He put another parable before them, saying, “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a man who sowed good seed in his field, but while his men were sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat and went away. So when the plants came up and bore grain, then the weeds appeared also. And the servants of the master of the house came and said to him, ‘Master, did you not sow good seed in your field? How then does it have weeds?’ He said to them, ‘An enemy has done this.’ So the servants said to him, ‘Then do you want us to go and gather them?’ But he said, ‘No, lest in gathering the weeds you root up the wheat along with them. Let both grow together until the harvest, and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, Gather the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn.’” Matthew 13:24-30
On a recent trip to Injibara, Ethiopia, “The Parable of the Weeds” became very REAL to me. To be honest, I was deeply troubled by the many terrible news headlines I had been reading of Christian persecution by ISIS, the Ebola outbreak in West Africa, Boko Haram chaos in Nigeria, Al Shabab terror in Somalia, war in Ukraine, racial riots in Ferguson, and so on. In addition to this, I was currently traveling in an area of Ethiopia where persecution of Evangelical Christians was rampant and very few happy stories were being shared.
I found myself in a nearly hopeless state while driving our land cruiser through 6 inch deep mud in a torrential rain storm with little visibility as the Ethiopian Church leader in the back seat was sharing story after story of persecution he had experienced from being put in jail and tortured for Christ during the time of the Communist Derg to modern day stories of women carrying their dead babies for miles to bury them in the only cemetery available for Evangelical Christians. Between the tears filling my eyes and the sheets of water pounding the windshield it was truly a miracle that we didn’t slide off the side of the road. And then a question came forth from this man’s mouth that I certainly didn’t expect, a question that I was certainly not qualified to answer:
“Erik, when do I get to rest? I am so tired…”
My heart actually pounded a bit as I felt the Holy Spirit whisper in my ear the response I was to give:
“Pastor, there will be plenty of time to rest in eternity.”
Immediately my mind was filled with accusations. Who was I to say such a thing like that to a man who has given the last 30+ years of his life to the Gospel and suffered so much persecution? I had never experienced anything like what he has lived through! In no way could I actually comprehend the struggle he was having in his heart! Who was I to give this man any type of advice?
He responded with a smile “Perhaps I just needs a short break.”
I was instantly relieved as I realized that I said exactly what he needed to hear. As we continued to talk, I realized that there were not very many “cheerleaders”or “Barnabas” type people speaking into the lives of these persecuted Christians.
“When he (Barnabas) came and saw the grace of God, he was glad, and he exhorted them all to remain faithful to the Lord with steadfast purpose,” Acts 11:23
In The Parable of The Weeds, Jesus tells us in verse 26 that as the plants came up the weeds appeared also. Sometimes, it is our nature to put too much focus on “the weeds”. We continually talk about all the bad news, all the terrible things we read on Facebook or BBC or Fox news and we forget to share the testimonies of the amazing things that God is doing in the midst of these weeds. I began to think about my lawn and how the more I fertilize it, the more I water it, and the more I take care of it the less I see weeds. So it is with the Church, the more we focus onencouraging (fertilizing/watering) the more we will see it grow! Encouragement comes best in the form of testimonies. When we share with each other our real life situations of God’s good work we are strengthened and we grow!
The very next day I witnessed truths from this parable first hand as I interviewed two Church Planters from nearby areas. One of them, Bayehe, shared with me how in his village of 30,000 people there are only 50 Chrisitians and recently during a wedding, radical Orthodox believers came and started to beat the bride, groom, and wedding party. As the police arrived, they arrested the wedding party instead of the persecutors! In addition to that, the community then agreed that they would no longer rent houses to any of these Evangelical Christians. Bayehe was so depressed and downtrodden as he shared this with me. I could tell he was thinking about giving up on his ministry.
Next (while Bayehe was still in the room) I interviewed Gezagn who shared a completely opposite story. In his village of 40,000 people there are over 1,000 believers and growing! He shared how God was doing amazing things in the hearts of the people! In his church of 40 there were nine new believers who converted from the Orthodox church this year! As he shared, I couldn’t help but notice Bayehe starting to “perk up” and as we went outside to take some photos I saw a new light and a powerful smile shine from Bayehe. I am certain that the next time I meet with Bayehe, we will hear some amazing stories of what God is doing in his village!
As the weeds grow, so do the crops. As the persecution and struggles grow in our world, so will the Glory of God. As we get closer and closer to the “End Time Harvest” we will see both the crops and the weeds grow but let’s join together to focus on the crop (the church)! Let’s focus on encouraging one another! Sharing our testimonies! Expecting God to do miracles! Remember, no matter what, in the end–WE WIN!
“And they have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they loved not their lives even unto death.” Revelation 12:11