By Adriane Heins
MILWAUKEE (July 13, 2016) — “We as Christians are called to rejoice in the Lord. This includes rejoicing both in His suffering and in His glory,” the Rev. Dr. Berhanu Ofgaa, general secretary of the 8-million-member Ethiopian Evangelical Church Mekane Yesus (EECMY) and convention essayist, reminded delegates on Monday morning during the 66th Regular Convention of the LCMS.
Ofgaa is the final of the convention’s essayists, who expanded on the convention’s theme — “Upon This Rock: Repent, Confess, Rejoice” — throughout the week.
“We rejoice when we suffer for and with Him, and as well when we partake of His glory,” he said, concentrating on the text. “After you have suffered a little while, the God of grace … will Himself restore you” (1 Peter 5:10).
Ultimately, he noted, “joy is not based on the fulfillment of material blessings … It’s a special joy that comes from the cross, from cross-bearing, after all other sources of physical joy are gone. It’s joy in the Lord and Him alone.”
Ofgaa spoke from experience. The EECMY’s journey has been a difficult one, marked by challenges, opposition and “crosses,” in large part as a result of persecution from the Communist government in Ethiopia, which he personally underwent.
“The duration of the experience of suffering severe persecutions and various sorts of trials that threatened her survival had been so horrible,” he recalled, speaking of the EECMY. “This horrible experience the church had undergone in those days had been so devastating and destructive.”
“The brutal action taken against Christians in general — closing down of congregations, banning of worship services, detention of many ministers, severe trials and death of many ministers and church leaders and loss of church properties” affected the church profoundly.
“This deep experience of suffering had tremendous contribution towards the spiritual formation of the church,” he explained. “They had much contribution in shaping the life of this church.”
And yet by God’s grace the members of the church still made a good confession, even in the midst of great trials and at an even greater personal cost.
“All these horrible actions didn’t and couldn’t stop the church from boldly declaring the lordship of Christ,” Ofgaa said. “Although heavily challenged, the survival of the Church was certain because of Jesus’ promise.”
To a round of applause from the delegates, he announced, “The persecution couldn’t move the church an inch from her firm confession and witnessing to the lordship of Jesus in public. The church was counted worthy to suffer and to sacrifice for Jesus.”
And to those who will one day experience suffering in their own churches as well, Ofgaa explained that they should be prepared for suffering to produce joy as well.
Persecution, he noted, detaches “believers from the natural world and attaches them to the supernatural world; it detaches from the things of this world and attaches to the heavenly. It relegates the victims of the suffering to the experience of losing things of this world in order to gain Christ.”
Despite the pain persecution has and will cause, he said, recalling his own hardships as a member of the EECMY, “Such a journey of faith draws believers to the life of the cross, with its absolute dependency on God.”
A critical moment
Encouraging the delegates to rejoice even in the midst of suffering — their own personal struggles now and any persecution of the Church that is to come — Ofgaa ended his time with a call to action:
“It is a critical moment when we, churches of the same theological position, need to join hands and wrestle against these forces of evil,” he said, “holding up high the banner of the cross, declaring boldly in public the lordship of Christ and the unchanging Gospel in the changing world without any retreat that Jesus is a living God, the Christ, the Son of God and the only way of salvation.”
“Rejoice in the cross of Jesus,” he noted in closing. “The gates of hell will not prevail against the Church!”
The 66th Regular Convention of the LCMS is meeting July 9–14 at the Wisconsin Center in Milwaukee.
Adriane Heins (firstname.lastname@example.org) is the managing editor of The Lutheran Witness and the Journal of Lutheran Mission.
Posted July 13, 2016
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