Editor’s Note: Sunday, November 9, is the International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church. Please join us as we lift up in prayer Christians around the world who are persecuted because of their faith.
Imagine driving into your garage one day and noticing police cars parked along the street outside your home. You jump out of your car and rush inside. But instead of attending to an emergency, or protecting your family from danger, the police are wreaking havoc inside your home. Furniture is being destroyed, possessions are being stolen, and your family is kneeling at gunpoint. “Where is your Bible?” an officer demands. Stunned, you reach for a shelf, pull out a Bible, and hand it to the officer. Without warning, he throws you to the floor and begins to beat you with a club. When blood has soaked through your clothing and your family is in tears, two officers yank you up and shove you into the back of their car. A lengthy interrogation lies ahead, and you are forced to stay upright and awake for the questioning. Hours later, you are shown to a jail cell. Without a trial, you have been “sentenced” to twenty years in prison.
Tragically, this situation is not unlike the one in which many thousands of Christians today find themselves. In China, church leaders are regularly arrested and thrown into prison. In Sudan, Christian women, men and children are kidnapped and sold as slaves. In Pakistan, believers are ridiculed and forced to take low-paying jobs. In North Korea , Christians are imprisoned in modern-day concentration camps, and even publicly executed. These believers are facing persecution – and even death – simply because of the faith that they possess.
Why Are Christians Persecuted?
From Chinese pastors to young Pakistani women studying to be nurses, from Sudanese village leaders to Cambodian schoolteachers, Christian believers are among the most industrious and dedicated citizens in the world. Many are leaders in economic development, while still others advance the cause of human rights and democracy in their native countries. Why then, are 200 million Christians facing severe persecution? Why are Christian women, men, and children of all ages the targets for one of the most horrific campaigns of violence in history?
As Paul Marshall notes in his book, Their Blood Cries Out, “Perhaps more important than what [Christians] do is who they are.” By nature of their faith, Christian believers are often positioned at odds with dictatorial and repressive regimes. Christians claim to belong to another Kingdom altogether, the Kingdom of God. Although this heavenly allegiance encourages them rather than discourages them to obey earthly authorities, few dictators will abide citizens who are living testimonies to the presence of an authority higher than themselves.
This is one reason why the persecution of Christian believers within a country is often one of the earliest indicators of a regime that will oppress its citizens and deny them even the most basic human rights.
“Many Christians,” Marshall concludes, “are therefore persecuted simply because they are Christians. Their usually peaceful and quiet beliefs stand as a rebuke to those who are corrupt, to those who cannot tolerate the presence of any view but their own, and to those who want to make their own political regime the only focus of loyalty.” Christians are not persecuted because they are a threat or a detriment to society, but rather because they are, as Marshall notes, “silent witnesses” to the power and sovereignty of God.
We too, because of faith in Christ, are witnesses. We must not fail to realize that these suffering believers are members with us of the universal body of Christ. God looks beyond the miles that separate us, and sees one glorious Church, the Bride of Christ in this world. He is eager to see us united in faith and devotion to Him.
In spite of the suffering that they face, the persecuted church around the world continues to grow rapidly. Believers in countries like Vietnam, North Korea , China, Sudan, and Pakistan willingly risk their lives daily for the sake of Christ. As we embrace our unity with them, we can discover the source of their death-defying courage. Their steady focus on the kingdom of Godin the midst of such extreme suffering can inspire us to a deeper faith and a stronger commitment to Christ.
A Call to Action
Our awareness of suffering Christians should take us a step further. It should and must encourage us to act on their behalf. God’s Word urges us to “do good to all, especially to those who are of the household of faith.” (Galatians 6:10 NKJV) More specifically, He challenges us to “remember the prisoners as if chained with them – those who are mistreated – since you yourselves are in the body also.” (Hebrews 13:3 NKJV)
Timothy Chmykhalov, a young Christian in the Soviet Union of the 1970s, faced severe persecution under the communist government. Denied exit visas, he and his family spent five years confined in the American Embassy in Moscow. One day during his confinement, Timothy wrote a poem dedicated to the martyrs in the U.S.S.R. and other communist nations. As he wrote, he imagined that he was addressing Christians in foreign lands. Timothy’s poem echoes the cry of millions of persecuted Christians worldwide. We would do well to read it as a message from them…
Think about your loved ones.
About: how people are dying here.
About: how Christians are mocked.
About: how many are in insane asylums.
I beg you to think of those—
Of those who are already considered dead;
Of those who are heavily drugged in psychiatric hospitals;
Of those who are dying in prisons and labor camps.
As I ask all of you,
My dear friends,
All of my dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
Think of them and make your decision.
Thus they await God’s help,
Thus they thirst after righteousness.
How they would like to be
The masters of their own destiny
To live free in their own country.
But God wants you to work,
To be fully dedicated to godly pursuits,
And to intercede on their behalf—
Those in psychiatric hospitals, prisons,
Labor camps and in exile.
May they be allowed to live in peace,
Either in this country or in some other,
For those hoping for permission to emigrate
To a country in which they want to live
So they can worship God there in freedom.
As believers in Christ, we are permanently joined together with our suffering brothers and sisters. As we work, as we play, as we live out our lives, we must remember our place in the universal body of Christ. We must unite ourselves with persecuted Christians in solidarity and compassion.
The call to action on behalf of persecuted believers shouldn’t overwhelm us. Are you unsure of what steps to take on their behalf? Then start with prayer. Lift up your brothers and sisters in Christ, and pray for their continued strength and courage. Then start to inform your friends about the persecution of Christians. As the subject gains more awareness within the Church, a stronger and louder voice in behalf of our suffering family will emerge. If you are interested in finding out how you can take simple steps to help the persecuted church, the Stand Today website is a good place to start. Visit www.standtoday.organd sign up to receive email updates regarding persecuted Christians.
Now is the time to take a stand with our suffering brothers and sisters. We must accept the challenge to lift them up in prayer, as well as to work for their ultimate freedom.
*Kristin Wright is the founder of Stand Today , an organization dedicated to raising awareness about persecuted Christians worldwide.