Archive for the ‘Pray for the Persecuted’ Category
Posted on July 30th, 2015 by David Burnette
Joaquín Guzmán, the billionaire head of the Sinaloa cartel in Mexico, escaped from a maximum security prison on July 11th of this year, slipping out through a mile-long tunnel outfitted with ventilation, electricity, and a motorcycle on rails.
You may have seen the headlines about “El Chapo,” as Guzmán is known. His second prison escape highlights not only a weak justice system in Mexico, but also the level of corruption that exists in certain parts of Mexico due to influential drug lords . So, in addition to a general desire for justice, why should Christians care about El Chapo and other Mexican criminals?
A Surprising Ranking
Surprisingly, Mexico was ranked fifth on the list of most violent countries for Christians in 2014. This ranking was based on a seventeen-month survey of “persecution incidents” by Open Doors, and the anti-Christian violence can be attributed in part to the criminal organizations and drug cartels that have targeted Christians and churches. These churches are seen as revenue centers, and are therefore targets for extortion. Churches are also targeted, according to Open Doors, because they offer rehab and support services to drug users .
The violence in Mexico appears to be much greater in the southern states, where the traditional laws make it difficult for Christian converts. Those who do not accept the practices of the local community are ostracized and sometimes persecuted. Open Doors’ annual World Watch List, which ranks countries in terms of their persecution of Christians, has Mexico at #38 in 2015. This ranking is based on different types of persecution, including discrimination from the government, social pressure, or outright physical violence.
Closer Than You Think
The persecution of Christians in Mexico is a reminder that intense pressure and physical hostility aren’t just problems over there, far across the ocean on another continent. It happens right in our backyard, in the same country where many Americans choose to vacation. Of course, not every area of Mexico is hostile to followers of Christ, and we shouldn’t mistake the influence of organized crime as the attitude of most Mexicans toward Christians. After all, over 90% of Mexicans self-identify as Roman Catholic. Still, these realities remind us that opposition to Christ comes in many shapes and sizes, and that following him can be costly in many places around the world, even right next door.
Praying for Mexico
As you pray for persecuted believers around the world and for the spread of the gospel, here are some specifics on Mexico:
- Pray for believers to endure and bear witness to Christ in the face of pressure and persecution.
- Pray for the gospel to be proclaimed clearly. The overwhelming majority of Mexicans self-identify as Catholic (around 90%), while only around 8% identify as evangelicals out of a population of over 122 million people.
- Pray for the 32 unreached people groups consisting of over 1.4 million people.
- Pray for the 8 unreached people groups that are still unengaged, i.e., there is no church-planting strategy underway to reach them. This accounts for over 156,000 people.
- Pray for the reduction of organized crime and for criminals to be brought to justice.
According to the 2015 World Watch List, Syria is the fourth most hostile country in the world for Christians living there, in large part because of the growing presence and control of the self-proclaimed Islamic State. Christians are among those most marginalized and endangered, but between the Islamic State’s harsh implementation of sharia law and the ongoing violence of civil war, they aren’t the only only ones suffering. This is evidenced by the astounding number of Syrians forced to flee from their homes.
Some 6.5 million Syrians have been internally displaced, while around 4 million have been displaced to surrounding countries, and some still beyond. Numbers like these are so big that they can actually be ineffective. Rather than helping us feel the tragic weight of human suffering, we’re left to grapple with an intangible statistic. In reality, these numbers represent individual people. Most are lost, and many are unreached – without access to the gospel.
Of the over 20 million people in Syria (the vast majority of whom are Muslim), nearly 7.5 million are unreached. These unreached people span across 18 distinct people groups, people groups who may now be found in Turkey, Jordan, Lebanon, Egypt, Iraq, and Europe.
All of this has a few huge implications for missions:
- Those hardest to reach with the good news remain in Syria. With the Islamic State taking over, people who remain are either silently hurting at their hands or complicit. “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners” (1 Tim 1:15), so to sinners we must go.
- Whether in Syria or abroad, Christians are being persecuted. The Islamic State violently opposes all who don’t agree with their religious convictions, especially Christians. Believers still in Syria are likely to be on the run, anxiously hiding, or suffering abuse. Believers who have fled Syria are often homeless, unemployed, lacking basic needs, separated from family, and still religiously restricted… unfortunately, Iraq, Egypt, Turkey, and Jordan (the top destinations of Syrian exiles) are all also on the World Watch List. As fellow members of the body of Christ, we suffer when they do. Our love for them is evidence of our love for God and a testimony to the gospel for a watching world (1 Jn 4:7, Jn 13:35).
- Those displaced are uniquely situated to hear the gospel. For displaced unbelievers, not only are they more accessible than they would have been in Syria, but they’re also potentially more receptive to the message of Christ. They may be disenchanted with Islam (Daniel Abraham explained this clearly today on Tim Challies’ blog), they might be thinking more about eternity, and their awareness of their need for a Savior may be heightened.
As is often the case, the church hurts worst in the world’s darkest spots. As we look to Syria and see our believing brothers and sisters suffering and fleeing, let’s not be guilty of indifference. Let’s pray for them, support them, and advocate on their behalf, knowing that helping the Syrian church continue to shine brightly is one of the greatest services we can do for the dark world around it. Syrians today need the light of Jesus more than ever. So let’s also bring the good news of forgiveness and reconciliation to those who presently oppose God.
The people of Syria are in dire need. May we rise to the occasion.
Posted on May 6th, 2015 by Cassity
Throughout the month of May, we’re encouraging people to Pray for Vietnam, our Secret Church 15 prayer focus. We’d love for you to join us by making use of the 30-day prayer guide at PrayForVietnam.org. Before you begin, read the stirring words from Vietnamese church leaders below as they tell us what life is like as a Christian in Vietnam.
*Note: Names and other information has been omitted for security purposes.
1. How do you remain faithful in persecution?
“I know that I must have a personal walk with the Lord. We must be realizing that we are weak—we have to let go and let God. I recount the latest incident where I thought, ‘This is the end.’ Then I am reminded that the Lord [is faithful].”
“[I know that my] faith is in God and Jesus Christ. We believe what we are doing is right. I vowed [from the beginning] never to quit.”
“I am willing to die for my faith. I was trained [by other Christians]. I quote verses from the book of John. Our people are like sheep before the wolves. It is my responsibility to protect them and lead them. I will never give up.”
2. How do you train new believers to face persecution?
“[I make it] very clear that we are coming together to worship the Lord. We have a clear vision to spread churches. I use my experience [with persecution] to teach them.”
“Our first rule is: never run away. If I run away, I become a betrayer to Jesus and these people.”
“We used to hate the authorities who persecuted us. [After a meeting] with five other church leaders, I said we should change the way we are with [the authorities]—try to talk about the good things about them. We should show them Christ’s love. We should show them that we love Vietnam and want to build up the country.”
“I inform them this is not an easy faith. They will face trials. I bring them along with me to see how I handle things so that they will know how to count the cost.”
“I explain why persecution happens. [I tell them to] pray and study the Bible to grow in faith. If they spend time with God, they can stand firm.”
3. How do you pray for Vietnam and fellow believers?
“[I pray that] the Lord will still keep persecution in Vietnam. We don’t pray for it to go away or for freedom. We pray for the gospel to have freedom to break through barriers. [Through this I want to] excite the younger generation and raise up faithful workers who will go through difficult circumstances.”
“I pray for the authorities because they do things contrary to God’s word. We pray for them to have a chance to repent.”
Join these church leaders in praying for the peoples of Vietnam, especially the persecuted believers who face opposition daily for their faith. For more on Vietnam and how you can pray for the people there, visit PrayForVietnam.org.
Lien quietly rolls up the mat she slept on and steps over her husband and children who are still sleeping. It’s 4:30 am, and like every day, Lien must prepare a meal before she goes to the fields for work at 5:30. She wonders if her husband even remembers stumbling up the stairs last night as she soothed her frightened children to get them to sleep.
When she arrives in the field, a few other women are huddled together whispering and shaking their heads. As she draws near to the hushed voices she hears what she felt was true, another friend has taken her own life. With knowing glances and pats of reassurance each woman walks into the field to begin the day’s work. Lien starts the methodical work and lets her thoughts drift to ask herself, “Could I be free?”
As the sun slips away behind the trees, Lien arrives at her home covered in dirt and sweat from a long day’s work. Her husband is gone, but he left a trail of empty rice wine bottles on his way out. Her children are off at the neighbor’s house. Today she doesn’t call them to eat. She simply climbs the wooden stairs, grabs the bottle she’s been hiding, and takes a big gulp of the same insecticide another lady gave her. She closes her eyes and hopes for the freedom her friend found the day before.
Life is hard for many women who live in the remote areas of Vietnam. Often they rise early and work late and bear the weight of responsibility for keeping their families going. Many of these women are without hope and some even resort to suicide. This is a fictional story, but the issue is very real for women living in rural Vietnam.
How can you pray for these women?
Pray for salvation. Ask God to send someone to share the hope of Christ with village ladies so that they can have true freedom and eternal life.
Pray for family life for these women. Ask that they would have husbands who love and care for them and their children.
Pray for their jobs. These women spend long hours doing tough work in fields. Pray for good harvests as a result of their long labors.
Vietnam is the Secret Church 15 prayer focus. You can learn more about Vietnam at PrayForVietnam.org and by following the Secret Church blog for stories, information, and ways to pray. You can also follow Pray for Vietnam on Facebook and Twitter.
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.
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