Last month I was privileged to teach graduate theological students from Eastern Europe and Central Asia. These students cannot imagine how "wealthy" we are here in the US, nor can they completely understand the freedoms we enjoy. Many of these students lived under the oppressive fist of the former Soviet Union and now the countries where these student live are self-governing, though the freedoms they have are far fewer than we have here.
Many of these Christian leaders fear for their lives as Christianity is still not permitted, yet they remain faithful to their calling. Other leaders know they are being watched for any signs of disloyalty to their national governments. They also remain faithful to their calling as followers of Jesus.
Here in the US we often complain about having to walk a bit farther to the church building because of all the new people coming. We fuss about the way the service sounds, the preacher's teaching, or the way children's and youth ministries operate. In my time with these students on the other side of the world I did not hear complaints about a growing church, about the style of music, about people who are leading youth and children's ministry. In fact, I heard no complaints, only joy at the opportunities to worship God and study the Bible. Their churches are growing; they do experience various forms of persecution, but their focus is the positive life they live in Christian community.
The next time you want to complain about some issue in your congregation, stop and give God thanks for the freedom we have to worship when and where we want with no threats of persecution. Join me this Thanksgiving season in thanking God for the church where we enjoy Christian community, and say a prayer for our fellow-believers in Eastern Europe and Central Asia.