On 1 September 2005, the Indonesian Indramayu local court found Dr. Rebekka Zakaria, Eti Pangesti and Ratna Bangun guilty of breaching the 2002 Child Protection Law and sentenced them to three years in prison. The three Christian women were convicted for running a religious education program for children in their community. Islamic leaders became angry when several Muslim children (non-Christians) began to regularly attend the class. According to reports, the Muslim parents consented to the children attending the class and themselves participated in certain activities.
Before hearing the verdict before sentencing, Bangun said, “My hope is, of course, for the judge to set me free, but if his verdict is not so, like Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, I will continue to love God more than anything. He will give me the best because he is in control.”
In Nigeria (another dangerous country for Christians) Ladi, her husband and seven children were doing daily chores in their village when they suddenly heard gun shots. The news quickly spread that fundamental Muslims were attacking the village.
Ladi and her Christian household usually attended morning devotions as part of their daily routine. They had stayed home that morning. Some in the village were at the prayer meetings when the attack started and others were at home. All the men attending the prayer meeting were murdered.
Soon after the initial gun shots were heard, Ladi saw the attackers sweeping through the village – killing, looting and burning. Ladi witnessed the murder of one of her sons. He was running away from Muslim attackers but he was soon caught and hacked into pieces with machetes. Ladi also lost her husband. Her house was looted and burned to the ground. Indeed, the attackers destroyed the entire village. But Ladi remained strong in her faith.
These are only two of the many stories of the Persecuted Church. There are many more. In fact, more than 200 million Christians are being persecuted worldwide for their faith in Jesus Christ. That is more believers than in any previous century. During my two years as president of Open Doors USA, http://www.opendoorsusa.org/, I’ve learned three wonderful lessons from suffering brothers and sisters in countries such as China, Vietnam, Pakistan and Colombia.
First, persecuted Christians are joyful people. That joy is an exuberance that comes from walking with the Lord during times of persecution. Many pastors I know in Vietnam have been imprisoned at least once for their faith. But they continue to press on with a joyful and grateful heart. Christ can indeed fill us with joy, even during trial, testing and opposition.
Second, persecuted Christians are generous individuals. Most believers have very little. I had lunch with a Christian family in Columbia once and it was only after I left that I realized the lunch probably cost 30% of the family’s monthly income. Yet they willingly shared because I was their brother in Christ and part of the family of God.
Finally, persecuted believers are people of faithful prayer. Prayer is the foundation of every step they take. Prayer is their lifeline—the source of their strength. I have learned to be much more dependent on personal prayer.
When I think of what I’ve learned from persecuted Christians, I can understand why some say persecuted Christians are the ones who are truly blessed. To some degree this is true. However, God allows all things for a purpose. He has given Christians in the West an abundance of resources which can be used to help suffering brothers and sisters around the world. I Corinthians 12:26 says that “if one part suffers, every part suffers with it.”
One of the greatest privileges and opportunities in life is to join the awesome work God is doing as he changes lives and redeems the world. Yes, the task may seem overwhelming. But we can partner with thousands of believers who are being used by God. We can all help Christians who are being persecuted in one or more of the five following ways:
1. Praying. Prayer is always the first request we receive from our persecuted brothers and sisters. Our prayers are like long-range missiles. We can make a difference in the lives of persecuted believers in countries such as North Korea, Nigeria and China.
2. Staying Informed. Learn about the needs of suffering believers. Read what is happening to Christians in countries like Iraq. Keeping informed will also help make your prayers more pointed and powerful.
3. Giving Of Your Resources. Our gifts help missions organizations provide Bibles, literacy training, pastoral training, Sunday School materials and much more.
4. Mobilizing Others. Many believers in the West don’t know that millions of Christians are being persecuted for their faith. We have the tremendous opportunity to tell others and to mobilize our churches or prayer groups into action.
5. Advocating. Advocacy often takes the form of writing directly to imprisoned Christian prisoners or to officials in countries where prisoners are being held. Indonesia Pastor Rinaldy Damanik, who was released from prison last fall, said he received over 26,000 letters during his two-year imprisonment. The letters encouraged him and strengthened his faith.
Another way to support and strengthen persecuted Christians is by having our churches observe the International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church. This worldwide event brings together thousands of churches in a special day of prayer. This year IDOP will be held Sunday, 13 November in the United States (Sunday, 6 November in some countries). For more information on IDOP, go to http://www.opendoorsusa.org/.
Remember, our battle is not to end persecution. Our battle is to strengthen the Church to maintain its testimony by professing Christ in the midst of persecution so that others might come to know our Lord as their personal Savior.