“Suffering is not a new truth, it is an old truth.” — Sarah Liu, imprisoned and tortured for her Christian witness.
This Sunday, 13 November 2016 is the International Day of Prayer for the persecuted church. Christians from around the globe will set aside time to honour, remember, and pray for our persecuted family. I am grateful for the privilege of standing shoulder to shoulder with those of whom the world is not worthy. I pray that this day is the beginning of a deeper fellowship with our persecuted family.
I rarely approach IDOP without remembering my introduction to those who suffer for their faith. I was reading for the first time a Voice of the Martyrs newsletter. The stories were disturbing and intriguing. I found myself face to face with a reality I couldn’t reconcile. The suffering and pain was too difficult to fit into the sterile package I had stuffed my understanding of God into.
The journey I began by reading the true life stories of persecuted Christians would eventually land me at a VOM regional conference. It was there that a more disturbing truth came to life. That first evening I listened as a man from Pakistan described the road of suffering Pakistani Christians walk. He told of the torture and eventual murder of a young boy – someone’s son, brother, and friend. This child died at the hands of his torturers – his crime? He was a Christian. For the first time in my life I contemplated the possibility that God would not always intervene – that perhaps suffering was part of His plan.
Being shaken by the very thought of suffering of this kind, I went back to my hotel room and had a heart-to-heart talk with my God. You see, it was up until that time that I had cried “send me!” Now I was asking Him to not honour my requests. The weight I felt upon my heart was great. Standing securely in my ‘mirage’ of comfort, safety, and control, I laid out ‘my’ plan for my life. He graciously listened to me try to tell Him what to do.
Day two of the conference began with me feeling assured – certainly my one-on-one talk with God had sealed the deal. I had effectively cancelled out all those “send me” prayers! It was then that a young man from the Middle East began to share about his work, which includes travelling great distances into hostile territories controlled by Islamic extremists. These were places where Christians die for their faith. Pictures were displayed on a screen behind him of people receiving the Bibles he delivered. Their expressions of curiosity and delight captivated me. As he spoke, he seemed puzzled by those who ask why he goes to such dangerous places. His response was simply, “Since when has the Gospel been safe?”
I felt as if I were alone with the Lord in that room. I knew He was speaking directly to me. I recalled the list of demands I called “a prayer” the night before, and heard Him say, “I did not create you that way.” I’m so glad He didn’t “create me that way.”
Since then I’ve learned that God’s love trumps suffering. Those who walk the road of suffering for Jesus Christ – never really walk alone. Their substance for the journey? An intimacy with God reserved for those He counts worthy.
“So, instead of continuing to focus on preventing suffering – which we simply won’t be very successful at anyway – perhaps we should begin entering the suffering, participating insofar as we are able – entering the mystery and looking around for God. In other words, we need to quit feeling sorry for people who suffer and instead look up to them, learn from them and if they will let us – join them in protest and prayer.” — Eugene H Peterson, Introduction to Job, The Message Bible
The church in Australia can join with the body of Christ around the world to pray and remember the persecuted church on 13 November. To learn more please visit www.vom.com.au/idop.
“And the smoke of the incense, with the prayers of the saints, ascended before God from the angel’s hand” Revelation 8:4.
In the hours leading up to Jesus’ arrest, He went to Gethsemane with His disciples, feeling “overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death” (Matthew 26:38). Jesus, knowing what was about to come upon him, turned to prayer. Prayer was his connection with the Father, and we too can share in this intimacy. The Apostle Paul encouraged the Philippians to bring all requests to God (Philippians 4:6). Corrie ten Boom, who was imprisoned for helping Jews escape the Nazi regime, said, “When a Christian shuns fellowship with other Christians, the devil smiles. When he stops studying the Bible, the devil laughs. When he stops praying, the devil shouts for joy.” Prayer is a vital part of the Christian walk. Often, the persecuted Christians I meet and hear about have a deep and regular devotion to prayer that is an encouragement and inspiration to me.
The following powerful stories reflect the prayers of persecuted Christians. Let them be an encouragement to your commitment to God and deepen your own prayer life.
Early morning prayer
At 4:30am, Pastor David opens his church in the Philippines for their early morning prayer meeting. For six days a week, around 80 believers come to spend time on their knees in prayer. These prayer warriors are faithful to their commitment to God by interceding for their nation, their families, those who are sick, their evangelical campaigns and their special prayers for those who persecute them. Their church is growing by the grace of God as He hears their faithful petitions every day.
Prayer in the orphanage
The bell rings loudly at 5am at the children’s orphanage in Odisha, India and the young children eagerly go from their beds to join others in praise and worship to the Lord Jesus. Their songs of praise are sung with such conviction in their hearts and their prayers are deep and meaningful for their lives in the community affected by persecution. These young believers have no parents but have a loving Father in heaven that listens to the praise and their prayers every morning.
Jalena, a Filipino Christian in the restricted region of Mindanao, regularly enters a shop run by Muslim workers. This poses a great risk to her because Christians are often attacked by Muslim extremists. Jalena started to get to know Carmelita, one of the Muslim workers, and told her about Jesus, adding that she prayed for her every day. One day Carmelita asked, “Is it true that your God heals?” This led to Jalena praying for Carmelita’s mother, who was healed. Later Carmelita and her family turned to Jesus.
A prayer of forgiveness
Andre was only a child when his parents were brutally murdered by their Muslim neighbour for being Christians. In time, Andre was able to forgive his parents’ killer. He said, “I prayed to Lord for forgiveness and that he would heal my heart wounds. I wanted him to take my anger and revenge out from my heart. Our God has transformed my life.”
A father’s prayer
My dear son,
I love and miss you very much. How are you now? Do you miss me? I remember that when I was arrested and jailed in the re-education camp, you were only five years old. You went to visit me at the camp and after the visiting hours were over, I had to return to my detention room and you followed me. But when I went inside the gate, a gatekeeper didn’t allow you to follow me anymore and you stood there to watch me go to my room.
My dear son, since that time I cannot sleep well because I love and miss you very much, and now you and your sister are grown up. I believe the two of you have changed very much. How about your study? Is it good? I hope that you study hard. In the school, you have to obey your teacher, and at home you need to obey your mother, sister, grandfather, aunt and uncle. You must give a hand to help with housework and love your sister. You should study the Bible, go to the church, and also pray for me. God is always with us and listens to our prayers every day.
My dear son! Let’s trust God and study His Word as much as possible because His Word is the light for you and me forever.
When I meet persecuted Christians they often say, “Don’t forget us”! How could I? Each one of the people I meet leaves an imprint in my mind. Their testimonies strengthen, challenge and encourage my faith in the Lord, and years after meeting them I continue to remember them.
However, I think we can do more. We can pray and, where possible, we can write to them. Although praying for them is the best thing we can do, writing letters to persecuted Christians is a huge encouragement to the recipients because then they know that they are not forgotten.
Recently I had the privilege of visiting Toongabbie Anglican youth group. One of the activities they did was write letters to the Bible college students in the Philippines. I find it encouraging seeing youth think about what to write to a persecuted Christian whom they have never met before and who has faced difficulties they have never experienced. It is a challenging task to think what to write to a group of Christians who face tremendous challenges that we cannot easily relate to.
My encouragement is that whatever you write, whether it’s your favourite Bible verse, a small prayer, or a simple word of encouragement, is that these words, however simple we may find them, are an enormous encouragement to our persecuted brother and sisters. Imagine receiving one of these letters from a Christian whom you have never met saying they are praying and thinking about you. This would bring a smile to any Christian, especially when you feel alone, isolated and persecuted.
I thank the youth at Toongabbie Anglican Church for these letters and for the encouragement they will bring to our brave Bible college students who risk their lives every day for Jesus.
I’m your average young American. I grew up in a house with four bedrooms and plenty of food to eat every day. I worked hard in high school to get into a good college, and my parents taught me to treat others with kindness and respect. I love going to the movies, coffee is an everyday necessity and I spend way too much time on my phone.
At the same time, I’m not your average American. I’ve loved the Lord since a young age and that has been the determining factor in every decision of my life. I have a deep love for people and strong convictions about what is right and wrong. I went to a Christian school and studied theology, and I want to do overseas missions. My heart has been captivated for the broken and hurting of the world.
I was about eight years old when I first grasped the fact that there were Christians who had something to lose when they said they loved Jesus. I remember having a difficult time understanding this; loving Jesus was celebrated in the environment I grew up in. What did it mean that some children didn’t have shoes or a home and had lost their parents because they were Christians? I clearly remember when an American missionary couple was kidnapped and held for a year in the jungles of the Philippines; my family and I prayed every day for a year for their release. Even at a young age, these stories marked me. My parents choose to share what was going on in the nations with me at a young age, and as a result: I have a heart of compassion for the world.
When we hear stories of believers being persecuted overseas, western Christians typically have two types of responses: fear and guilt. We ask ourselves, “What if this comes to us?” In guilt, we wonder, “Why am I blessed with such a comfortable life while my brothers and sisters suffer?” Although both reactions are natural, neither response moves us to action. So what should be our response?
My answer is simple: prayer and obedience. Prayer is to be our natural response to both the horrors of our world and the blessings we receive in the midst of it. Suffering believers covet the prayers of the body of Christ, for prayer is the most powerful tool we possess. If we cannot lift up our brothers and sisters in prayer, are we truly part of the same body?
The second part of our response should be obedience to the Lord about how to best serve our persecuted family. We should strive for faithfulness, even if our response seems ineffective. If we are answering the Lord’s call to faithfulness, then the rest doesn’t matter. It is the Lord’s job to bring justice, to bring in the harvest and to reward the righteous. He simply asks that we be faithful sowers. God is concerned with the condition of our hearts towards our brothers and sisters, for hearts that are tender are hearts that can be broken for what breaks God’s heart.
I encourage you today to think about this answer of prayer and obedience. Although a simple answer, it is not simple to do. Yet aren’t we promised that when we are weak, He is strong? Let your faith be encouraged by our dear brothers and sisters who fight hard battles every day and let yourself be moved from compassion to action.
R J Everett works for The Voice of the Martyrs USA
January marked the anniversary of shocking riots that blazed across Niger in 2015 when radicalised Muslim mobs targeted Christian property, burned churches, looted pastors’ homes, and created a picture of hell on earth for the country’s tiny Christian minority.
On 16 and 17 January, angry protests erupted across all of Niger’s major cities, from the capital of Niamey to Maradi, from Zinder to Goure, and beyond, just nine days after the deadly Charlie Hebdo murders in Paris, France.
Today, Christians in Niger are still picking up the pieces. Most churches destroyed one year ago still worshipped this past Sunday under charred and rickety roofs, congregations assembled in semi-permanent shelters, and pastors prepared sermons still without their theological libraries, many of which were lost to looters.
Nigerien Christians continue to face challenges as they experience the reality that Jesus promised that his followers would be hated. Niger stands situated in West Africa amidst a rising climate of Muslim extremism and animosity towards Christians.
Source: International Christian Concern
- Pray for the comfort of friends and family of the victims who were murdered during the Niger attack; pray for their emotional and spiritual healing.
- Praise God for the faithfulness of the Christians in the area who are determined to meet together despite the potential of further opposition.
- Pray for the surviving victims to heal not just in body, but also in mind and spirit; pray they may be proud and courageous witnesses for the Gospel.
NIGER: Christian Community Shattered