We live at a time in history when Christian persecution is alarmingly high. Last month the world was shocked at the horrible beheadings of 21 Egyptian Christians in Libya. For believers who live in such places as North Korea, Nigeria, Syria, Iraq, Iran, Sudan and Somalia (to name a few), persecution is very much a part of life. They live with the constant threat of being attacked, robbed, abducted, imprisoned or killed for being a believer in Christ. According to Open Doors USA, “each month 322 Christians are killed for their faith, 214 churches and Christian properties are destroyed, and 772 forms of violence are committed against Christians (such as beatings, abductions, rapes, arrests and forced marriages)” (Christian Persecution, n.d.). In North Korea, the number one country on the World Watch List compiled each year by Open Doors USA, it is estimated that 50-70,000 Christians are imprisoned in labor camps (North Korea, n.d.), an atrocity that largely goes unnoticed.
We in America are insulated from such persecution. Christians here may face ridicule from atheists in the media and on some college campuses, but nothing near the level mentioned above. But with so many brothers and sisters in the body of Christ suffering such abuse around the world, are we doing our part to at least support them in prayer? My fear is that many Christians, along with our churches, are so consumed with teaching the right doctrines, reaching the poor and lost in their community, and supporting missionaries (all worthwhile ventures), that they unfortunately find little time to think about and pray for the persecuted church.
We need to be mindful that though we in the West have it easy now, this may not always be the case. Jesus taught that such persecution would surely come upon those who follow him. In his Olivet Discourse he told his disciples very plainly that,
they will deliver you up to tribulation and kill you, and you will be hated by all nations for My name’s sake. (Matthew 24:9, NKJV)
By saying “all nations” Jesus extended his prophecy to the Church at large.
Many who are persecuted for following Christ consider it an honor to join in “the fellowship of his sufferings” (Philippians 3:10). In his set of nine Beatitudes that begins Christ’s Sermon on the Mount, two of these blessings are given to those who are persecuted (Matthew 25:10-12), so we know that Jesus thinks very highly of those who endure mistreatment for righteously living as his disciples.
Likewise, the writer of Hebrews gives great honor to those who
were tortured, not accepting deliverance, that they might obtain a better resurrection. Still others had trial of mockings and scourgings, yes, and of chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, were tempted, were slain with the sword. They wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins, being destitute, afflicted, tormented— of whom the world was not worthy. (Hebrews 11:35-38)
My plea is for Christians and churches everywhere to join in honoring these dear Christians, by continually lifting them up as they stand for their faith and suffer for our Lord. Pray for their safety, pray for their endurance, pray for their testimony and pray for Christ’s presence to be strong in their midst. Again, from the writer of Hebrews:
Remember those who are in prison, as though in prison with them, and those who are mistreated, since you also are in the body.
(Hebrews 13:3, ESV)