The Persecuted Church

Read: Acts 16: 16-40; Hebrews 13:1-3

Last week in my midweek meditation I wrote about the call and the need for comfort. This week I share an article by John Stonestreet from breakpoint.org that speaks of the many Christians around the world that are facing persecution and death for simply believing in the truth of Jesus Christ. Just like Paul and Silas experienced in Acts 16 and Jesus warned us about in the Gospels, following Jesus can sometimes be a life that others do not accept and at times will even persecute against. As John shares at the end of this blog we need to pray for them and do what we can to support those who are suffering for their faith in Christ. Here is what he writes……

“While the civilized world rightly expressed outrage over the slaughter of 12 cartoonists, the plight of 100 million persecuted Christians is largely ignored. While in 2014 the days of throwing Christians to wild beasts in the arena may be behind us, the persecution of Christians around the world isn’t. In fact, the number of our brothers and sisters subjected to imprisonment, torture, and death for their faith in just the last twelve months dwarfs the number who suffered during the entire tenure of Nero.

As a new report from a leading ministry to the persecuted church shows, last year was one of the most violent on record for believers worldwide—and 2015 could be worse. Open Doors International released its World Watch list earlier this month, ranking the top 50 most dangerous and difficult countries for Christians to live in. Here are the results: For the 13th year in a row, North Korea ranked as the worst persecutor of Christians. Amid executing relatives and presiding over the disappearances of his political rivals, North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un has reserved his special wrath for Christians.

Open Door estimates that 70,000 believers are currently imprisoned for their faith in this hermit kingdom. And considering North Koreans outside of jail live in a state of semi-starvation, I shudder to think what it’s like behind bars. Executions for crimes of owning Bibles or evangelizing are commonplace. News agencies reported last year that Kim Jong-un personally sentenced 33 church planters to death.

“Christians,” explains Open Doors president David Curry, “are the No. 1 enemy of the state in North Korea.” And that’s just one frontier in the battle between the Gospel and modern Neros. In west-central Africa, the Islamist group Boko Haram has just leveled several towns, with Christians as their new target of choice. Militants have ambushed worshipers in at least a half a dozen churches on Sunday Mornings, and human rights groups report a Christian body count of over 3,000 in Nigeria alone.

And then there’s the Middle East. From Iraq and Syria to Pakistan and Afghanistan, Christians are suffering for their faith on a scale not seen in living memory. Some of the world’s most ancient church communities have been wiped out or displaced by the rise of ISIS, and tens of thousands of Christians have fled the Islamic State’s onslaught—most likely never to return home.

“We have seen the sharpest jump in violent attacks against Christians in the modern era,” says Curry, estimating that upwards of 100 million Christians worldwide are suffering persecution as we speak. “[And] while the year 2014 will go down in history for having the highest level of global persecution of Christians in the modern era,” Open Doors elaborated, “current conditions suggest the worst is yet to come.”

Now I know it’s easy to shrug and say, “Well, what can I do about this?” But we’re not helpless—not by a long shot. Christians in America have options for extending help to our hard-pressed brethren by supporting organizations devoted to serving the persecuted church and pleading her cause—organizations like Open Doors, Voice of the Martyrs, and International Christian Concern. So please, get involved. We’ll link you to all of these ministries at BreakPoint.org.

And of course, we need to pray—all the harder as the situation worsens. And while you’re praying, remember this: The same Gospel that Nero thought he could extinguish went on to conquer his empire. His fires died—but the Holy Spirit’s fire did not. And as the Apostle John wrote, very likely in the context of Nero’s persecution, Christians who confessed their Lord despite the cost “triumphed…by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony.” So take action with me. And folks, don’t despair. If the gates of Hell and Rome can’t prevail against the Church, modern persecutors don’t stand a chance.”

Make it personal: First and foremost we must pray for those in North Korea, the Middle East, Nigeria, and other places where this persecution is taking place. Second, we must find ways to speak out and support those who are trying to help them in what is a very difficult situation. As Hebrews 13:3 says, “Continue to remember those in prison, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves are suffering.”

Have a blessed week, Glen Rhodes, Arthur Mennonite Church