Prayer for the Persecuted Church— Choose to Remember
The report is gruesome, the photos grisly. On October 18, 2018 in the north central city of Jos, Nigeria, 55 Christians were first terrorized, then massacred in the local marketplace. To ensure that others got the message, the church was burned to the ground.
And, this was not the first time. In February, the same terrorist group attacked Christians leaving 13 dead, numerous injured with their homes and businesses incinerated. An attack in June claimed the lives of 200.
A few sounded the alarm—most notably Jewish voices that I have come to trust because of their almost immediate fact-based reporting. Within a few days, Christian leaders shared about the situation in Nigeria through email, social media and Christian network news.
You would expect Christians in North America to have called for fervent corporate prayer on behalf of their beleaguered brethren. Instead, the timeworn adage “out of sight, out of mind” might better describe the response of the North American church.
I remember a troubling conversation that epitomizes the attitude of many North American Christians with respect to the ravages experienced by our brothers and sisters in Christ around the globe.
Ironically, the interaction took place in an enormous convention hall during one of the largest missionary conferences in North America. As many as 10,000 people a day roamed that particular venue where more than 400 Christian organizations were on display.
The representative of a well-known ministry grabbed literature on my table early on the first day. Later, he returned with a recommendation. “Let me give a bit of friendly advice. Nix the info on the persecuted church. It’s a real downer—no one wants to read about suffering Christians.”
Clearly, that missionary either forgot or chose to ignore the admonition in the book of Hebrews:
Let brotherly love continue. Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing some have unwittingly entertained angels. Remember the prisoners as if chained with them—those who are mistreated—since you yourselves are in the body also.” (Heb. 13:1-3).
The author of Hebrews begins this section with the imperative, “Let brotherly love continue.” The meaning is so obvious that no explanation is given. Love is the distinguishing characteristic of authentic Christianity. Jesus told His disciples,
By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another” (Jn. 13:35).
Christians’ love for each other is a testimony to a watching world. Brotherly love for those suffering persecution is demonstrated in real world situations (Heb. 13:2-3).
Entertaining strangers is not about coffee and cookies after church in the welcome center. We are reminded to offer hospitality including food and shelter to Christians fleeing persecution. The text hints that some in the church were reluctant to offer hospitality to strangers due to fear of reprisal (10:32-36).
Anxiety about personal consequences does not negate our responsibility to reach out in love with tangible assistance to Christians threatened by or experiencing persecution.
REMEMBER THE PRISONERS
Second, we are commanded to “remember” those who are imprisoned for their faith in Christ as if physically chained to them (13:3). Apparently, Christians living in the first century had ignored the plight of the many languishing in prison cells throughout the Roman Empire.
While not pleasant, Christians should feel the anguish of the bonds of persecuted brethren. The writer of Hebrews reminds that an out of sight, out of mind mentality is not an option.
Open Doors, a ministry devoted to monitoring and helping persecuted Christians, reports that an astounding 215 million—the equivalent of 1 out of every 12 Christians worldwide—suffer significant persecution monthly:
- 255 Christians are killed
- 104 are abducted
- 180 Christian women and girls are raped, sexually harassed or forced into marriage
- 66 churches are attacked
- 160 Christians are detained without trial and imprisoned
Those statistics should knock the mind numbing complacency out of the Christian community like the proverbial two by four to the side of the head. How many truly grasp the implications of persecution for worldwide Christendom . . . for national Christianity . . . for the local church . . . for individual Christians?
Read for yourself on the Open Doors website about the religious persecution of Christians in the top 25 most dangerous countries of North Korea, Afghanistan, Somalia, Sudan, Pakistan, Eritrea, Libya, Iraq, Yemen, Iran, India, Saudi Arabia, Maldives, Nigeria, Syria, Uzbekistan, Egypt, Vietnam, Turkmenistan, Laos, Jordan, Tajikistan, Malaysia, Myanmar and Nepal.
You may be thinking, What can I do? Can one person a thousand miles away really make a difference? Below are my recommendations:
- Resolve to be informed and don’t hesitate to inform others about Christians enduring persecution. Encourage your church to include a weekly list in the Sunday bulletin.
- Remember by name suffering Christians and Christian communities known to live under threat of persecution.
- Pray intelligently and intercede regularly that Christians would not only be able to endure, but that they might be delivered from subjugation and persecution. Pray for the salvation of the persecutors.
We dare not underestimate the miraculous power of prayer for the persecuted church. The release of Pastor Andrew Brunson following two years of imprisonment in Turkey and Asiya Bibi acquitted after 9 years on death row in Pakistan is a reminder of the effectiveness of unified prayer coupled with action on the part of individuals and groups.
Sadly, countless unnamed others are tortured, left destitute, taken as sex slaves and unjustly imprisoned. Christians must determine to never turn a blind eye to the plight of any brothers and sisters under threat of persecution regardless of the personal consequences.
We must not allow our brothers and sisters in the Lord to be left out of sight, out of mind. Choose to remember—and PRAY.
Copyright © 2018 Charles E. McCracken. Repost/Reprint with permission. Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.