldest child, a boy, is 20 months old and she just gave birth to her second child, a girl, on Monday. Having three people so utterly dependent on her can’t be easy, but Meriam has learned that no matter what, God would love her.
Did I mention that Meriam Yehya Ibrahim lives in the Sudan? And that she is in prison, facing 100 lashes and the death penalty for marrying a Christian man and failing to recant her Christian faith? And that she has stood firm in her commitment to the Good News of Jesus Christ even in the face of imprisonment, torture, and death by hanging?
The First Letter of Peter was written to Christians who knew hardship not unlike what Meriam Ibrahim is living. Tensions were high in the eastern edges of the Roman Empire in the latter half of the first century. The Temple in Jerusalem had been destroyed as a result of a Jewish uprising, and Christianity, despised by the Romans as a subset of Judaism was on the rise. The Churches in Asia Minor, to which the letter was written, were being slandered, facing persecution, and had already suffered greatly. In the midst of all of this, the author of One Peter encourages the Christians there to “always be ready to give an account of the hope that is in you,” but to do it “with gentleness and reverence.” Even in the face of some of the worst that humankind can do, the message of One Peter is to meet violence with love, to always to what is right, and to share the Good News of Jesus with gentleness.
It is fashionable for politicians in America today to claim that Christianity is under attack. The rise of same-sex marriage, the growing number of stores that wish you Happy Holidays, the lack of prayer in school are all pointed to as examples of violence against Christians, but the fact of the matter is that no one in this country will face the awful situation that the 1st century churches in Asia Minor faced. None of us will find ourselves in prison WITH our twenty month-old son and three day-old daughter like Meriam Ibrahim is. None of us really knows what persecution is like, which I think is why so many American Christians are also in no way prepared to share the hope that is within us. The type of sharing that the author of first Peter was talking about wasn’t evangelism, but rather martyrdom. Christians were to be witnesses of the Gospel even if it cost them their lives.
On the contrary, our faith is comfortable, even easy, and so we hear the call of 1 Peter 3:15 as an optional part of our faith, but even as it is now less about martyrdom and more a call to evangelism, the fact remains that each of us should be ready to give an account of the source of our hope, our joy, our faith. One of my favorite parts of being associated with the Acts 8 Moment is the goal of making evangelism practical, available, and as unscary as possible. Our goal, in light of the relative ease of being a Christian in 21st century America is to challenge our church to be ready to give an account.
That’s all evangelism really is; being able to answer the question, “What makes you different?” or “Why do you get up early on Sunday to go to church?” or “How can you believe in evolution and still read the Bible?” or “What difference does Jesus really make anyway?” 1 Peter 3:15a evangelism assumes a relationship. People are rarely going to, out of the blue, ask you about the hope that is within you. Rather, over time, as relationships develop, the Christian hope for the restoration of all things in the Kingdom of God should, ideally, shine through everything you do, especially showing forth in how you handle the difficult moments in life. And when, eventually, someone notices, and when, eventually, they get up the gumption to ask, then all you have to do is share your story, explain your hope, and describe your relationship with God through his Son by the power of the Holy Spirit.
We should earnestly pray for Meriam Ibrahim and the millions of others who find themselves at odds with their government for their faith in Jesus Christ. At the same time, we need to realize that we do these great witnesses a disservice be being unwilling or unable to share how the Good News of God has changed our lives. Always be ready, my friends, for you never know when the love of God shining through you might cause someone to ask, “how are you so full of love?”