Archive for the ‘Pray for the Persecuted’ Category
Posted on February 26th, 2015 by Jonathan
Adversity is nothing new to Ramez Atallah, president of the Egyptian Bible Society. We wrote about him almost a year and a half ago when, amid the confusing government transition in Egypt, the society’s bookshops were burnt to the ground by Muslim fundamentalists.
This blow did not dissuade him from the work before him, however. He resolved to rebuild the bookshops and replenish their resources so that the Word of God could continue to spread throughout Egypt.
Then, the events last week in Libya. ISIS beheaded 21 Egyptian Christians. Devastating news, particularly for Egyptian Christians like Ramez Atallah. But, in the words of this encouraging CT article, Atallah was once again “undaunted.” He saw an opportunity for gospel proclamation in the wake of unspeakable tragedy, and he took it.
Under Atallah’s leadership, the Egyptian Bible Society has now distributed over 1.65 million copies of a pamphlet titled “Two Rows by the Sea.” The pamphlet depicts the horrifying scene from the ISIS video: two columns of men walking by the sea, one in black and one in orange. There is a beautiful poem that powerfully describes the executed and their executioners, followed by a series of questions about the two rows. Which row understands? Which row sees? Which row will prevail? Which row pleases God? Each of the questions is simply answered by a couple passages of Scripture.
Needless to say, the brief publication packs quite a punch. Now, hundreds of thousands of Egyptians who were rattled by the executions have had these questions about God, suffering, evil, and truth directly posed to them. Not only that, they’ve been proposed an answer: the gospel of Jesus.
We bring this story to your attention for several reasons.
First, we need to pray for the spread of the gospel in Egypt. Ask God to powerfully use “Two Rows by the Sea” to confront people with the truth of Jesus, and ask him to use Christians to help explain it further to lost people who read it.
Second, this story is a powerful reminder that we do not fight flesh and blood, and that God uses evil for good. Be encouraged and continue to trust that God is moving even in depressing headlines.
Third, we ought to be challenged by Ramez Atallah’s example of perseverance and endurance. Atallah continued to faithfully serve where God had placed him despite having his bookstores burned down less than 18 months ago. When the time came for God to use him in a huge way, he was ready.
Posted on February 3rd, 2015 by Jonathan
If you didn’t catch our previous announcement, Vietnam is our Secret Church 15 prayer focus. Why are we highlighting this area? Two reasons, both of which you’ll hear more about in the coming months on the Secret Church blog. Make sure you go there for regular posts and updates.
- Unreached People Groups – Vietnam has 74 unique people groups comprised of 93,530,125 individuals. Of those, 71 are unreached. Of those unreached groups, 23 are unengaged. Only three people groups in the country are reached with the gospel.
- Persecution – According to Open Doors’ World Watch List, Vietnam is the 16th worst country for Christians to live in, in terms of persecution. Much of the opposition comes from communist authorities. However, in a country that is overrun with various mixtures of Buddhism and animism, Christianity isn’t exactly welcomed by the friends and family members of believers.
As we’ve learned, persecution accompanies witness because the goal of persecution is to silence witness. This means we cannot simply pray for suffering Christians to endure and persecution to end; we must also pray for the gospel to increase and the number of UPGs to decrease.
On behalf the persecuted Christians and their persecutors, and on behalf of the unreached peoples and those trying to reach them, won’t you join us in praying for Vietnam?
Posted on January 12th, 2015 by Jonathan
If you’re new to Secret Church, that may leave you with more questions than answers. So to learn what exactly the prayer focus is, watch the two minute video below. You can also explore the prayer focus websites from last year or the year before that.
As the video explained, it’s more than a few minutes on the night of Secret Church. After Secret Church, we’ll be devoting the entire month of May to focused prayer for Vietnam, so now is the time to begin thinking and praying about how you can encourage your church or small group to pray for the Peoples of Vietnam.
Posted on January 2nd, 2015 by Jonathan
“Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” – Matthew 5:11-12
For over two years, Pastor Saeed Abedini has been imprisoned in Iran for Christian activity. For over five years, Christians in Nigeria have suffered fatal attack after fatal attack at the hands of the terrorist group Boko Haram. For five and a half years, Asia Bibi has been awaiting execution in a Pakistani prison for supposed blasphemy against Allah. These are just a few of the known situations in which Christians are suffering violent injustice. So what are we, their fellow brothers and sisters in Christ, supposed to do? Is Jesus suggesting that we smile and nod as if all is well?
First, let’s shed some light on Jesus’ striking statement about persecution, above.
Though not exactly parallel, consider exercise. There is a cost for getting fit. If you’ve ever had trouble walking down a set of stairs after doing squats or difficulty brushing your teeth after doing curls, you know what it feels like. It may be painful, and some instances may be worse than others, but it’s a good hurt. Your sore muscles prove that you’ve been using them and mean you’re getting stronger.
Now think about persecution. In the terms of our exercise analogy, persecution isn’t the work-out… it’s the soreness. Just as people don’t go to the gym to get sore, Christians don’t share the gospel to get a violent backlash. That’s not the goal. You go to the gym to become stronger, and you proclaim the gospel that God may be glorified. That is the goal.
When we don’t have this end goal in view, we can often have an improper perspective on the type of persecution (and subsequent rejoicing) Jesus talks about in Matthew 5. We can shortsightedly look at this passage, and others like it, and conclude that persecution is a “blessed” thing in itself. But that’s not what Jesus says – he blesses persecuted people, not persecution. And why? Because being reviled, persecuted, and slandered is simply evidence of acting on Jesus’ account. And just because he blesses them, doesn’t mean their aches and tears go away. There’s a subtle, yet key, difference between rejoicing in such suffering and enjoying it. Although people don’t enjoy sore muscles, they can be glad about sore muscles because it means they’re getting stronger. In the same way, although our brothers and sister don’t enjoy persecution, they can be glad about persecution because it means they’re proclaiming Christ.
I think this is what Jesus is saying – we can rejoice in persecution even though it isn’t enjoyable. But this has more to do with the attitude and demeanor of the persecuted than it does our response. Are we supposed to do anything about it? Yes. There are at least three things we should do in response to the persecution of Christians, and none of them include passive smiling and nodding.
First, we should be challenged to spread the gospel. The reality is, Christians are not persecuted for relegating their worship and witness to the home. Persecution occurs in opposition to gospel proclamation. When we hear of brothers and sisters being persecuted for boldly sharing their faith, we should ask ourselves, “Am I sharing my faith? Am taking advantage of my freedom?”
Second, we should pray for the persecuted. We can’t overemphasize this response even though it is an obvious one. What may not be as obvious, though, is what to pray. Acts 4:24-30 provides a helpful starting point: pray for their continued boldness, the power of the Holy Spirit, and fruitfulness. But do we pray for their safety? Yes! That leads to the last response…
Third, we should advocate for freedom and justice on behalf of the persecuted. As part of the body with them, we suffer when they do. Fighting for their well-being is part of loving our brothers and sisters well. Believers are to follow Jesus’ example of standing up on behalf of the oppressed, Christian or not. Where there is injustice, we labor for justice to reflect our just God. And on top of all that, we should fight for their freedom to proclaim the God-glorifying gospel, because, again, that is the ultimate goal.
Posted on December 29th, 2014 by Jonathan
Most of us would do well to be more involved in global missions. But it simply won’t do to make a New Year’s resolution to “be more missional” . . . you are likely already well aware that you should be praying more, giving more, and/or going more. Knowing how to do these things is another matter, and not knowing where to begin can leave you feeling overwhelmed and discouraged.
So, below are several starting points. The list is not meant to be exhaustive, but practical and manageable. It may even get you thinking about other ways you can be more about the Great Commission.
Write a Missionary Every Month
There is little more encouraging to missionaries than genuine interest in their ministry from friends and family back home. When you take the time to sit down and ask them how they are doing, update them on what’s new with you, share what God is teaching you, and tell them how you are praying for them, your care is evident. You, too, will be blessed, encouraged, and challenged by this practice. Though emails are good, an occasional hand-written letter is a nice touch. And every so often, send a care package.
Educate Yourself on Regions of the World
Choose different areas of the world to learn about and pray for. The regions could be big (ex: Siberia) or small (ex: Lebanon), and you can shift your focus once a month, twice a month, or once a quarter. Learn about the area’s people groups, culture, government, economy, and history. Make it a family activity, and have fun with it. You can prepare a meal common to the region, listen the its traditional music, or play a game/sport that originates there. As you begin to appreciate the area’s people and culture, you will see it as less of an abstract shape on a map and more of a real place with real people who have real physical and spiritual needs.
Serve International Students at a Nearby College
It’s often surprising how many people groups are present when you look around you. What might be more surprising is the large number of them who are never invited into an American home. Try seeking them out. You might go to ethnic restaurants, markets, or other places where they gather, but one of the most natural channels is through your local college or university. Many of them have sizable populations of international students who are studying abroad in America, and some them even have programs set up to connect them to Americans. Ask if there’s any way you can get involved.
Organize a Fundraiser
The less missionaries have to worry about sustaining themselves, the more they can focus on the work at hand. Consider organizing a car wash, a tournament, a garage sale, or some other creative method of raising money for a missionary family, organization, or church fund. Whether or not you already give, a world missions fundraiser has several benefits. 1) They can be effective ways to quickly raise and give more money than a small group of individuals can give on their own. 2) Fundraisers also raise awareness – among both the people giving and the people you recruit to help put it on. This can often be more valuable than any monetary gain. 3) Going out of your way to set up a fundraiser helps create solidarity with missionaries in the field while greatly encouraging them at the same time.
Serve Missionaries on Furlough
If your church has commissioned missionaries, ask your church leaders if and when they’ll be returning on furlough, and find out what their needs are. Do they need a place to stay for a couple of months? Do they need a car? A cell phone? Once you know what their practical needs are, see if there’s anything you can do to help meet them, even sacrificially.
Pray for the Persecuted
Many of you already pray for unreached people groups with the help of resources like PeopleGroups.org, Operation World, or Joshua Project. As you continue this, remember that proclamation of the gospel to the least reached is often accompanied by opposition and persecution. Learn of specific ways to begin praying for persecuted Christians and the ones imposing it on them with the help of Open Doors or Voice of the Martyrs.
Posted on December 18th, 2014 by Jonathan
… the Peoples of Vietnam! That’s who we’ll be learning about in the coming months, who we’ll pray for together the night of Secret Church, and who we’ll pray for throughout the month of May and beyond. There is much more to be said about the people groups in Vietnam and why they’re worthy of our collective focus, but for now, pray about how you might involve your small group and/or church in supporting the work there.
Posted on November 21st, 2014 by Jonathan
Refiner’s Fire: Christians in the Kilns: In Pakistan’s Punjab district, 13 out of 19 brick kiln workers are Christians. They are effectively slaves, overworked and mistreated. Tragically, Christians Shahzad Masih and his pregnant wife, Shama Bibi, were killed by a mob in the brick kiln in which they worked earlier this month.
Advent of Unity: Peter Leinhart beautifully shows how the coming of Christ was the coming of unity. “Advent marks a ‘genesis’ because in Jesus the human race gets a fresh start. Advent celebrates the Advent of humanity’s reunion, the coming of what Paul calls ‘one new man.'”
8 Essential Components for Discerning God’s Will: “I know that some people maintain that God doesn’t have a will for our lives beyond our sanctification,” says David Sills, “but He does.” These are the eight biblical considerations he offers to those who are eager to discern their role in God’s global plan.
Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm. (Ephesians 6:10-13)
One of the fundamental rules of war is that you must know who your enemies are. That in mind, when it comes to spiritual warfare . . .
There’s good news, and there’s bad news.
The good news is we aren’t fighting ISIS. Neither are we battling ebola, abortion, atheism, poverty, religious persecution, or godless social agendas. We do not battle flesh and blood. That is to say, we are not at war with people or earthly trials. That’s the good news.
The bad news is that our actual enemies are far more sinister and powerful than ISIS. In the Ephesians 6 passage above, Paul describes them as cosmic powers over this present darkness and spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places, the devil their leader schemer. Were he to stop there, we would have reason to lose hope.
Thankfully though, the passage doesn’t end with bad news. In the remainder of the chapter, Paul – taking into account both who is for us and who is against us – outlines a winning battle plan. Here are a few of the takeaways:
- We are fighting for the souls of men. With eternal destinations in the crosshairs of the cosmic powers, declaring the gospel in everything becomes our primary aim.
- We are quick to fall to our knees in prayer and slow to rise. We are not spiritual Rambos who carry victory on our soldiers, but weaklings facing formidable enemies, dependent on a mighty Lord.
- We first arm ourselves for spiritual battle, not physical or ideological. Prayer, the gospel, righteousness, faith, salvation, the Spirit . . . this is God’s armor.
Let’s not be distracted from the real war by flesh-and-blood skirmishes on the fringe. Let’s not let our emotions rule our reactions, either – seething with unrighteous anger toward the lost or cowering with inappropriate fear of man. In the end, though our real foes are menacing, our sovereign Friend reigns victorious. The way we fight should be determined by who we’re fighting AND who has already won.
Posted on October 29th, 2014 by Jonathan
We don’t normally think of persecution occurring in countries like Uganda, but it does. Susan’s story should remind us that each day, Christians all over the world face intense opposition–in the obviously brutal North Koreas and the deceptively “Christian” Ugandas. Whatever the context, unlike Susan, most of their stories go untold. This should compel us to pray.
For this reason, let me encourage you to participate in the International Day of Prayer for the persecuted church through a free and interactive webcast hosted by Open Doors on November 1st and 2nd. The first night allows for interaction with believers from all over the world, and the second night is designed as a time of worship together. Special guests include David Platt, Nik Ripken, and Selah.
This is a great opportunity for your small group or church to get together and pray. For suffering believers we know of, like Susan. For believers whose suffering is unknown to us. And for those under whose hand they suffer. May this webcast faithfully serve the persecuted church as it encourages you to give Christ’s name the honor it is due, wherever you find yourself . . . North Korea, Uganda, or the United States.
To participate in Open Doors’ free, interactive webcast, RSVP here.
Posted on October 7th, 2014 by Jonathan
It’s no stretch to say that believers suffering the atrocities of North Korean prison camps or ISIS invasions are being persecuted. They are in extreme situations that call for a proportionally extreme amount of prayer and attention. We may be left to wonder, though, how we should think about believers whose faith is being attacked in less horrific ways. Is it fair to classify anything less than outright violence as persecution?
This is where it may be helpful to think of persecution in a couple of different ways. Open Doors (OD) speaks of “smashing” and “squeezing.” Smashing is violent. When you think smashing, think ISIS and North Korea. But squeezing, OD explains, is more about pressure.
“While it would seem that smash is the most prevalent and invasive expression of persecution, it is often the squeeze that is most prevalent and invasive,” said OD on their World Watch List website. This is because squeezing pervades society, affecting the Christian’s whole life, and it can be imposed from a variety of different angles–social expectations, government, family, employers, etc. Additionally, when Christians are being squeezed, they are often suppressed to the point of total silence. If the goal of persecution is to silence witness, then it could be said that squeezing is often more effective than beating and imprisonment, because more overt hostility can sometimes serve as a megaphone for Christ.
But if you’re like me, you need some examples. To help us think through what squeezing may look like, turn your attention to the intersection of Europe and Asia: Turkey. Though Christianity in the 97% Muslim country is no longer illegal, many Turks make concerted efforts to undermine its spread (for example, by placing superfluous requirements on congregations looking to build). Though hard to measure, the social strain for Christians in Turkey can be overwhelming. When a Muslim decides to follow Christ, their friends and family often treat them with contempt because they feel betrayed. This is what our Turkish brother in Christ, Erman, experienced when his father died. As the eldest son, he was expected to pray at his father’s Muslim funeral, but as a Christian, his conscience would not permit him to. Erman was squeezed. There was pain, both for him and his family, and judgement from the community.
Now let’s come a little closer to home. A lot closer, actually. Many of you have probably heard about the turmoil surrounding Washington florist, Barronelle Stutzman. When so called same-sex marriage became legal in Washington state, a gay couple who Stutzman had been serving for close to a decade asked her to do their wedding. Although Stutzman agonized over the decision because of their friendship, her Christian convictions about marriage would not permit her to contribute to their celebration with her flower arrangements. Now, she is being sued for everything she’s worth by both the state of Washington and the couple whom she had served for so long. Watch the video below for a more complete picture of her story.
Though she isn’t in danger of being burned at the stake, her business is at stake, simply because she wanted to peaceably act according to her religious convictions. In the words of Denny Burk, “This [Stutzman being sued] is a great injustice, and I hope people will see this for what it is–persecution.”
It’s important that we realize such squeezing is, in fact, persecution, so that we are not ignorant and, subsequently, idle in situations that don’t reflect God’s justice. The opposition these forgotten sufferers are facing falls short of firing squads and torture, but they still deserve our attention. Plus, smashing persecution probably didn’t start that way. And though our response to situations like the ones facing Stutzman and Erman may be different than our response to the situations found in North Korea and Iraq, it ought still be marked by urgency, and it ought still be drenched in prayer.
Whether crushed or squeezed, persecuted Christians are just that: persecuted. Our recognition of this fact not only helps us to see that they are worthy of our attention, prayer, and active support… it helps us keep watch of our own horizon.
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