The founder of Voice of the Martyrs (VOM), Pastor Richard Wurmbrand, was no stranger to persecution by extremists. He spent 14 years in a communist Romanian prison, and his wife, Sabina, lost her parents, two sisters and one brother in a Nazi concentration camp.
“Jesus never feared or hated anyone,” Richard was known to say in the years following his release. Today, Western Christians are faced with new challenges presented by Islamic extremists, and many are unsure of how to respond.
During recent visits to Iraq and neighbouring countries where VOM is serving persecuted Christians, I have had the privilege of meeting and hearing the incredible stories of many of our brothers and sisters who have lost everything to Islamic extremists. Their responses to persecution provide us with an exemplary pattern of three approaches that are well supported by the Sermon on the Mount.
- Pray for Islamic Extremists and those they Persecute
When Jesus said, “pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you” (Matthew 5:44), he was teaching people who suffered under extreme oppression. The Roman authorities were known for their cruel tactics and utter disregard for the Jewish people they terrorised.
We in the West have been shocked by the cruelty exhibited in videos produced by the self-proclaimed Islamic State (IS). Stories of their brutality naturally push us toward hatred and fear. But in contrast to our natural inclinations, Jesus calls us to pray for our persecutors. We should pray that they will come to know the truth of Christ and that many will experience ‘Saul-to-Paul’ transformations, becoming the next wave of bold evangelists in their region.
What about those who are persecuted? When we ask persecuted Christians how we can help, their first response is, “Pray for us.” Through prayer, some persecuted believers have experienced supernatural deliverance. Abu Fadi, a brother from Mosul who lost everything when IS militants attacked, was miraculously rescued along with his family after being detained at an IS checkpoint. Perhaps a believer in the West was praying at that precise moment, lifting up the plight of our Iraqi family members.
- Reveal the Love of Christ to Muslims
When IS extremists moved into northern Iraq, they began identifying Christian-owned homes and businesses by spray-painting the Arabic letter ﻥ, or ‘N,’ on the buildings. This single letter, the first letter of the word used in the Koran to identify Christians, conveyed the powerful accusation that the occupants were followers of Jesus.
Our Christian brothers and sisters were then given the choice of either converting to Islam or standing for Christ and losing everything they owned. In Mosul, the second largest city in Iraq, more than 100,000 Christians were displaced, abducted or killed in less than one week.
How should Christians respond to this type of cruel treatment? Jesus provides clear instruction in His Sermon on the Mount: “But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you” (Matthew 5:44).
I have seen firsthand how persecuted Christians live out their faith and observed the remarkable ways they share the love of Christ with their enemies. During a memorable trip to northern Nigeria, I met a widow whose husband had been killed by Boko Haram. The woman said she often saw the man who had killed her husband walking through her village. Then, remarkably, she told me that with God’s help she was learning to forgive him. I was stunned by her response and deeply inspired by her example. Through God’s grace, it is even possible to share Christ’s love with the extremist who killed your husband.
- Stand with our Persecuted Family Members
Scripture reminds us that we are to “Remember the prisoners as if chained with them — those who are mistreated — since you yourselves are in the body also” (Hebrews 13:3).
What does it mean to “remember” them? At VOM, it means that we will do whatever we can to provide the spiritual and physical help that they need. We serve the persecuted church through persecution response projects, Bible distributions and support of front-line workers who are advancing God’s kingdom.
Today, you have Christian brothers and sisters who are in prison. You have family members who have been kidnapped by IS in Syria. Parents, siblings and children in our family are being mistreated. But as followers of Jesus, we are confident that they are never truly alone.
On 13 April 1969, Pastor Wurmbrand stood before an audience at London’s Royal Festival Hall and shared about his prison experiences: “You are alone in a cell; they meant you to be alone. But, we were not alone!”
I have met and prayed with Christians who have been held captive and faced unimaginable tortures. But they report that God was with them; they supernaturally experienced His presence. Some even share that these dark times were the times of greatest intimacy with their Father in heaven.
We invite you to partner with us as we stand alongside our persecuted brothers and sisters, who remain joyful and blessed by their relationship with Christ despite having lost everything they own. These Christians are our family members — part of the body of Christ. We will not let them suffer in silence. We will not let them serve alone.
Dr Jason Peters works for The Voice of the Martyrs USA