Christian church bombed in Nigeria. Muslim convert disowned by family.
We read the headlines, and try to imagine, but it’s very difficult to understand what it’s like to be in their shoes. We love to complain about the demise of Christianity’s cultural acceptance here in the U.S., but we really have no idea what it’s like to lose our home, our family, or our life for our faith.
One way to overcome this barrier is to read Christian biographies. The dialogue may be fictionalized, but the stories are true. As we immerse ourselves in the book, we begin to identify with the main character. What happens to them? How do they react? How would we react in the same circumstances?
After reading scores of stories describing how my Christian brothers and sisters are suffering and dying for their faith, I had to stop and ask, doesn’t God see this? Doesn’t God care? How can the good, loving God I know let such horrors happen to His chosen people?
I was having a hard time getting around these thoughts when I came across an article written by a contributor from the Middle East, and adapted for INcontextMinistries by Mike Burnard. (You can see the original adaptation here.) That article has provided the inspiration for some of my thoughts here.
We in the West are too comfortable. We have a hard time acknowledging that our God might ask us to suffer social ostracism, ridicule, or insult. Even more abhorrent is the idea that we might suffer physical loss for following Jesus. “Sacrifice” means getting up Sunday morning and going to church instead of lying around in bed reading the newspaper. (And our pastor had better finish the sermon in time for the afternoon football game!) While we hope that we would be willing to die for our faith, in reality we suspect that that level of commitment will never be put to the test. Thus, our theology can’t accommodate the true suffering of others.
Last week I promised you some specific prayer points as we intercede for the persecuted church. While I will highlight several situations, please remember that persecution is worldwide. The Open Doors website prominently displays their map showing the fifty nations where persecution is the worst.
I’ve elected to share a few facts and stories from different parts of the world, not because these are the most popular or most important, but as a way to relate more personally to our brothers and sisters being tested so severely. I hope these stories galvanize you to seek further information and pray more fervently. The “One With Them” website provides more individual stories, or just Google “persecuted church.”
Sunday, November 9, is the International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church. In fact, the entire month of November has been set aside as a time to remember and pray for our suffering brothers and sisters around the world. Therefore, I’m focusing on persecution this month.
We’ve all read stories about Christians in the U.S. being disrespected, Christian values being mocked, and Christian “rights” being denied. Currently, a couple of Idaho pastors are facing fines and jail time for their unwillingness to marry gay couples. The city of Houston wants to censor sermons. And in California, all health plans, including those purchased by churches for their employees, must now cover abortion.
Since January, six thousand people—Christians, Kurds, Yazidis, have been brutally murdered by ISIS, the radical Sunni Muslim terrorist group that is carving an Islamic state out of northern Iraq and Syria. It’s incredibly painful to read the reports of the atrocities being committed. If you’ve ever wondered if Satan is real, read a few of these news items:
“There are places in the world many fear to tread, places of darkness where most have given up hope of ever trying to make a difference.”
The young man was standing in front of our Sunday school class, showing photos and telling hair-raising stories about smuggling food and Bibles into North Korea. Finding families for children orphaned by genocide in Myanmar. Even extracting persecuted believers from these and other nations that have targeted them for execution.
The U.S. military has special forces teams that engage in high-risk missions. Alpha Relief is one of God’s special forces teams.
I sat listening to my friend pour out her sorrow and concern for her son. He had been a vibrant believer, praying with authority, intimate with Jesus, a successful evangelist who was planning to go overseas as a missionary. And now he had just proclaimed himself an atheist.
How could someone that close to God suddenly decide that He doesn’t exist? It’s a long story which I won’t elaborate on here, but as best as his parents could piece together, the problem stems from unanswered prayer. He prayed that God would step in and set him free from an addiction—and God didn’t obey him.