By Gregory C. Cochran In June of 1982, The Clash released (on Cassette) their only song to reach #1, the punk rock classic, “Should I Stay or Should I Go.” The song was neither toward nor about anyone in particular. Its staying power rests on its ability to speak to so many situations in general. It even speaks (in general) to a question that Christians must answer in relation to persecution: When should the persecuted stay, and when should they go?
In one instance, the Apostle Paul agreed to be hidden in a basket and clandestinely lowered out of the city in order to escape the persecution awaiting him (2 Cor 11:31-33), while, in yet another instance, this same Paul refused to leave prison even after the guards told him he was being released (Acts 16:35ff). How did he know when to stay and when to go?
This question plagues ministries today who seek to help our persecuted brothers and sisters around the world. In the latest issues of Christianity Today, Kate Tracy explores this very question in relation to the work of Barnabas Fund in Sudan. Since 2012, Barnabas Fund (a non-profit ministry based in the UK which helps persecuted Christians) has committed a sizable portion of their budget to helping suffering Christians escape intense persecution in Sudan. Presently, they are working to free 3,400 Christians from Islamic Sudan.
The article notes the problem which arises through such extraction efforts. Lisa Jones, executive director of Christian Freedom International, says, “History has demonstrated that sometimes you end up creating a market for the problem.” Her point is that paying others to help Christians escape builds a market for holding Christians captive to the point that they want to escape. Christians become a commodity to be traded. While those who are redeemed obviously benefit by gaining their freedom, those not redeemed suffer a worse fate than before, as opportunists will always kidnap, torture, and oppress more Christians in the hopes of getting more money for their release. It makes for a difficult dilemma.
As The Clash note in their song,
If I go there will be trouble,
And if I stay it will be double.
There is no easy way to make the call. Should the Christians stay or should they go? Should Christian ministries help them leave or implore them to stay? The Bible gives no direct, one-size-fits-all solution. In Matthew 10:23, Jesus tells His followers to flee to the next city when they are persecuted at home. Yet, in many other contexts, He teaches that His followers must endure persecution—and are even blessed when they do so—on account of Him (cf. Matthew 5:10-12; Matthew 24:9-14). The point seems to be that a Christian may either stay (to endure as a witness) or flee (to spread the gospel, as in Acts 8), but whichever decision is made, it must be made by faith, not fear. It must be made out of love for Christ, not fear of torment. There is no fear in love, for perfect love casts out fear (1 John 4:18). Fear cannot be the motivator because cowards have no place in the kingdom of God (Rev. 21:8).
Gloriously, Christians past and present have displayed an invincible faith in the face of terrible suffering. It is not our place to judge the motives of those who flee by faith. As Todd Daniels says, “It’s not our decision as American Christians whether Christians in persecution choose to remain or flee.” Instead, we must remember both those who stay and those who flee to the next city, ministering at least through our prayers so that they will endure to the end.
The CT article closes with this powerful image from a Christian in Egypt who struggles with whether to stay or to go:
“We live in Egypt today with hearts full of peace and joy, realizing that even as we are on that boat, in the middle of the dark night in the middle of the high waves, Jesus will…show up walking on the waves.”
- Christ the Head of a Persecuted Church (gregoryccochran.com)
- Two Kinds of Christian Persecution (gregoryccochran.com)
- More Persecution in America (gregoryccochran.com)