By Bob Smietana
Nik Ripken almost abandoned hope when he first arrived in Somalia 25 years ago.
Ripken, then a young International Mission Board (IMB) missionary, had caught a ride with the Red Cross in a small plane carrying relief supplies across the border between Kenya and its war-ravaged neighbor.
What he saw shook him to the core. He met parents who asked not for food and water for themselves, but for burial cloths for the children they’d lost. He saw soldiers passing out narcotics rather than relief supplies to those in need.
It was a country where despair was commonplace.
“It was like I’d been plunged into hell,” Ripken recounts in The Insanity of God, the first theatrical release from Lifeway Films. It opens in 400 theaters across the United States on August 30 as a one-night event.
The movie, based on a book by Ripken (who uses a pseudonym), follows him and his wife Ruth from their days as a young missionary couple just starting out through their time in Somalia and some of the hardest places in the world.
Ripken worked in Somalia for years on relief projects. He also became friends with Somalia believers.
At one point in the film, he recalls sharing communion with four Somali believers, who feared for their lives. Soon afterward, he learned they and other Christians had been murdered.
He wondered how faith could survive in the midst of such suffering.
“What do you do when everything seems to be crucifixion and there’s no resurrection?” Ripken asks during the film.
That question soon became personal.
While at their home base in Kenya, the Ripkens’ young son Timothy suffered a severe asthma attack. Unbeknownst to the family, their home had a mold infestation exacerbated by the start of the rainy season.
Ripken rushed to the hospital. At one point, he pulled over and compelled a passerby to get in the car and drive so he could administer CPR to Timothy.
But Ripken’s efforts were in vain and Timothy died. The Ripkens buried their son on the grounds of a school in Kenya, not far from their home.
The Ripkens struggled with guilt and wondered if Timothy would have lived if they had stayed in the United States.
Was their call to missions worth Timothy’s life?
Soon afterward, the Ripkens set out to answer that question. They traveled the globe, talking with Christians in more than 70 countries where believers face persecution.
Everywhere they went, they met believers who had been able to persevere despite their suffering. Among those persecuted Christians, the Ripkens found kindred souls, who knew the cost and suffering that come from following Jesus. They learned faith can endure and thrive, even in the midst of despair and struggle.
“Evil has never stopped doing what evil does,” Ripken says in the film. “God has not stopped doing what God does.”
The interviews with persecuted believers became the basis for Ripken’s book, The Insanity of God (B&H Publishing Group) and the film, which was co-sponsored by the IMB.
The film is dedicated to the memory of Timothy Ripken.
“I miss my son,” Ripken said in a question and answer session after a recent screening of the film. “And I miss walking with these people.”
He gave an impassioned plea for families to follow Jesus’s command to go and make disciples of all nations.
“Don’t cheat your kids out of going on this kind of journey,” he said. “Don’t cheat them out of experiencing Jesus among the nations. After 30 years of doing this, I believe Jesus said, ‘go into the world’ as much for those who will go as for those who will hear (the gospel.) Because if we don’t go and we don’t speak, we will miss Jesus Himself.”
The Ripkens say their job is to connect the dots so believers from around the world can learn from each other.
Ruth Ripken urges audiences not to forget those who suffer for their faith around the world.
“We are being persecuted every day because they are part of us,” she says. “As they hurt, we should hurt—as we are part of their body.”
Those who suffer for their faith also rejoice for Christians who are able to share their faith freely, Ruth notes. That lesson is sometime forgotten.
“We are not a free church and persecuted church,” she says. “We are just the church. It’s time to grasp the power that we have because we are part of God’s family.”
The Ripkins have developed a six-week Bible study, The Insanity of Obedience, to help groups learn to walk with God in tough places and follow Jesus joyfully, even in persecution.
The study is an invitation to open your heart, your mind, and your eyes to the realities of walking with Jesus in difficult places.
Engage with Scripture and see what it means to be a true follower of Jesus, not just someone who believes certain truths.
BOB SMIETANA (Bob.Smietana@Lifeway.com) is senior writer for Facts & Trends.