Our Persecuted Family - How Can We Help?
A generation ago, Christians in a number of countries faced marginalization, discrimination and harassment, yet only very rarely were Christians physically attacked, let alone killed, for their faith. I’ve been active in church all my life and, prior to the turn of the millennium, I don’t remember ever hearing much from either religious or secular sources about widespread Christian persecution. Then, in the early 2000’s, a few faithful couples in my Virginia church started raising awareness about the “Persecuted Church” and gathering a handful of folks in our parish to pray for those in harm’s way.
In just a few short decades, the global landscape has dramatically changed. The Center for the Study of Global Christianity, an academic research center that monitors worldwide demographic trends in Christianity, estimates that between the years 2005 and 2015, 900,000 Christians were martyred - an average of 90,000 Christians each year.
What? 90,000 new Christian martyrs every year? Most Christians, myself included, only think of the 1st century church and the early spread of Christianity when it comes to martyrdom. We know that all of Jesus’ 12 disciples were martyred, with the exceptions of Judas and John. We can vaguely remember stories of early missionaries who were martyred and a few more contemporary Christians like Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Jim Elliot who were killed for their faith.
However, this is not a topic only found in our history books. In the past few decades, authoritarian dictatorships with extremist ideologies which brutally suppress religious freedom have risen to political power. We are living during an age of unparalleled levels of Christian persecution.
A list generated by Open Doors USA, a nonprofit organization focused on serving persecuted Christians, shows that the Middle East now accounts for a majority of countries ranked in the top ten for extreme persecution of Christians. In order, the countries are as follows: North Korea, Somalia, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Sudan, Syria, Iraq, Iran, Yemen and Eritrea.
Egypt, which has been in the news for several deadly attacks on churches, ranks No. 21. According to Open Doors USA, one in 12 Christians today experiences high, very high or extreme persecution for their faith. Nearly 215 million Christians face high persecution, with 100 million of those living in Asia.
This sounds like a lot of bad news with staggering numbers of our global Christian brothers and sisters suffering and dying for their faith in Jesus Christ. We can hardly wrap our minds around the reality of the current situation and often have no idea what we can do as one little individual or parish. Nevertheless, let us not quickly forget that we are people of Good News! In John 16:33, Jesus plainly states: “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”
History has proven over and over again that Christianity spreads in an age of persecution. That faith, contrary to our expectation, grows under oppression. In addition, "in the last 10 years, more Muslims have come to faith in Christ than in the last 15 centuries combined," according to Tom Doyle, Middle East-Central Asia director for e3 Partners, a Texas-based missions agency. Muslims who convert to Christianity undergo extreme persecution and often face death at the hands of their own family members. As our new Christian brothers and sisters, they are part of our global family and need our prayers!
Sunday, November 5 is the International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church. Barnabas Aid, a hope and relief agency for the persecuted church, has declared October 29 through November 5 as Suffering Church Action Week. The Voice of the Martyrs (VOM) has released a six-minute video called Solitary Prayer that congregations, Bible study groups, or Sunday school classes can watch to raise awareness, facilitate prayer and encourage involvement about modern-day religious persecution. The video, which shares an episode from the life of VOM Founder Richard Wurmbrand, serves as a powerful reminder of Christ’s call to “bless those who curse you,” and is designed to help lead churches into closer fellowship with the persecuted.
Prayer is our most powerful weapon in making a difference in the lives of those suffering persecution. In Matthew 5:44, Jesus commands us to “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” Prayer resources like Arise, Lord: Scriptural Prayer for the Persecuted Church by Betsey Kodat can be purchased through Amazon. Other helpful resources are linked to on the New Wineskins site under Resources in the categories of Prayer and Persecuted Church.
Also, we can make efforts to educate ourselves on this topic. The book Heirloom Love by Dominic Sputo helps the “millions” become real people to us by telling the personal stories of families affected by persecution. New Wineskins has developed a personal relationship with Dominic and we are happy to send out free copies of his book to anyone who requests one! His blog MuteNoMore.org is another helpful resource. A new 6-week small group study based on the book is coming out soon. Let us know if you want to be one of the first groups to experience the Heirloom Love journey.
Finally, a new documentary called Faithkeepers on the current crisis of persecution has been released this year by Clarion Project. We showed the film at a Mission Movie Night at our church last week. A couple of dozen people, mostly in their 20s, watched the film, processed their emotions together, discussed the topic further in small groups, then prayed together and made some plans about how to stay involved in the persecuted church. One attendee said, “Now that we know about this, we can’t do nothing. We have to pray and help however we can.” I hope that after reading this article, you will have the same reaction.
Last week, I caught up with Dominic Sputo over the phone. He told me that there is a small church of about 100 out in Oregon made up of mostly former drug lords, prostitutes and gang members. After reading his book as a congregation, they decided to have a yard sale and donate the proceeds to help a particular project that Dominic is helping with in Pakistan. They went door to door asking for donations of used items for the sale. They raised $22,000 at the event and donated all the money to help their persecuted brothers and sisters in Pakistan!
How inspirational! Ask yourself: what can I do to help my global church family? Ask your church: how can we get involved in helping those who suffer for the sake of Christ? The statistics and the graphic details of individual accounts can be hard to watch and take in, but these resources are meant to spur us to prayer and action on behalf of the persecuted members of our family around the world! Let us consider the words of William Wilberforce, “You may choose to look the other way but you can never say again that you did not know.”
Father, we pray for our brothers and sisters who suffer persecution for the
sake of your Name. Fill them each with hope and courage to endure patiently
their unique burden. Create a sanctuary in their darkness; lift their oppression
and demolish all the workings of the enemy. In Jesus’ powerful Name, we pray. Amen.
Jenny Noyes is the Executive Director of New Wineskins Missionary Network. She is a passionate speaker, networker, and evangelist. For fun, Jenny can be found riding ElliptiGOs with husband Larry, playing tennis and spending time with family and friends. You can contact Jenny here.