He is an Arab Christian with a ministry in the Middle East. And to start he says he could not speak freely with me in his home country. There our conversation would not continue, he said, until he had removed the battery from his cell phone.
“Why?” I ask.
“They would bug your cell phone to listen to your conversations?” I said to him in disbelief.
“It happens,” he said calmly. “If I were to openly speak with a Muslim about becoming a Christian, life would become very difficult for me and for him,” he said. And then he went on to discuss a litany of government offenses and harassment that has made his work difficult and sometimes dangerous. His precarious position is the reason I will not tell you his name, his ministry, our meeting place, or his nation.
His family fled from Palestine to this Arab country when Israel became a nation. Later he came to college in the United States, with plans to enter a high-paying professional career. But in America, his roommate was a Christian. And before he graduated, he had made Christ his Lord too. He returned to the Middle East a changed man, with a changed vision for how he would spend his life. Seminary in America followed, and then a ministry in the Middle East.
“I am very grateful for America,” he told me. “First, of course, because that is where I met my Savior. And then,” he added, “because of your Bill of Rights.”
Freedom of speech. Freedom to assemble and worship. Freedom to publish. And thus freedom to tell others about Jesus. Most of us take these freedoms for granted, and some would say they are threatened here today.
It’s sure every citizen should resist any effort to redefine or restrict these basic rights. Meanwhile, all of us can talk to a neighbor about Jesus without fear of government intrusion. We never wonder whether our small groups will be raided or our worship services shut down. No one is prosecuted for converting from one faith to another.
On every Fourth of July celebration since then, I’ve thought of this Arab Christian’s wistful testimony. His experience reminds me to thank God for our freedom to be the church. His faithfulness challenges me anew to approach the church’s work—evangelizing and studying and worshipping—with a passion we sometimes see best among those who must live out their faith behind closed doors.