In the last couple of weeks, we have witnessed some distressing news about persecution of our brothers and sisters all around the world. Reports of terrorists killing people during a church service in Burkina Faso, churches in Sudan being burned down, a seminarian in Nigeria being kidnapped and murdered, an ISIS child soldier executing a Nigerian Christian student, a young Christian human rights activist arrested and beaten up in an Iranian prison — the stories flood our screens every day. What is merely news for us is a reality of life for many of our brothers and sisters around the world.
Persecution, though vile and evil, is not something that is abnormal for the church. Persecution and attacks have always been the reality throughout the church's history. God, in his infinite, and sovereign wisdom allows such sinful atrocities to be perpetrated against his children whom he loves dearly. Why? I cannot give an answer that fully satisfies, but it is what our good and loving Father allows, and our Lord Jesus certainly did promise his children trouble in this world (John 16:33). Therefore when we come across a report of persecution, the Christian's reaction is to be of shock and anger for the sin committed against our brothers and sisters, but also at the very same time not one of surprise — for this will be the reality, since evil can never make peace with the church.
When you come across news of persecution, chances are you feel deeply saddened, angered and also helpless to do anything. I know I certainly felt that way when earlier this week a report came out that said that in my country, India, there had been a 220% increase in attacks against Christians in the last six years. As a minister in a country where Christians are usually regarded as a powerless minority, this confirmed the reality we always knew was true.
In the 2004 movie Hotel Rwanda, which chronicles the Rwandan genocide, there is a poignant scene where the hotel manager, Paul Rusesabagina speaks to Jack Daglish, a cameraman who captures video footage of genocide on the streets. Paul is thankful that Jack shot the footage, saying people will watch it and intervene. Jack stoically responds, revealing an ugly truth, "I think if people see this footage, they'll say, 'oh my G-d, that's horrible,' and then go on eating their dinners."
Often times in our feeling of helplessness, we become numb to the reality of suffering. We read the news, gasp in disbelief, shake our heads, some of us may share the news on social media, and then we scroll onto the next thing — some video about a puppy. A couple days later, the entire event is forgotten and we cannot even remember the details of what happened. It is understandable, after all. What else can I do to help when I live thousands of miles away?
As our Christian brothers and sisters all around the world face overwhelming opposition for their faith, persecution at near genocidal levels (as a U.K. report mentioned last year), what can we actually do to make an impact in these situations?
Allow me to suggest a few things.
I would encourage you to do the most obvious but neglected thing — pray. By prayer, I mean, diligent prayer. Prayer is the most powerful weapon in the Christian's arsenal. It is a means of grace whereby we come before the throne of the God who upholds the very universe. It is more potent than all the armies and navies, all the nuclear warheads of this world put together, for our God is bigger and mightier than all. Christians under fire in faraway lands are our brothers and sisters in Christ. This means they are part of God's family, our family. They are more than mere names on a news report. They are people dearly loved by our Father in heaven with hopes, dreams, fears, and desires just like you and me. This means we are obliged to pray diligently for them.
So next time you come across some news, make a note of it, write it down. Pray for our brothers and sisters. Pray for them by name (people have names). Pray for their faithful endurance under fire, pray for courage under trial, pray for the wisdom of the Holy Spirit on how they should act, pray for their gospel witness in these troubled times, pray for the peace and joy of Jesus to fill their hearts, pray that our Father in heaven would provide for their needs – physical and otherwise. Also pray for those who persecute them that they might know the love of God and turn to him.
Pray every day. Make praying for the persecuted church part of your life. Pray together as families. Pray with your children about these things. Few things capture a child's heart and instill love for the global church as the sufferings of others. Pray as friends, and pray as a church. Prayer makes a difference and though you might not see any observable results, you can be sure, your prayers are working wonders on the other side of the world. Furthermore be assured, your prayers are making a difference in your heart.
But don't stop with prayer. If some news touches you, read more about it. Do research. There are amazing organizations such as The Voice of the Martyrs, Open Doors, Alliance Defending Freedom, Barnabas Fund, International Christian Concern that provide stellar resources on global persecution. Being better informed means you can pray precisely, and be in a better place to help tangibly.
If possible, reach out to Christians in these places. Email, chat, Skype, FaceTime believers over there. Talk to them. Ask how things are where they live. Sometimes you might get a different picture than the one you read in media. Ask how you might help and pray for them. Tell them that there are brothers and sisters praying for them. This is the sort of encouragement that people need. Usually the whole world has forgotten them.
Also, get your church involved. See if they can partner with the foreign churches and help in some way. It all begins with a heart willing to reach out and say, "Hello."
Finally, share and spread the word in the little ways that you can. The more people know, the more light that gets shed on these atrocities and the more people might pray. Get political and write to your state and federal representatives on these issues. Make them stand for justice and the cause of the oppressed. It's these prayers and speaking out that turn into tangible actions with churches, governments, etc. intervening.
God can miraculously end persecution of his church and ease the sufferings for his children in an instant if he so willed. However, he wills to providentially work through broken vessels like us to make a difference in this world. This is why he calls us to act by praying, researching, reaching out, and speaking out for the persecuted church.
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Christopher Poshin David is a Presbyterian minister from Bangalore, India.