What’s More Important Than Protecting Your Childrens’ Right To Read The Bible During School Recess?

Recently young Giovanni Rubeo was refused access to his Bible during his school’s free reading time.  I was interested to learn more about his response to his teacher in light of the theology of persecution and suffering we teach to North Korean defectors who are training to be missionaries to their own people.

Last week I shared with them the above video and asked them what they thought about Rubeo’s situation. I thought it would be helpful for the defectors to compare/contrast Rubeo’s response with how Scripture tells us to respond.

Surprisingly, all of the North Korean defectors agreed that Rubeo was indeed being persecuted for his faith.  They noted that the persecution wasn’t extreme and wasn’t physical in nature, but that nonetheless it was persecution.

But there was also a consensus in the class that young Rubeo and his father didn’t respond quite right to the persecution.

In The Shadow of the Cross, by Glenn Penner, points out that Scripture models three primary responses to persecution.

Flee – There are certain times when the Bible says that it is appropriate to flee or run away from persecution. The reason for the “fleeing” is important though, because the Bible never tells us to run away from persecution only for the purpose of avoiding suffering. God’s mission and God’s timing are always the most important things to consider. A good example of this are the words of Jesus in Matthew 10:23. He says,

When they persecute you in one town, flee to the next, for truly, I say to you, you will not have gone through all the towns of Israel before the Son of Man comes (Matthew 10:23).

Jesus tells his followers to escape to another city, not because he is seeking to save them from having to suffer, but because his mission was for them to go from city to city telling the people about Jesus. If they were to get trapped in one city then they wouldn’t be able to spread God’s message to the other cities that Jesus wanted them to go.

Courage – This is the most common response to persecution that we see in the Bible. For example, shortly after Jesus suffered, died and rose again, He gave a surprising command to his followers. He told them to “stay in Jerusalem,” (Acts 1:4) which was the very place where all of these terrible things had happened. I’m sure his followers may rather have received a command from him to flee to another town or village where they might have been safer, but Jesus told them simply to stay.

Fight – There are also times when it is okay to defend yourself. Jesus at one point in his suffering defended himself, not to protest his suffering but rather as a testimony to his innocence.  The Apostle Paul is also a good example. Paul was regularly being persecuted and thrown in prison for telling others about Jesus Christ. One time, however, Paul told one of the high officials that they didn’t have the right to arrest him and that he had done nothing wrong.

But Paul said, “I am standing before Caesar’s tribunal, where I ought to be tried. To the Jews I have done no wrong, as you yourself know very well. If then I am a wrongdoer and have committed anything for which I deserve to die, I do not seek to escape death. But if there is nothing to their charges against me, no one can give me up to them. I appeal to Caesar (Acts 25:10-11).”

Again, it’s important to point out that Paul never fought in order to avoid suffering or even to maintain his own personal liberty. And it’s interesting to note that he didn’t even fight for his right to engage in private Christian activity, e.g., studying the Bible in public school.  He did it to spread the message about which he was preaching.

After watching the video, the UU students felt that Rubeo had most closely resembled the “fight” response mentioned above.  But the students (and myself) were uncomfortable with the way the Rubeos demanded an apology from the teacher.

Personally, I respect the courage that it took for young Rubeo to read his Bible in school, but I also sense that the outrage the Rubeo’s expressed had less to do with spreading the gospel and more to do with personal liberty.

The Bible promises that if we truly follow God, we will be persecuted, but my challenge to you is to respond to persecution, (flee, courage or fight) with an aim to make disciples by proclaiming the gospel and not simply with an aim to protect your right to be a disciple.

About tdillmuth

Pastor Timothy Dillmuth is the Discipleship Pastor of Voice of the Martyrs Korea. He oversees Underground University, a missionary training school for North Korean defectors, and does discipleship training with Christians from all over the world. Pastor Tim received a bachelor's degree from Zion Bible College and an M.Div. from Regent University. He lives with his wife, Melissia and their three children in Seoul, South Korea.
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5 Responses to What’s More Important Than Protecting Your Childrens’ Right To Read The Bible During School Recess?

  1. Beverlie Myers says:

    Wholeheartedly, I agree that as disciples of our Lord Jesus Christ we are to keep our response pure of self serving motives. This would include persecution and any other form of temptation or suffering we encounter in this world. I just want to add that sometimes the way things seem on the outside are not always the way they are in a person’s heart. The boys defense of his rights might at first glance seem self serving, especially to those who have lived lives deprived of their rights and of any hope for defending them. As to how this boy’s defense of his rights may affect the Gospel…who knows if his courage and his example might not lend courage to another young person to take a stand for Jesus Christ. Or God may even use his example to influence someone to use their liberty to take a stand for the rights of those who are persecuted and oppressed. Certainly God can use everything and everyone for the sake of his Kingdom. So like Paul we are to rejoice whenever or however Christ is represented.

    • tdillmuth says:

      Great perspective Beverlie – thank you for sharing your heart!

    • tdillmuth says:

      After praying a little more over the weekend I want to follow-up with my post! I wholeheartedly agree that we don’t know the full story, and the media could have certainly twisted the story to fit their own goals. And I really do “respect the courage that it took for young Rubeo to read his Bible in school.” But with that being said, I think we can learn a lot about how to respond to persecution by comparing his response with the Scriptural accounts. And this is my challenge to you and other readers (and myself) – that we learn and grow!

      One of the ways that I grew was by understanding the response to persecution that we see happen in the New Testament. The response always seemed to have an aim to further spread the gospel rather than personal rights. (Wow – what a high purpose and calling for us!)

      I do think there is a lack of good “persecution theology” in the Western Church. This probably contributes to the “incomplete way” many Americans respond to persecution. Glenn Penner, from Voice of the Martyrs Canada (now deceased) wrote a tremendous book on suffering and persecution, called In The Shadow of the Cross, which we use in our NK missionary school. Would you be interested in receiving this book? If so, please send me an e-mail – [email protected]. Thanks for your interaction!

  2. Paul the apostle’s response in the following situation in Acts 16:35-39 seems quite similar to Rubeo’s response to the incident at his school

    35 When it was daylight, the magistrates sent their officers to the jailer with the order: “Release those men.” 36 The jailer told Paul, “The magistrates have ordered that you and Silas be released. Now you can leave. Go in peace.”
    37 But Paul said to the officers: “They beat us publicly without a trial, even though we are Roman citizens, and threw us into prison. And now do they want to get rid of us quietly? No! Let them come themselves and escort us out.”
    38 The officers reported this to the magistrates, and when they heard that Paul and Silas were Roman citizens, they were alarmed. 39 They came to appease them and escorted them from the prison, requesting them to leave the city.

    Do you think Paul responded properly when he said, “And now do they want to get rid of us quietly? No! Let them come themselves and escort us out.”? Or do you think he was being too demanding? He could have left peacefully and not demanded to be escorted out.

    • tdillmuth says:

      Great question! On the surface, the situations seem very similar. But I see that Paul was arrested while on a missionary journey, and after he was arrested he continued evangelizing in prison . . . so much so that the jailor and his whole family came to Christ! In other words, Paul wasn’t protecting his own personal rights and he wasn’t even trying to avoid suffering as much as his spirited defense was within the context of his work of spreading the gospel!

      In America, I wonder if our outrage against suffering and persecution has a more “conservative – political” bent to it rather than an “evangelical – spreading the gospel” outlook?

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