Caring for the persecuted church around the world is certainly one of the more challenging calls on our lives in following Jesus. World news and information is now so readily available online as well as through print, television, and radio outlets that daily we can read or hear reports of suffering believers in distant lands. Sometimes the sheer volume of sad news coming our way can be overwhelming. And the Scripture’s word to us as followers of Christ is to, “remember those in prison as if you were their fellow prisoners, and those who are mistreated, as if you yourselves were suffering” (Hebrews 13:3). That’s a tall piece of instruction… “as if I was suffering and in prison with them.”
The most recent edition of the World Watch List reveals that 2014 was the worst year for Christians in a long time. More than double the number of Christians died for their faith in 2014 as in the previous year. Although North Korea topped the list as the worst persecutor of Christians for the 13th year in a row, radical Islam was the main driver behind persecution and slaughter around the world.
News outlets have now regularly been reporting that followers of Christ are systematically being driven from their homes or exterminated by ISIS in northern Iraq and Syria. For centuries Iraq sheltered one of the largest Christian populations in the region. At one point Baghdad was the center of Christian scholarship in all of the Middle East, and pilgrims visited its ancient monasteries and its shrines to prophets like Jonah, Daniel, Ezekiel and Nahum. Now, what took thousands of years to build has been destroyed. According to a recent Fox News report more than one million of Iraq’s 1.5 million Christians left the country between 2003 and 2010, and ISIS is now working aggressively to purge the area of all who will not submit to their radical ideology.
Our missionaries in Jordan report that their local churches have swelled to double their size within the last year alone as Christians there work to accommodate refugees from Syria and Iraq who have been displaced from their homes. And this pressure is felt all the more acutely because of the severe water shortage that Jordan is facing at this time as well. Religious scrutiny from the government is also adding to the pressure that believers there (especially ex-pats) are experiencing. This week we will hear from our dear friend Marilyn Escher who will be visiting to bring us an update on her Bible translation work in Senegal. While we have heard horror stories of Boko Haram’s attacks in northern Nigeria, those radical elements are now spreading into neighboring Niger and Cameroon and beginning to put pressure on coastal Senegalas well.
And we could go on to highlight accounts of suffering believers from China, India, Bangladesh, Uzbekistan, Pakistan, Myanmar and from a dozen other countries too. Faced with the enormity of the suffering church around the world, how can we respond in a Christ honoring and compassionate way? How can we who enjoy such tremendous religious freedoms keep from becoming dulled to the very real pain of those whose suffering is muted by their voices being so very far away?
Here are a few suggestions that will help keep our hearts close to theirs: (1) take the time to read the printed newsletters available in the rack at the back of our sanctuary that are from our front line missionaries and jot a note about believers they report on that are facing significant needs, (2) refuse to turn a blind eye to world news about Christians suffering, jot yourself a note on a sticky pad, post it in plain view, and focus your daily prayers on one or two hotspots for at least a good week (remember, “devote yourselves to prayer,” and “pray without ceasing”), (3) set aside a regular gift for a missionary or organization that you are confident is addressing the needs of suffering saints (Samaritan’s Purse Prayer Guide is a great little resource for learning about real needs). My experience says that practicing these simple suggestions will cause your heart for the suffering church to grow. Obedience is rarely complicated.
By God’s grace many of us are half a world away from intense places of persecution. But our capacity for compassion has room for expansion if we are to follow Christ in His heart for the world. It’s often in these most difficult of places that the gospel is advancing. What a privilege if we can be a part of God’s work by tangibly demonstrating our care for those who are suffering.