You, me, and the persecuted Christian church

I kept thinking that he was the closest thing to the Apostle Paul of the Bible that I’d ever met, a real life New Testament Christian.  He told me about being arrested for his faith, being put in prison, tortured, separated from his wife and children for many months without contact, at which time they thought he was dead.  He escaped, fled into the wilderness, on the run, bathing in rivers, eating berries in the forest to survive.  Eventually he fled the country and reunited with his family.  Now they are part of a ministry to the persecuted church called Iran Alive.

Backup and context:  A few years ago at a missions conference my wife met an Iranian pastor and his wife.  We quickly became friends and a few months later this gentleman came to our town, stayed in our house for a few days, and spoke at our church on a Sunday morning.  It was one of the most memorable services we have ever experienced.

Before, during and after this event, which was about a year ago, I have felt a deep sobriety to awareness and care for the persecuted church around the world.

Hebrews 13:3 tells us to care as such.  In fact, it says that we should care in such a way as if the persecution were happening to us.  That’s a tall order and a charge to the 1st world church that experiences little if any persecution for their faith.  While we may be focused on building programs and church activities, the reality is that the Scripture is full of testimonies that intense and violent persecution might be the norm for a person who follows Jesus.  It’s no different for believers in much of the world today, whether or not we in America are aware of it.

Back to the Bible…Jesus was persecuted, his followers were persecuted.  Stephen, the “first martyr” after Jesus, stoned for his faith.  Of Jesus eleven remaining apostles, only one died of natural causes.  The other ten were reportedly martyred by various means including beheading, by sword and spear and, in the case of Peter, crucifixion upside down following the execution of his wife.

Looking at church history, we see persecution being very intense from the first century onward.  I almost hesitate to write this because it might seem to speak in such a shallow manner about something so tragic.  The reality is that millions of Christians have died for their faith around the world, whether it be under the Roman government in the first century, or during World War II in Poland, just to name a few examples.  The stories are horrifying.  Churches being burned, priests being executed.  Just getting the Bible translated into English so that you and I can purchase one for a buck at the dollar store – this cost the lives of many men, some of them burned alive at the stake with their hand-written translations tied around their neck with a rope.

To the present day, according to the World Evangelical Alliance, currently approximately 300 million Christians in 60 countries are denied fundamental human rights (freedom, water, food, education) because of their faith.  That is a quantity of people equivalent to the entire population of the USA.

What can you and I do about this?  Most of us many never experience what is reality for so many persecuted brothers and sisters around the world today.  However, I have a few suggestions that have helped me become more connected and able to help those in persecution.

First, become aware.  Reading this article is a start.  Perhaps the church you attend talks about this issue.  If they don’t, they should.  Look into and support ministries that serve the persecuted church such as the one I referenced above.

Next, pray.  Ask God how you can be involved.  Ask him how you can more identify with persecuted Christians as Hebrews 13:3 instructs us.

Lastly, live soberly.  Immersing yourself in these things can have startling effects on you and your faith.  Watch one documentary on persecuted Christians in China and you’ll think twice before complaining about bad service at a restaurant.  It’ll make you appreciate and maybe read the Bible on your shelf, the one that people died to translate.  It will put your trials in perspective; maybe your air conditioning no longer working isn’t the end of the world when others are having their tongues cut out because of their faith in Jesus.  A church that includes care for the persecuted in their value system will be less about herding people and more about helping them grow deep and reach out.

May we care for the things that God cares for, and live as such.

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