Sunday, November 6th, is the International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church (IDOP). It is a day to pray for and celebrate our brothers and sisters who are persecuted for their faith.
“Often I have heard people say, ‘How good God is! We prayed that it would not rain for our church picnic, and look at the lovely weather!’
Yes, God is good when He sends good weather. But God was also good when He allowed my sister, Betsie, to starve to death before my eyes in a German concentration camp.
I remember one occasion when I was very discouraged there. Everything around us was dark, and there was darkness in my heart. I remember telling Betsie that I thought God had forgotten us.
‘No, Corrie,’ said Betsie, ‘He has not forgotten us. Remember His Word: “For as the heavens are high above the earth, so great is His steadfast love toward those who fear Him.”’
….There is an ocean of God’s love available—there is plenty for everyone. May God grant you never to doubt that victorious love—whatever the circumstances.”
~ Corrie Ten Boom
As I reflect on the persecuted church and pray for persecuted Christians, I remember that God’s goodness has nothing to do with our circumstances.
I have sat with believers in South Asia who have essentially said the same thing as Corrie Ten Boom: that God is good, even in the most horrific of times.
This is not in any way to say that our missionaries do not falter in their faith, become impatient, or try to avoid persecution.
No, they fear for their family’s lives. They, like Corrie, question God’s goodness. They sometimes choose to avoid certain areas or people because of the risk.
There is no question that many of our missionaries, and so many other Christians around the world, live in truly horrible circumstances. There is no softening the suffering they go through. It would be a disservice to them and to us to attempt to do so.
In this last year, within our network of national missionaries and those they serve, we experienced beatings and stonings, kidnapping and imprisonment, sexual assault and forced marriage, and rejection from family and society.
Also within our network, we saw baptisms and radically changed hearts, children educated and parents taught job skills, women treated with respect and men pulled from the brink of suicide, pastors trained and previously unreached people groups reached.
So, in the midst of the pain and doubt our missionaries and other Christians walk through, they produce fruit.
They experience God’s goodness.
They have seen this because they have set their minds on things above (Philippians 4:8). Their main focus is not on their own comfort, or safety, or their “rights”. Their focus is on spreading Jesus’ love, and serving our God.
One of our young pastors, Xi*, in Myanmar (Burma), was recently imprisoned on false charges, and has now been set free. You may have seen his story highlighted by The Voice of the Martyrs.
His words exemplify a common response to persecution from our missionaries:
“I have peace in the Lord though I was falsely accused because of my faith and Christian activities. The opposition has tried to give me problems in many ways.
But the more I faced persecutions in my life, the more my church members and I are growing in our faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.
Our prayers always work. Satan knows the way we are growing our faith in Christ, but the God that we serve and have is bigger than our enemy. Praise the Lord. He is with us and protects us all the time.
Please pray for the opposition, that they would come to know and accept the Lord Jesus Christ as their personal Savior and Lord before they die.”
Too often, my response to others’ persecution is guilt. Guilt over the easy life I live, guilt over my own lack of dedication, guilt over the fact that I feel like I cannot tangibly help in any way. From my experience, this is a common response from the church in America.
From a Biblical and logical point of view, however, we know guilt is not the response we should have to the suffering of our brothers and sisters. So, what should it be?
Remember the prisoners as if chained with them—those who are mistreated—since you yourselves are in the body also. ~ Hebrews 13:3
We can honor and remember our family in chains through prayer.
The most common prayer request we receive is, “Please pray for me and my family and ministry so that we can continue our work for the Lord.”
The second is, “Please pray for our enemies, that Jesus will change their hearts, and that they will follow him.”
So prayer, yes. But let’s not stop there. There are other ways too.
We can honor them by continuing and joining in their work.
By using the freedom they don’t have to share the Gospel.
By showing love to our enemies, and theirs.
By sharing their stories, and the miracles God has performed in their lives.
By financially supporting them with the abundance we have.
By rising to the example they have set for us.
Their victories are our victories, their suffering is our suffering. (1 Corinthians 12:26)
As a Body of Christ which spans the entire globe, we are on a mission together. We have a Great Commission to carry out. To reach the ends of the earth with the Gospel (Matthew 28:19). To love God first, and love others as our neighbor (Matthew 22:37-39).
And who is our neighbor? Well, it’s anyone. Including our enemies, and including those that frighten us, or those we think threaten our way of life.
If our counterparts in India, and Pakistan, and Iraq, and Nigeria, and so many other places, can serve God and love their enemies, can’t we honor them, and our Lord, by doing the same?
Our brothers and sisters have given their lives for the task set before them. Let’s join them in finishing it (Acts 20:24).