It was Sunday evening in Harderwijk, my Dutch hometown. My husband, Johan, was away on an extended trip, one of many that he made throughout the year. It would be several weeks before he was home again.
I heard muffled giggles coming from upstairs as my three children — who were supposed to be sleeping — shared another joke. I stifled my annoyance, knowing that sooner or later they would doze off. I had managed to give them an evening meal, supervise their bath time, tell them a story, and pray with them before switching off the light and heading downstairs. Now there was only the washing up to do, and I would be free for the evening.
Once my chores were finished, I settled into bed and closed my eyes. But sleep eluded me that night, and gradually it dawned on me that I was more than tired. I was lonely and depressed.
If only Johan were home, I thought. But Johan was half a world away in Australia. It wasn’t the first time he’d been gone for weeks at a time that year, and I knew it wouldn’t be the last. As the minutes ticked by, I began to wonder if my future would consist of nothing more than cleaning house, washing dishes and caring for children while Johan traveled the world.
Along with my other unpleasant feelings, I felt ashamed of myself. Many women had endured much more than I was going through. I’d heard of pastor’s wives separated from their husbands for years at a time because of imprisonment. I knew about women whose husbands had been murdered because of their Christian work; mothers whose handsome, gifted sons had been shot down in the prime of life for their faith. These women would suffer for a lifetime. Their pain wouldn’t vanish — like mine — in a couple more weeks.
As the tide of my emotions finally began to ebb, I heard the Lord’s still, small voice: Through what you are experiencing now, you will one day be able to help other women. I am allowing you to feel this pain so you will be able to understand and empathize with them.
Not quite sure what the words meant, I finally drifted off to sleep.
In the 1990s the persecution of Christians became well known in the United States. Led by The New York Times, major newspapers wrote stories about the subject. In the United States Congress, legislation was passed to help control it. Christian leaders and organizations spoke out and demanded a response. After decades of apathy, the Western church finally began to awaken to the clear and present danger faced by 200 million Christian brothers and sisters around the world.
But to those of us at work in the world on behalf of the gospel, the persecution of Christians was not a new problem.
In the late 1960s and 1970s we were shocked to hear about Pastor Richard Wurmbrand’s experiences in a Romanian prison. The suffering of Russian Christians became better and better known as several Russian Baptist brothers found refuge in Germany. As a result, many Christians have long been active in restricted countries, helping to provide the believers there with Bibles, encouragement, and support.
My husband, Johan, was one of them, and during the years I stayed at home to look after our children, he kept me well informed. More recently I have had the privilege of sharing in several of his travels, friendships, and commitments. I have become more and more aware of the tragic toll that persecution takes on believers. Christian husbands — many of them pastors and church leaders — have been abused, imprisoned, and sometimes martyred.
I realized that the courageous wives of these men are often overlooked and forgotten. And I began to understand the Lord’s long-ago message to my heart: I am allowing you to feel this pain so you will be able to understand and empathize with them.
These women have struggled with painful separation, loss, and uncertainty. They have been ostracized by their culture, left alone to care for fatherless children and subjected to crushing poverty. Their faith has been stretched to the limit, and yet they have rarely been the subjects of prayer campaigns or human-rights projects. At a time when women’s rights have become a popular cause, these women’s needs have remained virtually unknown.
I hope that we will remember the women of the Suffering Church in our prayers, support them through our churches, and provide for them in practical ways whenever possible. Perhaps even more, I pray that their courage, their faithfulness, and their commitment to Christ will forever change our lives.
These are women with the same longings, desires, and fears as you and me. They are mothers, daughters, sisters, and aunts. Some are young, some are old; others are aging too quickly for their years. Some are rich in hope; others content with relentless depression. Above all else, they very much need our prayers. When you pray for their husbands in prison, will you also pray for them too? Let’s ask God to transform their sorrow, which must remain hidden today, into lasting joy and peace.
From Hidden Sorrow, Lasting Joy: The Forgotten Women of the Persecuted Church by Anneke Companjen. © 2001 Open Doors International, Inc. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved.