You might not remember, but there was a time before the internet. This was before emails, when people wrote letters and used typewriters. Crazy huh? How did anyone ever get anything done? But the internet, and more recently social networking aren’t just about efficiency and speed, they are essentially about information. And in today’s world, everyone, rather than a select few, is generating a massive amount of it. Today, thanks to Instagram, Twitter, Facebook and YouTube, everyone can have a voice, no matter where they are in the world or what their beliefs are.
We might think of our Instagram posts as just a way to keep up with our mates, but really a massive revolution has taken place over the last 15 years. It’s hard to overstate just how big an impact the internet has had. Really. Though you might have pretty much grown up with it, being able to post your thoughts, opinions and views online to a worldwide audience was unthinkable just 20 years ago. Back then, news – what you saw on the telly and heard on the radio – was managed by limited media groups and some things could easily (maybe intentionally) be ignored or overlooked.
But not so much today. In countries where people’s freedom has been limited and website use monitored, social networking has helped give a lifeline to new ideas and spark revolutions. Sites like Facebook and YouTube played a massive role in the Arab Spring, a series of uprisings that saw old authoritarian governments ousted from power in Egypt, Tunisia, Libya and the Yemen.
Videos, tweets and blog posts showing state violence and injustice could be uploaded within minutes of offences taking place. In the case of Egypt, these quickly made their way onto Western news channels and helped heap political and internal pressure on the Egyptian government. News and information could no longer be controlled by the authorities. In this sense social networking has – and is – giving a voice to the voiceless.
At the moment, there are hundreds of millions of Christians in over 60 countries around the world whose voices are being restricted in one way or another. Whether it’s a total blackout of the Church as in North Korea, or increasing limitations on Christianity as in parts of the Arab world, followers of Jesus are finding they are being silenced. But, in some cases, the internet offers a way for these communities to communicate, share stories, encourage each other and let the wider world know what’s going on.
But for the majority of persecuted Christians it’s not as simple as just getting online and sharing their thoughts. To do so comes at a massive cost. Internet monitoring is common in places where Christians are persecuted, and so is punishment for publicly airing contentious religious views.
There’s one shocking story of a teenager called Fatima that we’ve heard recently. Living in a Muslim country, Fatima became a Christian as a teenager and as a response started secretly blogging under an alias which translates as the word ‘contented’. In response to the massive amount of abuse generated by her blog posts she wrote the following message:
‘The messiah says blessed are the persecuted, and by God I am, unto death, a Christian’.
Not long after this, she told her family of her choice to follow Jesus. An argument broke out. The next day, her brother stormed into her room. Fatima found him sitting on top of her laptop. There on the desktop were her writings, her thoughts and her prayers. He’d seen them all. He was angry.
Fatima used her voice to speak truth. She wrote of hope, love and compassion. She explained who Jesus is, and as a result, was killed by her own family.
She managed to lock herself in her room and wrote what would be her final blog asking for prayer. Not long after, her brother returned. He burned her face, her back, cut out her tongue and killed her. That was her brother.
Shocking. And all because of some blog posts. Her freedom to express her views cost her everything. Fatima used her voice to speak truth. She wrote of hope, love and compassion. She explained who Jesus is, and as a result, was killed by her own family.
How can we respond to that at all? It’s insane when you think about it, and we hope would never happen in the UK. But it highlights that our ability to post, tweet and share online shouldn’t be taken lightly. For Fatima the decision to share their voice online is one that has a massive cost attached.
So what does that mean for us? We can tweet almost whatever we want, as many times as we want per day. We can upload images of friends and family and connect with our mates. We can share our opinions and even occasionally our faith without fear of anything more than a few negative comments. And we should be really grateful for that freedom.
But the lesson from Fatima is more than just about us appreciating our freedom. It’s about using everything we have to make our voices heard above the din of everything else. As followers of Jesus we have a distinctive, compelling, ground-breaking, earth shattering message of love that is changing the world – and our voices as well as our actions, hopes and dreams should be infused with that message.
It’s not as simple as writing a Bible passage on your timeline, but about being genuine, loving our friends and the people we meet in ways that make a difference and really do show Jesus. A revolution might start online with a series of tweets or posts, but it ends in the real world, with real actions. That’s the only way we’ll really make our voices heard.
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