4:30 every morning. In a city on the banks of the Nile River, the azaan, the Muslim Call to Prayer, blares into Pastor Jeremiah’s bedroom. The noise comes from five mosques bristling with loudspeakers, which purposely were built around his home. The Muslims despise the fact that there is a little church and Christian orphanage in their town because—well, just because men love darkness rather than light. When I first heard this surround-sound wake-up call, I nearly fell out of bed, but Brother Jeremiah is used to it. He told me cheerfully that he answers the Call to Prayer by getting up and praying—not to Allah, of course, but to the Lord. He prays for the needs of the orphans, for physical and spiritual protection, and for the Light to shine in that dark place.
In the last issue we looked at the growing persecution of Christians in our day. In our comfortable Christianity, we usually forget the reality of persecution in much of the world and the fact that more Christians died for their faith in the 20th century than in all previous centuries combined. This is a call to our churches to action—this is our call to prayer.
An unexpected knock interrupted the house church meeting. The believers inside, still grieving over the death of one of their leaders, had been on their knees into the night praying for the release from prison of another one of their pastors. A knock at the door in the dead of night—was it the police or just a stranger who had lost his way and saw a light in the window? “And as Peter knocked at the door of the gate, a damsel came to hearken, named Rhoda. When she knew Peter’s voice, she opened not the gate for gladness, but ran in, and told how Peter stood before the gate. And they said unto her, Thou art mad. But she constantly affirmed that it was even so. Then said they, It is his angel. But Peter continued knocking: and when they had opened the door, and saw him, they were astonished.” (Acts 12:13-16)
Isn’t it ironic that when the Lord delivered Peter out of prison that night that every door opened up before him—except the church door? This wonderful passage provides a kind of comic relief in the midst of Herod’s persecution. A prayer meeting interrupted by the very answer to those prayers, and if we are very honest with ourselves, these first-century Christians seem strangely familiar—like the 21st-century variety. We pray, yes; but we usually keep our expectations low so that we won’t be disappointed with the results—and we rarely are.
What does this have to do with our church’s response to the rise in Christian persecution in our day? It is interesting that one of the first recorded prayer meetings following Pentecost finds the church on their knees on behalf of a persecuted believer. Even though their faith was small, their God was not. Hebrews 13:3 commands us “to remember them that are in bonds, as bound with them; and them which suffer adversity, as being yourselves also in the body.”
The purpose of such praying is not just for deliverance for suffering Christians, but also for boldness (Acts 4:29; Ephesians 6:19-20) and for the further glory of Christ, something accomplished both by life and by death, from the pulpit and from the prison cell. For sometimes God’s purpose is accomplished through suffering. A courageous Christian journalist in Turkey once told me that if human rights organizations had been active in Joseph’s day, they would have sought his immediate release after being unjustly jailed; but God had a higher purpose than just delivering Joseph. Through the prison experience combined with God’s timing, He would not only deliver Joseph but also deliver nations.
Still though, we are to pray and to help and encourage persecuted believers, because as the writer of Hebrews explains, they and we are “also in the body.” All born-again believers worldwide are brothers and sisters through faith in Christ and are part of His Body. Just as the Lord identifies with His people in their suffering (Exodus 3:7; Acts 9:4,5), so we are to identify with them as well. If we truly embrace this truth, how can we remain indifferent to a family member’s pain?
Besides prayer, another way we can demonstrate our love and concern for our brothers and sisters in Christ is by writing to government officials. Writing can make a difference and is also good stewardship. As the apostle Paul used his Roman citizenship on several occasions to further the Gospel cause or to protect believers from persecution so we should use the privileges of our citizenship to further the Lord’s work and speak up for those in other lands who cannot speak for themselves. You can find helpful guidelines about how and what to write at HYPERLINK "http://www.frontlinemissions.info/action.php" www.frontlinemissions.info/action.php
Let me encourage you to set aside time in your church to pray for persecuted Christians—perhaps having a special Sunday for the Persecuted Church with a message in the morning and a prayer time in the evening. For more focus, some churches pray for a specific persecuted believer each month, dedicating time at their weekly prayer meeting. If there are specific or high-profile cases that would be helped by letters to officials, then organize your “troops” in a letter-writing campaign, following the guidelines. Remember, though, that most persecution goes unreported. CNN usually doesn’t cover it, and it won’t make headlines in Time or Newsweek. So prayer should also be directed on behalf of Christians in particular countries where persecution is the hottest.
I have the privilege of serving alongside Christians from China to central Asia to the Middle East and north Africa. I find that their suffering is often profound—but so is their faith. I will never forget one young man I met in Pakistan following a major attack by Muslims. Christian homes and churches had been looted and burned, men were beaten and some tortured, girls from Christian families were hidden in the fields at night for fear of rape. Here was this tall teenager—we will call him Wasim—who stayed with me that day. Christians there could be excused for retreating to the shadows while the ashes of their homes and churches hung in the air and the imams were screaming from the mosques for more blood; yet my young friend had found a picture of Christ in some old Sunday School material and had stuck it on the front pocket of his shirt. He wore his Saviour’s image like an ID badge. Was he afraid? Would a lamb among wolves be afraid? But live or die, Wasim with his quiet courage and no-nonsense faith would trust the Good Shepherd whose image he bore. Wasim and hundreds of thousands like him remind us of our 1st century heritage. Even though most of us are a comfortable distance from the frontlines, we can get into the fight by getting on our knees! Pray for grace. Pray for protection and peace. Pray for boldness in the Gospel so that Christ, Who first suffered for us, would be magnified in and through the suffering of His people. Will you pray?