The Persecuted Church

For centuries the church has set aside this week to focus specifically on the passion of Jesus. This is the time when Christians all over the world remember the arrest, torture, trial and execution of Jesus. It is odd that even as we recall and commemorate these most solemn and sorrowful events, we rejoice that Jesus is not forced to die, but submits himself willingly to the Father’s plan in order to express the depths of his love for humanity and to make redemption for the sins of the whole world. This is a bittersweet week for followers of Jesus.

This is also an appropriate week to focus our attention on the followers of Jesus who, like Jesus, face opposition, threats and persecution. Few of us here in the West have any experience with the situations that too many of our brothers and sisters face every day. Many Christians in other places of the world are disowned and disinherited by family. They are secluded from others who would support them. They risk losing their jobs. In some places, Christians are threatened with physical harm; sometimes the threats lead to imprisonment, torture, even death.

One of the common themes expressed by Christians who are oppressed is that they feel isolated and forgotten. Quite frankly, we are often guilty of being so wrapped up in our own lives that we do forget them. During this week when we remember the suffering of Christ, I want to encourage us to remember the suffering of Christ’s followers. Here are some suggestions to help us be more active in supporting our brothers and sisters.

Be informed. We need our understanding of persecution clarified. The more we know about what others are facing, the more connected we feel to them and the more appropriately we can respond in supporting them. Many organizations work with the persecuted church, including The Barnabas Fund, Open Doors, and Voice of the Martyrs. Subscribe to receive updates from at least one of these organizations in order to learn and to be informed about the struggles and the successes of the persecuted church.

Pray. Having information is good. The next step is to use the information as a source for our prayers. We may not be able to completely explain it, but we believe that God responds to our prayers, so let’s commit ourselves to pray. Pray for protection. Pray for strength. Pray for witness. Pray for them to know God’s presence and for them to know of our love and support.

Learn. In the West, we have a tendency to see our role as that of teachers, mentors and benefactors toward Christians in other places. While it is true that we have much to give, if this is our only role, we come across as people who have all the answers. We will be far better Christians when we humbly realize that there is much, so much, that our brothers and sisters have to teach us about what it means to be a follower of Jesus. For instance, as we offer our prayers for those who are persecuted, we should also feel a sense of unworthiness to pray for them because they have been through so much more than we, because they have endured more than we can begin to fathom. Perhaps we should ask ourselves, Who are we to pray for them? We are hoping that they are praying for us. We need to embrace this spirit of humility so that we see them not as charity cases for us to support but as brothers and sisters who are equal in the kingdom, not just as people we teach but as people who have much to teach us.

So, during this time that focuses on the suffering of Christ, let’s also turn our attention to the suffering of Christ’s followers—not just this week, but into the future.