The Western church has much to learn from the persecuted church in other nations, according to Mike Gore, the CEO of Open Doors Australia. Not only do they provide an example of what it means for Christians to live in unity – he recounts how an Iraqi church pastor had told him that the arrival of the so-called Islamic State (also known as IS or ISIS) had unified the church like never before, going on to “thank ISIS for bringing the church in Iraq together” - they can also seem to have a better understanding, he says, of what a life devoted to following Jesus Christ looks like.

“[Jesus] doesn’t call you just to a life of blessing, He calls you to a life of sacrifice, obedience and a radical trust in Him,” Mr Gore says. “I think that’s what we miss in society here.”

Speaking to Sight between sessions at the recent Justice Conference in Melbourne, the 35-year-old father of three, who lives in Sydney, admitted that he struggles with the disparity between the culture in which he lives and the culture he encounters in the persecuted church. 

Mike Gore

“The culture that I live in paints a picture of a Jesus that’s a mixture of Superman and Santa Claus. The culture I work in paints of a picture of Jesus that says ‘I will more than likely lose my life in pursuit of Him, but, you know what, it is worth it all’. I struggle to reconcile that…”

“The culture that I live in paints a picture of a Jesus that’s a mixture of Superman and Santa Claus. The culture I work in paints of a picture of Jesus that says ‘I will more than likely lose my life in pursuit of Him, but, you know what, it is worth it all’. I struggle to reconcile that…”

It’s a theme he picked up on during a talk he gave at the conference in which he challenged the audience to consider which is the greater danger to their faith, IS or an iPhone?

“Because one of them is driving people to God and one of them is drawing them, away from him. It’s the subtlety of distraction that is suffocating our faith, whereas the pressure of persecution is bringing people into this trusting, real, authentic and free relationship with Jesus.”

Mr Gore has been in the job of CEO at Open Doors for two years now, having earlier filled the roles of chief operations officer and youth manager. His current job is not a role he’d ever considered – but a quick look back at his story shows his walk had never been what you might call a conventional one.

Born in the Indian city of Chennai (then known as Madras), Mr Gore was abandoned at birth. “My mother apparently fell pregnant with me out of wedlock, and under the Hindu caste system that’s a pretty bad thing,” he says. “I was declared what you call a Dalit [untouchable] and unable to be adopted under that city’s law. [I was] placed into an orphanage because they believed whatever I had done in a previous life had determined the circumstances in which I was born.”

Thanks to the ministrations of a kindly nurse, however, he was smuggled to the city of Bangalore where she bribed some nuns to have his birth certificate changed, meaning that he could now be adopted. Back in Australia, meanwhile, a family was notified that an adoption they had long sought was now likely, provided they had the funds.

But, as Mr Gore recounts it, his adoptive parents had given up on an adoption not long before, thanks largely to the red tape they had encountered when trying to do so. In the year of his birth, they'd decided to use the money they’d set aside for a possible adoption on a trip to the US with their two biological children “as a way of moving on”.

As a result, when the call came that the adoption could go through, they didn’t have the funds. “They said that’s not possible, we don’t have any money…[but] they were a Christian family and that night they prayed about it,” Mr Gore says. “The next day my mum was driving a car and she had a car crash [and while there wasn’t] a scratch or a bruise to anyone in the car, she wrote the car off. And, in what she said was a miracle, [a couple of] days later, the day before I arrived, the insurance money went…into her bank account. It was to the exact dollar that was needed to pay for my adoption.”

And so Mr Gore found himself adopted into an Australian family living in Sydney – first in Sutherland Shire and later in Eastwood. While he suffered what he describes as a lot of racism - he says he was the only 'black' kid in school until the age of 16, he says the one place he always found himself welcomed was in the Anglican church the family attended.

“In that church, I could walk in with my two white sisters and my white family and if I did anything wrong, I was never treated any differently, I was reprimanded the same – they just looked at me like I was one of the Gore family. So the church was key in me forming my identity.”

He embarked on a BA after school but ended up working for Christian book and products business Koorong where, having put aside the degree after a year, he moved up through the ranks into management, eventually becoming the key music and film buyer for the company. It was what he describes as a dream job which saw him travelling the world and mixing with some of the big names in the Christian music industry. It was also during his time at Koorong that he had what he charcaterises as a “born again experience”.

In 2009, he left Koorong and eventually found himself working for Open Doors. It’s a job that has seen him travel to meet members of the persecuted church all over the world – from Algeria to China and Iraq - and encounter some amazing people.

“In all the trips I’ve ever made, the Lord has taught me something new and I’ve left profoundly changed. In Iraq in particular, having been there a couple of times now…I find that every time I go, something else blows my mind and I’ve never once left going ‘Oh, that was a really average trip’. Because you can’t help – sitting opposite people who have lost something, lost everything, because of their faith - and not be moved by it.”

Mr Gore says his encounters with the persecuted church have “changed my faith, absolutely turned it on its head” and had ramifications throughout his life including in his marriage, in the way in which he leads people and in his acceptance of non-Christians.

Among the personal lessons he’s learnt from the persecuted church has been the need for spiritual discipline in his life - “whether that’s meditation, reading the Bible or just learning what it means to be in the presence of God and being obedient to His voice” – as well as the importance of teaching others a “true and accurate Gospel”. 

“In North Korea, people say to us, ‘When you give your life to God, you need to expect you’ll be called to lay it down for Him too. That word 'expect' is massive…I often hear, and I’ve been guilty of preaching, a message that says almost ‘Jesus is kind of the best drug you’ll ever get – give your life to Him; you’ll just feel a million bucks…[But] more of God doesn’t mean a better pay packet and a better job title. It often means less of the world.”

 

“In North Korea, people say to us, ‘When you give your life to God, you need to expect you’ll be called to lay it down for Him too. That word 'expect' is massive…I often hear, and I’ve been guilty of preaching, a message that says almost ‘Jesus is kind of the best drug you’ll ever get – give your life to Him; you’ll just feel a million bucks…[But] more of God doesn’t mean a better pay packet and a better job title. It often means less of the world.”

How does persecution sit in that? Mr Gore tells the story of a believer he met in China who described Australian Christianity as a “prophetic picture” of what happens when faith becomes free and the “value of Jesus drops” and who went on to say that he prayed persecution of Christians never leaves China.

“It terrifies me to say, ‘Yes, we should pray for persecution’, because I know what that prayer means, I have seen it firsthand,” he says. “But I’ve also seen, in the middle of that, a church shrink but a powerful and passionate church rise up.”

Mr Gore says at present he has been taking a closer look at a well known passage in I Corinthians 13 about love – “Love is patient, love is kind…”. He says that while the "world" tells us love is a “Hallmark card”, the passage in Corinthians paints a much fuller picture.

“It was written under persecution by Paul and when you read it through the lens of persecution…it says love is patient, love is kind, love endures, love holds no grudges. How does that work?” he asks.

“As Christians, if you want to see what love in action looks like – read I Corinthians 13 and forget about weddings for a minute and apply it to every other sphere of your life.”

That means praying not only for the persecuted but for those who are the cause of their suffering. He repeats a comment he made during his presentation at the conference that God used the persecutor Saul as well as the apostle Paul to build his church. “Maybe our prayer for ISIS should be, 'Lord…bring the time of building to an end and now convert them'..." he says, adding: "I want to encourage the church to pray for the persecutors.” 

~ www.opendoors.org.au
www.thejusticeconference.com.au