March 18, 2010
There are many alarming statistics about persecuted Christians, and to encourage prayer I am sharing some of them.
For instance, the Pew Research Center's Forum on Religion and Public Life says the residents of 64 nations, or 70 percent of the world's 6.8 billion people, experience high or very high restrictions on their religious practice.
But let's face facts. It's hard to pray for statistics. It's much easier to pray for people. It's even easier when we remember the close connection between Christ and his suffering followers. Jesus said when we reach out to them, we are helping him.
"For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.
"Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?'
"The King will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.'" (Matthew 25:35-40)
The same principle is at work when it comes to persecution. A certain zealous Pharisee on the way to Damascus to harass defenseless Christians was stopped dead in his tracks by a voice that asked, "Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?" (Acts 9:4b) When people or governments persecute them, they are persecuting Him.
This knowledge lends urgency to our prayers and deepens our faith. So what does Jesus look like today in our persecution-scarred world? Let us consider some believers who are suffering for the Lord so that we can pray better and be motivated to act. The following stories are both recent and true with the identities of the persecuted masked in some cases for their own protection.
Jesus said some of us would be hated by family members (Matthew 10:36), and Samida, a young woman from Central Asia, has experienced this burden first hand. When Samida was young, her parents made a decision to follow Christ, and Samida became a Christian too. But when they did not receive a sought-for physical healing, Samida's parents reverted to Islam. Samida, however, kept her faith as she grew up. Now Samida is bringing shame on her family because, although she is now 21, she is unmarried, and she follows a "foreign" religion.
"My mother tells everyone that I am a bad and lazy woman," Samida says. "She treats me like a slave. I am working day and night for my parents. Now they tell me that there is no more room for me in the house and it is better that I share the shed with the goats and the cows."
In Somalia, another Muslim-dominated country, church leader Mariam Muhina Hussein, 46, opened her door to Sheikh Arbow, an Islamic extremist pretending to be interested in the gospel, after he discovered that she had six Bibles. Arbow asked to see a Bible, and Hussein handed him one.
Arbow then told her that he was looking for "Christians who have defiled the Islamic religion," Compass Direct News reports, "and he ordered her to get the other Bibles. Upon receiving the Bibles, sources said, Arbow fired three bullets at Hussein, who died instantly."
The picture of Christians under pressure for their faith is not completely gloomy, however. God's grace peeks through, sometimes when we least expect it. The Lord, working through our prayers, miraculously provides for his people.
In North Korea, one Christian was holding a small worship service at home when three government representatives knocked at the door. The leader quickly hid the Bible and opened the door. As the men searched the home, one of them quietly found the Bible and concealed it, telling his companions, "There is nothing suspicious here. Let's move on to the next house."
The next day, he showed up—alone—at the home. "You must have been surprised yesterday," he said. "I myself am a believer. Because of the current situation in our country, I cannot fellowship with other believers so I am keeping my faith to myself. God the Father guided me to your house yesterday and gave me this opportunity to meet a believer. I am so grateful for it. I have brought your Bible back."
We hear much about numerous Hollywood awards - including the recent Oscars - in the media. Millions idolize these actors and actresses, many of whose lives hardly are deserving of hero adoration.
These courageous persecuted saints are the real heroes of our generation. Their faithfulness demands much more than an Oscar. It demands our prayers. That's because when we see them, we see Christ at work in this world.
Dr. Carl Moeller is president and CEO of Open Doors USA (www.OpenDoorsUSA.org), the American arm of Open Doors International, a worldwide ministry which has supported and strengthened persecuted Christians since 1955.