Persecution and Persistence

I started reading Persecution by David Limbaugh this week. I realize that the book may be nearly two years old, but as I said earlier, my access to good western books is sometimes limited by my location in Mongolia.

Limbaugh begins the book with dramatic accounts of students across America who have been persecuted for their Christian faith. That persecution took the form of teachers and principals preventing students from praying over lunches, at graduations, forcing them to stop talking about Jesus with friends during recess, and much more. There are many accounts of judges and other officials threatening to arrest and imprison students if they even utter the name of Jesus.

There may not be many Christians in Mongolia, but I may have more religious freedom here than in America.

Reading the accounts in Persecution (which is a tremendous read), brought to mind the time my wife, Diane, and I thought we might be involved with a legal battle to protect our daughter’s right to express her faith. However, our situation turned out very differently.

It was early 1998, Rochele was in first grade at McCoy Elementary School in Orlando, located about 2 miles north of the International Airport. Diane and I were taking part in a parent-teacher conference to go over Rochele’s school work and get a firsthand report from the teacher about what kind of student she was. I was a bit nervous, still feeling raw as a parent, wondering how I would react to a teacher who might want to suppress my kid’s religious freedoms.

The teacher gave us a glowing report of Rochele’s work and behavior, specifically noting how she was not only well behaved, but was often held up to the other students as an example of a hard worker with good behavior. That gave us great pride, though I secretly feared she might become a teacher’s pet geek – which gives you an idea of what I suffered when I was a kid, but that’s a story for another therapy session. I digress.

During the private consultation with the teacher things became serious. “I have to tell you that we do have one problem with your daughter,” the teacher said. Diane and I eyed each other cautiously, waiting for the blow. Now, you must understand that the words that follow are as exact as I can remember them, because I’ve told this story many times since that day, and I don’t want you to miss the exaggeration that was part of this teacher’s speech. She said, “Rochele seems to think it is her mission in life to make sure that every student in this school knows everything about God.

Now…I know my daughter, and while I’m sure the teacher was exaggerating, I’m also sure she wasn’t exaggerating that much. I confess…I was so proud of my girl.

I decided not to respond right away, so the teacher continued. “I have to tell you that this has become a very serious problem. She talks about these things during lunch, recess, in between assignments, all the time.” That was certainly true. Before the semester was out she lead two of her classmates in a prayer to receive Christ – between assignments!

Her teacher finally said, “The problem has become so serious that we had a staff meeting of the faculty about it.” Wow. I was sure the hammer that was about to fall would be a Grade A industrial sledge. “But as we talked we realized that we have real problems in this school. We have drugs and alcohol. We have violence and kids who brings knives, and other problems. We decided that Rochele isn’t really that big of a problem. So, we’ve decided that we are going to let her do whatever she wants. We simply wanted you to know.”

Stunned would not be a good word to describe our feelings. We thanked the teacher and left, counting our blessings, not wanting to “jinx” anything for Rochele, or her early expression of faith.

I am stunned to read of the hundreds, yes hundreds of reports that surface each year of the “legal” suppression of religious speech in the United States – and it’s growing. Rochele’s early experience was a great victory because a number of teachers at an elementary school recognized that the faithful, respectful (though persistent) religious speech of a 7-year-old was far less threatening than the problems associated with kids who live under a value system where drugs, alcohol, and weapons in school are becoming more “normal.” Believe it or not, Rochele, and the rest of our girls, live in a more protected environment now — in Mongolia — than in a public school in the United States. I find it ironic, even tragic, that our kids have fewer problems expressing their faith in the most Buddhist nation on Earth than they would if they still lived in the so-called most “Christian” nation on Earth.

I love America. It took living in Mongolia for me to truly appreciate the heritage of faith we have in the Land of Free. And now that I live in Asia, looking in from afar at what is happening in my homeland, I wonder what the future holds for the nation that has been single greatest champion of religious freedom and human rights in all recorded history. Perhaps someday, the children of those reached by American missionaries in this country will become missionaries themselves, and bring the heritage of true religious freedom back to its great benefactor.

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