One Sunday I was sitting in church, rather routinely listening to the sermon. In the course of the discourse, the pastor raised concerns about rising persecution of Christians in the world. It piqued my attention, but my immediate thoughts were that of course I knew about persecution. I had seen and heard some stories, and knew it was bad. I treated the information a little dismissively at that moment, and life went on. A few weeks later, however, I realized that I was still pondering the information I had heard in that sermon. As I thought further about it, I had to admit that I really didn’t know much about Christian persecution issues. I determined to dig more deeply into the topic.
I began doing online searches about Christian persecution, and I ordered some books to read on the topic. As I began reading, it was not uncommon to have trouble sleeping after reading the stories of persecuted people. One person was placed in a small jail cell for 17 years, and reading the account made me begin to feel my own sense of physical confinement and breathlessness. I also happened to be surrounded by professors and students, many of whom had lived in areas of the world where there was direct persecution. I began to seek conversations with some of those people, and the stories and information I heard were often chilling: guns held to a head, physical mutilation by Boko Haram, and worshiping clandestinely in fear of being discovered. I found that one of the major agencies whose mission is to serve persecuted Christians was headquartered about an hour’s drive from where I lived. I made contact with them, and was invited to visit and converse with them about their ministry (OpenDoorsUSA.org). Open Doors keeps a detailed and informative World Watch List that rates the levels of persecution in countries around the world. The sum total of my investigation was overwhelming, both to my mind and soul. The suffering that millions experience because they are followers of Christ is beyond description, and is very real.
As I processed my thoughts and feelings, I wondered what I could do to raise awareness of the issues of Christian persecution. After all, I couldn’t physically go to most of these places. I could give money, and my wife and I did, but that didn’t particularly raise awareness. Finally, I looked perhaps at the obvious thing I could contribute: I could tell some of the stories I had heard, and write music to allow reflective moments around the stories. I could write music that allowed for the expression of sadness and sorrow, which we often gloss over. The resulting work after two years of writing was Consolation for the Suffering. The music uses the main texts of a standard requiem, but adds music for prayer and hope. Romans 8 became the culminating textual material of hope and consolation. Beyond the rightful sadness for those who live in persecution, the hope of all Christians is that “We are more than conquerors through Him who loved us.”
I learned two things I will never forget from those who live in persecution: Firstly, in many cases they are not trying to escape because they feel that it is their calling to live as minority; persecuted people as lights for Christ in places of darkness. Secondly, they asked that we pray for them, and that we don’t forget that they are out there, living day to day without certain common rights and privileges because of their faith.
I will never be the same after my study and writing Consolation for the Suffering. I pray that all who perform and hear the music will also be compelled to not forget and pray for those who suffer for their faith.
Prayerfully, Ed Willmington