We were going to Ispland. Ispland, the fictional land where our training would take place, is a closed Muslim country where Christians are not welcome, especially not if you are a missionary. During training the previous Monday, we were given an itinerary and instructions on how to conduct ourselves while in Ispland. They told us that pretty much anything could happen. We were also charged with respecting the culture of Ispland, and since it is a Muslim country, that meant wearing a scarf that would cover our heads.
Even though it was just a simulation, the fact that I did not know what would happen next was enough to scare me. It made me fear the unknown. But I guess that is why I spent the week in prayerful preparation.
We were charged with meeting our team at the kugel (globe) on Friday evening at 6:00 sharp. The mood was hectic and frantic, filled with a little bit of anxiety and fear.
As soon as I got to the kugel, I saw teams meeting everywhere. I could not find mine. Everywhere I looked I saw girls wearing their scarves and talking quietly in their groups. There were also speakers set up and the sound coming from them was that of jets constantly flying overhead to give everyone the sense that we really were in an airport in a foreign land.
I finally found my team and we began filling out all of our immigration papers. When it was finally our turn, we walked up and had our bags checked. Usually the way things happen is that one person from each team would “lose their luggage.” This meant that whoever lost it would have to endure the next 24 hours without the essential items they had packed in their suitcases. My team leader was the one who was selected from my group.
After that, we went through health screenings where we were asked if we had been sick recently or if we ate pork. The whole time I felt the pressure to answer all of the questions the right way. It was intense.
Next was going through customs where they check and stamp your passport. It was intimidating. I will not lie, I fumbled my answers. But I learned from my mistakes.
After that, we had to get our bags checked then buy a bus ticket and endure walking through the marketplace where desperate merchants were trying to sell their goods. One women was even begging that we take her child back to America with us so it could have a good life.
After our short bus ride, we checked into our hotel and bought clothes for the next day. At this point, we were finally allowed to find our room and set up camp before going to a room to debrief everything that had happened so far.
Worship came next. This is where things got even more real than they already were. My heart begins to pump and tears come to my eyes just thinking about what took place during this time.
At worship, every song that was sung was all about surrendering ourselves to God and going where He wanted us to go. And on top of that, not being afraid to shout His name from the rooftops and admit that you love Jesus.
I have never experienced so sincere of a worship session before. It was life-changing.
Once worship was over, we got information about the persecuted church and the people all over the world who are persecuted for their faith everyday. I already knew about the persecuted church. I know about underground churches, where members have to scatter just to get to their meeting place unscathed. I know that they are sometimes followed by the police. I know they are threatened.
What I never really considered was how most of these secret churches do not have access to an entire Bible. Or how the majority of them do not even KNOW that OTHER believers EXIST! That blew my mind! And broke my heart at the same time.
So we were told that we would be participating in an exercise for the underground church. We all had to separate and take a long route to our destination. There was a high likelihood that we would get followed by the police or get stopped and questioned. But all went well and we arrived at our meeting place. And what happened next changed my life.
Once everyone was in the room, the leader of our small Bible study spoke up by suggesting we all sing a few praise songs a Capella. It took a few seconds for everyone to process what she was asking, but soon we all began to sing the first verses of “Amazing Grace.” Just the melody of all our voices mixed together was the only sound in the entire room. Just a group of believers hiding from the authorities and bringing praise to their Savior.
When we were finished singing a couple more hymns, our group leader handed a page to my team leader and asked her to read our verses for the night. But it came with a warning: We would likely have to burn the single page when we were done with it. The only verses listed on the page were Ephesians 6:10-20, just 10 verses. Yet no one was permitted to physically carry the page out with them. We could only carry them home in our hearts.
While my team leader was reading the Scripture provided, a security guard walked by outside of our door and shone his light inside. We quickly had to shut off our one flashlight so we would not be discovered.
When the reading was over, we began to pray. As our group leader was praying for the persecuted church, we heard commotion from another room. Banging on the walls, shouting for people to put their hands in the air, screaming as team leaders were arrested and taken away shattered the solitary feeling in our room. But the group leader pressed on with prayers. Soon we were all praying.
The whole time we were praying, my eyes were wide open and fixed on the door. I feared the police force coming into our room and taking us away, arresting us. It was sobering to remember that in the end nothing bad would happen. But all over the world these situations happen every day. No one really knows if their church is going to be broken-up and their leaders taken away.
But God used that exercise to remind me that His Word is something to be treasured. i have Bibles, and with technology so prevalent the way it is these days, I have access to hundreds of Bibles in tons of different languages and translations. Yet I do not have that strong commitment to memorize His Word and hide it in my heart so that I might not sin against Him.
I went to bed that night with my team with a prayer in my heart: That we would all renew our commitment to knowing His Word and memorizing it, depending on it to bring us through.
We would need every ounce of strength for what was to come the next day.