Throughout the last four months of the COVID-19 crisis, I have been newly struck by how powerful the church is when we take seriously God’s call to be citizens of heaven (Philippians 3:20).
We work in a world where true persecution is a reality.
This past month one of our pastors brought help and comfort to the family of a teenage boy who was martyred by Hindu radicals in northern India because of his family’s Christian faith. One of our missionaries in Myanmar took in three children whose Buddhist father beat and then abandoned their mother because she began following Christ. A pastor in Nepal was arrested for recording and sharing a video sermon, while his Hindu counterparts were free to do the same. Yet the main prayer request, apart from comfort and safety for these believers’ families, is always the same:
“Pray for our persecutors to follow Jesus.”
Our partners’ prayers for their persecutors display a kingdom mindset focused on seeking God’s will – that enemies would be reconciled to Him (2 Corinthians 5:18-20).
Countless Christians were overlooked for help from government food distribution programs during recent lockdowns. But so were Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, and others.
In each of the countries where we work, minority religions are persecuted – whether Rohingya Muslims experiencing genocide in Myanmar, systemic injustice toward Muslims and Christians in India, or Hindus facing discrimination and violence in Pakistan and Bangladesh. Our pastors, missionaries, and believers responded in this time by feeding the marginalized: the poorest of the poor, those facing discrimination, and the outcasts of society, regardless of faith or status.
These men and women have displayed Jesus’ heart of justice and mercy (Matthew 25:31-46), which has opened new doors for the Gospel.
Recently, while speaking about the hundreds of families his network of missionaries has helped so far during COVID-19, our Bangladesh director Darpan* said,
“When COVID-19 began, many of our missionaries responded very well, seeing how they could help many people during this time feel the loving touch of Christ. They fed people with what they had. My wife and I requested help from you in this time and the Lord sent some blessings. Instead of working directly [i.e. obvious miracles], the Lord is using His people to meet these needs…The feedback in the communities has been very good. People are learning that Christians are so caring when even the government is not helping. Besides giving food we gave hand washing and hygiene lessons too, as this information had not reached many of them. We gave thanks to the Lord publicly, and the non-believers understood where these blessings came from. Already, many want to know more about Jesus…very soon there will be more preaching centers – there will be a baptism program when it is possible again….Our missionaries are enduring a very hard time – but everyone is ready to accomplish His commandments as He called us. So, pray for them and hope for this. We are busy with relief work, but very silently the Holy Spirit has been working among lots of hearts; so on His work we need to keep our attention and pray and commit.”
Responding from a position of putting God first and loving their neighbors as themselves (Mark 12:30-31), these brothers and sisters are seeing God change hearts and minds.
An American missionary friend recently pointed out that when Paul says in his letter to the Philippians that we are citizens of heaven, he didn’t just mean looking forward to heaven as our true home. A first century reader would understand this; the city of Philippi in Greece was a Roman colony where many had the privilege of Roman citizenship. The citizens of a colony were not supposed to aspire to go back to Rome. Their job was to secure a conquered country by permeating the local culture with Roman culture. By telling Christians they were citizens of heaven, then, Paul was telling them to permeate the world with heavenly culture.
The believers we come alongside are doing this.
In June, while discussing future goals and plans with our Nepal director, Shalva*, he said,
“I believe without planting churches, we can’t bring changes in society. Churches are the nucleus to transform the society, as well as replace superstition with truth.”
In Shalva’s specific case, the church transforming society looks like the church being the safest place for a woman of any faith to seek safety from an abusive marriage. It looks like people learning that medicine, and not witchcraft, can heal them. The church is where people of all castes can worship together.
This is all a natural outpouring of seeking God’s will on earth as it is in heaven (Matthew 6:10). I pray I follow our South Asian brothers’ and sisters’ example in living as a citizen of heaven here on earth.
Kate Therese, Executive Director
*Names changed for safety