I attended the evening of Prayer for the Persecuted church with few expectations, having little idea what the experience might hold. Having lived overseas and traveling extensively across the globe, it seemed like others might benefit more from the evening more than me. After all I’ve lived in India and Japan, and have a degree in Intercultural Studies, so it wouldn’t be anything new to me…
Thankfully, the Lord melted my pride and humbled my spirit as we heard incredibly moving and challenging stories about the suffering and persecution our brothers and sisters around the world. The small group prayer time was especially powerful in light of the personal testimonies that were shared.
One highlight was the story of a young, Christian girl from Nigeria whom Muslim radicals abducted from her school along with a number of other children. She managed to escape from her captors, but most of the other children are still missing. An older gentleman told a story about his family being attacked during Ramadan. They were awaiting public transportation when masked gunmen opened fire. While he and his daughters and wife survived the attack, many scars remain from bullets still embedded in their bodies.
A particularly touching moment took place when a Muslim reporter from Syria shared about the unending bloodshed in her country. She shared the stage with a Christian friend whose heart was burdened by the ceaseless violence that continues to destroy thousands and thousands of innocent lives. We took time to pray in small groups for the God of justice to protect the oppressed and for His peace to reign in the hearts of those who don’t know Him.
Many speakers that evening shared personal stories of being persecuted for their faith. It is rare to hear detailed accounts from fellow believers who must daily choose to take up their cross and follow Christ. The struggle truly hits home when the words are not those from a magazine or newspaper, on the Internet or television, but rather the direct testimony of real people who have experienced real suffering.
A number of Scripture verses came to mind as these words become faces:
- For me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. (Phil. 1:21)
- Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. (James 1:2-4)
- For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”
How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!” But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed what he has heard from us?” So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ. (Romans 10:13-17)
My thoughts and feelings ranged from sympathy for fellow believers experiencing persecution to concerns for lost souls. Despite my sensitivity to the many members of the body of Christ who suffer for the call of Christ, it is easy for me to be indifferent to their struggles. Do I really, truly care about them and desire to support them as my brothers and sisters? It seems as though I need continual reminders of the reality of Christian suffering to bring me to my knees in prayer to Lord for their well-being, safety, and Kingdom witness.
In many countries where Christians are a minority, they experience discrimination in varying forms. A lot of the persecution may be subtle, but in some countries it can be very overt—simply having a Christian name can be justification for murder. In either case, being a Christian means choosing the difficult path. For us (Americans), it is hard to understand what it means to leave father, mother, sister, or brother for the sake of Christ or how awful persecution can be. The stories shared at the Prayer for the Persecuted Church gave real meaning and purpose to how we ought to pray and support our brothers and sisters around the world.
In concluding, we must not forget that our battle is not with flesh and blood, but with evil, darkness, and spiritual powers in opposition to what God is doing in the world (Eph. 6:12). Thus, we must grieve for the millions and millions of people who do not know the Lord; for those who are drawn to false religions and who place their trust and faith in temporary, inadequate pleasures. We should be compelled to pray, love, engage, and embrace those who do not know Christ. “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” – Eph. 2:8-9
Luke attends Grace DC (http://www.gracedc.net/)