By T. R. Robertson
As you read this issue of The Lookout magazine, our hope is that your heart is burdened for the plight of persecuted Christians across the globe. We also hope you’ll want to translate that concern into action.
To do that, you’ll need to know two things:
• What are the best resources to be reliably informed about the needs of persecuted people?
• What are the specific things I can do to equip myself and my congregation to help them?
In today’s Internet-saturated society, it’s important to know how to separate viral rumors from reliable information.
Within the past few years a gruesome photo has repeatedly popped up, first in forwarded e-mails and then a year or two later on Facebook, purporting to prove that a large number of Nigerian Christians were burned alive by Muslims. As it turned out, the photo was actually from news reports of a fuel tanker explosion. But the false story and accompanying lurid photo was believed and passed along by thousands.
Be cautious about the things you read on Facebook or Twitter or in your e-mail inbox. Many reports that are passed around via social media are indeed accurate, but some are not. It’s important to search for reliable verification of any persecution reports before sharing it with others or sending money to some group.
So where can the average person find dependable information?
It’s important to remember that persecution is first and foremost a local problem. While persecution is taking place in communities and countries in every part of the world, “global persecution” is always about local circumstances. Each country, and sometimes each region within a country, has its own political, religious, and cultural conditions that contribute to and complicate the specific forms of persecution taking place there.
This being true, some of the best information and guidance about persecution can be gained from individual missionaries or mission groups with whom you or your church have a close relationship. These experienced in-country workers know what’s going on in their part of the world and are best able to share how you can help them meet the real-time needs of persecuted people.
A good example of this is Ajai Lall, who has led the Central India Christian Mission since 1982. Lall and his fellow workers have encountered persecution of all sorts on their way to baptizing over 300,000 believers and starting more than 1,100 churches. If you want to know the truth about persecution of Christians in the Indian sub-continent, Lall is an authority on the subject. He also knows firsthand what Christians in America can do to effectively help suffering believers in that part of the world. Read a November 2013 Christian Standard article about Ajai Lall, “A Pastor Among the Persecuted” (christianstandard.com/2013/11/a-pastor-among-the-persecuted).
There are also some well-established groups that provide reliable information about persecution globally.
• Voice of the Martyrs is perhaps the most well-known persecution relief organization. Founded by Richard Wurmbrand, a minister who was imprisoned for over 13 years in Communist Romania, VOM provides a wealth of good information.
The Voice of the Martyrs, VOM’s primary communication tool, is a monthly publication which is mailed free to anyone who signs up for it. The glossy magazine presents detailed stories and photos of persecuted Christians throughout the world.
Church missions committees will benefit from a list of speakers available through VOM. They provide materials geared toward children as well, including the Torchlighters series (animated stories of the work and persecution of people like Richard Wurmbrand, Jim Eliot, Samuel Morris, and others).
• Open Doors USA is another good source for all sorts of up-to-date news on Christians around the globe. The World Watch List, available on their website, features a searchable database of detailed updates on persecution conditions in specific countries.
• The Barnabas Fund provides financial support to churches in persecuted regions. Their website provides news and analysis about current situations worldwide and provides information about how to get their monthly magazine, BarnabasAid, and other resources.
• The International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church website offers videos, a great article on the theology of persecution, a list of biblical references on persecution, and children’s materials, all free.
• For those wanting to educate themselves more thoroughly about persecution, the definitive book on the subject is Faith That Endures: The Essential Guide to the Persecuted Church by Ronald Boyd-MacMillan. The author draws on his extensive personal experience and research to provide in-depth analysis of “The Four Global Engines of Persecution Today,” “The Tricky Business of Doing More Good Than Harm,” and legal and biblical definitions of persecution.
• Another great book for current research and best practices in the area of persecution advocacy is Sorrow & Blood, available through the World Evangelical Alliance. It’s a valuable tool for anyone wanting a more in-depth understanding of the complexities of persecution.
• The VOM online store offers several resources, including some books that are free or below average price. I highly recommend the free books of meditations written in prison by Richard Wurmbrand. VOM also has books with information about ministry to Muslims. Many of VOM’s titles are available as e-books as well.
EQUIPPED TO HELP
Beyond using these resources to accurately educate yourself and your congregation about persecution, what can the average American Christian really do to help persecuted believers across the world?
• Pray. Being accurately informed, the Christian’s first response should be to pray. Believers in restricted areas frequently tell missionary workers they desire the prayers of other Christians. They’ve learned the power of prayer in the midst of powerful enemies.
Christians in America have an advantage in being able to receive quick and accurate updates online about emerging situations and needs, enabling us to pray specifically. Look in the sidebar at the Facebook and Twitter pages, which organizations use to provide timely facts to their followers. Some offer e-mail newsletters for those who sign up.
Open Doors USA offers Prayer Force Alert, a monthly prayer calendar that is downloadable and printable in PDF form, with specific suggestions of how to pray for a different country or region each day.
VOM’s I Commit To Pray is a self-contained social media site where people around the world can post specific prayer needs. Others can then post written prayers in response to those requests. The online interaction both motivates people to prayer and provides tangible encouragement to those requesting prayers.
• Volunteer. For those who want to become personally involved in a more active way, some of these organizations provide volunteer opportunities.
The Be-A-Voice program provides opportunities to help VOM from your own home and church. BridgeBuilders is a similar opportunity to be a local volunteer for Open Doors. The Barnabas Fund also recruits local volunteers.
These local volunteer programs are all designed to train and equip individuals to be outspoken advocates for the persecuted church in their own congregation and community. The volunteers also serve, to one extent or another, as representatives and advocates for the affiliated organization.
VOM also has short-term and long-term volunteer opportunities for individuals or groups willing to spend a week or more at their operations center in Oklahoma, assembling relief supplies, helping with mailings and shipping, and other activities.
All of the organizations listed in the sidebar are glad to have discussions with any individual or group wanting to get involved in a more substantive way.
• Learn. For those wanting more education about persecution issues, VOM provides intensive training through online courses, plus a program of advanced study for undergraduate or graduate credit, in cooperation with Oklahoma Wesleyan University.
• Support. All of these organizations, of course, have a variety of ways you can financially support their work.
VOM has specific giving programs designed for American churches and individuals to tangibly participate in relief efforts. One such program includes Action Packs, which can be ordered from VOM, filled with a specified list of relief supplies (blanket, bed sheet, bar of soap, etc.) and returned to VOM for distribution to refugees from persecution.
Again it’s important not to forget that the missionaries with whom you currently have a close partnering relationship may be among the most qualified to help persecuted Christians. Be sure to check with them about how you can actively get involved. T
T. R. Robertson is a freelance writer in Columbia, Missouri.
The Voice of the Martyrs (VOM)
International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church
Open Doors USA
World Evangelical Alliance
International Christian Concern