By Juanita Wier Nobles
In his book, Stronger (Cook, 2010), Focus on the Family president Jim Daly points to the feeling some people in other nations have about Christians in America. Jim was in Beijing to explore the possibility of expanding the work there, and was saying good-bye to a Chinese missionary couple who had hosted him. As he moved toward the line to board the plane, he heard the husband say, “We’ll be praying for you.”
For some reason, instead of saying, “I’ll pray for you, too,” Jim looked at the man and asked, “How do you pray for us?”
The embarrassed missionary hesitantly replied, “We are praying for the church in America to get more persecution. You see, we see you as rather weak.”
As Mr. Daly thought about the missionary’s comment during his flight home, he came to realize there is a relationship between troubles, weakness, and strength in God’s plan for his people.
Suffering in Many Places
A few years ago in the United States, a young minister was shot while he was in the pulpit conducting a religious service in a Midwestern state. Another time a sniper entered a church in Fort Worth, Texas, where a youth group was meeting, and shot and killed several people. Of course, we remember Columbine high school and the young student who was shot because of her faith in Jesus.
But these instances are rare. In America, the greatest suffering a Christian might endure while witnessing for Christ is having a door slammed in his face or being shunned by others.
Christians in many foreign countries face severe oppression as they practice their faith. Chinese Christians meet in house churches (also known as underground churches) because the Chinese government demands that Christians publicly align themselves with one of the two officially sectioned religious communities: the Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association or the Three-Self Patriotic Movement for Protestants.
Most Chinese house churches consist of 30 to 40 people. Similar to the early church, when Christians had to be careful about who they allowed into their meetings, people in these small groups know each other and cannot be easily infiltrated by the secret police. In some of China’s larger cities, a minister may serve as many as 200 of these small groups. Thankfully, more and more people in China are coming to faith in Christ.
A Chinese minister known as Brother Li says, “No persecution means we will have lukewarm Christians with weak spiritual lives. In fact, if there is no persecution, the number of churches in China would rise but their devotion would fall.”
Another Chinese church leader, Brother Tan, advises, “Religion is different than the real lived-out faith. Religion is a form of culture while true faith is to lay down your life. The persecution you read about in Acts is happening now in China. Real Christians here don’t chase titles or degrees. They seek the laying down of their lives and pleasures. The Chinese church is living out the book of Acts.”
Persecution in Other Countries
International Christian Concern (www.persecution.org) and the Ethiopian Community in Washington, D.C. held a public protest demanding Saudi Arabia release 35 Ethiopian Christians for praying at a private home last year. Saudi officials are severely mistreating these people for their Christian faith. Recently the guards have been pressuring them to convert to Islam.
One prisoner begged, “Why don’t they release us? We want to go back to our country and worship freely.” Another prisoner said, “Please tell your government about our plight. Contact human rights organizations and others to inform them about us.”
Yosef Nadarkhani, who has been imprisoned in Iran for about two years because of his faith and his opposition to Islam, is targeted for death by the Iranian government for refusing to recant his Christian beliefs.
In Cyprus, which is under Turkish occupation, Christians have been harassed and discriminated against. Christians there must gain Turkish approval to hold worship services. Many church buildings have been destroyed. This is especially true in the northern part of the island.
Several years ago, an American Christian employed by the American Embassy worked in a foreign country led by a Muslim government. He met in a room at the embassy with a group of embassy workers and nationals to worship.
His brother, an American minister, sent him Christian literature and materials regularly. All mail to foreigners of that country was censured, but since the mail went to the embassy, packages were not searched and he was able to receive them. People who came to worship had to carry their Bibles in a bag so officials could not recognize them. If they had been caught worshipping publicly, the American Christians would have been asked to leave the country and the nationals would have been jailed.
Persecution Makes Us Stronger
Persecution has been with us since the church began. While early Christians were being scattered and persecuted, the church experienced remarkable growth and strength.
In a similar way, the church is thriving today in places where persecution is rife. Forces of evil may try hard to destroy the church, but we continue to see evidence that people remain strong in their faith. They go on witnessing, bringing others to the fold, and God’s kingdom increases.
When we read about persecution of ministers and others in foreign countries, we also hear about the strong faith of their families as they press on for God. They find comfort in the book of Hebrews, where Paul says, “Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as sons. For what son is not disciplined by his father? If you are not disciplined (and everyone undergoes discipline) then you are illegitimate children and not true sons” (Hebrews 12:7, 8, NIV, 1984).
ICC has obtained the release of some prisoners. Benjamin Agobunor, one of the Ethiopians who obtained release from a Saudi prison, says, “I am grateful to you for your efforts in prayers and pressures in the time of our detention in Saudi Arabia. I thank the Lord Jesus Christ for choosing me to suffer for his name. It is a great joy to me as the reward is great. In fact, the persecution is for promotion.”
Mr. C, who was imprisoned in China, states, “I have been reunited with my wife and our 14-month-old son. Thank you for your part in helping to secure my release from jail in China.”
Though persecution and suffering come, we have a promise from God: “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort” (2 Corinthians 1:3). God will always be there. He will comfort and sustain us, and he promises a home in Heaven to those who trust in him.
Juanita Wier Nobles is a freelance writer in De Soto, Missouri.
Praying for the Church Around the World
Operation World is “the definitive prayer guide to every nation.” In the book and online you can find ways to pray for the challenges Christians face around the world. Find prayer resources here: http://www.operationworld.org/prayer-resources
The Voice of the Martyr is dedicated to supporting the persecuted church around the world. The website has tools and information to help you pray for Christians in some of the most difficult places in the world. Check out prayer-specific resources here: http://www.persecution.com/public/pray.aspx?clickfrom=bWFpbl9tZW51