Nik Ripken is a pastor, missionary, and author who is considered one of the leading voices in advocating for and spreading the message of believers who live in persecution around the world. He and his wife, Ruth—who have interviewed more than 600 persecuted believers in 72 countries—will be among the guest speakers at this year’s Empower Conference. Ripken recently spoke with the Texan about why faith in America isn’t often risky and why not sharing our faith is a form of persecution in itself.
TEXAN: You’ve said believers in persecution have often told you they’ve never felt closer to Jesus than when their faith costs them something. In America, faith isn’t often risky, costly, or sacrificial. Why is that?
NIK RIPKEN: It gets risky when people share their faith. It gets risky when they cross the street [to share their faith]. Believers in persecution tell me that they are holding Satan hostage in his own backyard so that we are more free [to share our faith] here. And when they hear that they’re suffering in persecution and I am not taking advantage of that spiritual freedom that they’ve bought for me, that’s more devastating than anything their persecutors do to them. They cannot understand how we can be so silent in our witness when it doesn’t cost us anything.
Satan wants two things: he wants to deny people access to Jesus, and if he cannot keep them from Christ, he wants believers to be marginalized. In other words, he wants them to be silent in their witness. Generally, you can avoid most persecution just by keeping Jesus to yourself.
TEXAN: In your many decades of experience, what have you learned about how believers in other parts of the world view persecution compared to how believers in the western world view it?
NR: As Ruth and I go from church to church, 99% of the time someone in leadership is going to say to us, “You know Nik, persecution has come or is coming to America” … because of their stance on a social issue like homosexuality or abortion. I’m a very conservative Christian and I have very biblical stances on social issues … but there’s not a believer I have met out of over 600 I’ve interviewed that’s ever been persecuted for a stance on a social issue. They’re persecuted because they are living and sharing the life, the death, and the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
We’re from a faith system that sees persecution as bad and as something to be avoided. What we’ve learned from believers [in other parts of the world] is that persecution is normal. It’s neutral. It’s not good or bad, and it’s what you do with it that gives it value. … When we look at it through the lens of some of the greatest movements of God, where there is a bold witness that leads to a great harvest, there’s great persecution.
Believers in persecution understand that the number one reason, or cause if you will, of persecution … is when large numbers of people come to Christ. And they don’t want us to feel sorry for them, because they say they have never felt so close to Jesus as when their faith is costing them something. It is not that they’re being flippant or that they’re throwing themselves away—it’s just something Jesus does when you put yourself in His hands with no reservation.
TEXAN: What have you learned on the mission field that can help us here in America be more missional in our daily lives?
NR: There are pastors who are super evangelistic and they’re baptizing hundreds of people, but they’re doing it through something that’s attracting people into the church for the most part. But the number one way people in other parts of the world, especially Muslims, come to Christ is by sharing meals with believers like you and me in our home.
Believers are taught that witnessing is a drive-by [event] rather than loving people. Acts 2 tells us how those early believers were meeting daily in homes and how they were breaking bread, how they were sharing the Word, and how, as a result, people were being added to the kingdom and being baptized daily. What if, in Dallas, Texas, a Pentecost-like movement is predicated by how many times we share meals in our homes and in the homes of lost people?
TEXAN: What do you want those who hear you and your wife speak at Empower to better understand about missions and persecution when they walk away from the event?
NR: One thing we’re going to emphasize at the Empower Conference is that sending is much harder than going. I often ask churches the question, “Which is harder, dying on a cross or sending your only Son to die on a cross?” We know we only do this for one reason and that is for Jesus Himself. And if I don’t believe Jesus is worth my life, the life of my wife, and the lives of my children … [the question is] not only why would I go, but the harder thing is why would I send?
I think when we come to Christ and we share our faith, we identify with our brothers and sisters in chains. When we supposedly come to Christ and keep Jesus to ourselves, we identify with those who chain our brothers and sisters. Because when we withhold our witness from our family and our friends and our colleagues, we persecute them through eternity. The worst persecution on Earth is not having access to Jesus. So when I keep Jesus to myself, I have persecuted those around me.