JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (BP)–Imagine that tomorrow as you are going about your regular routine you come upon a man in your neighborhood collecting donations “to kill Christians,” as the sign on his canister announced. Far-fetched, you might think. For some Christians in Indonesia this incident is common. For other Christians across the globe, persecution is a daily danger and reality. And, most Christians in America seem not to know about the plight of their fellow believers or, even worse, care about them.
I was reminded of the persecuted recently when I visited a Florida Baptist church where one of our missionaries was speaking, “Jason Smith,” a Southern Baptist missionary to Indonesia whose name has been changed for security reasons.
Smith and his family have returned to Indonesia and are ministering in one of the regions in which Islamic radicals are severely persecuting Christians. Their faithfulness to Christ and testimony of Christian service in the face of constant danger and sometimes violent opposition is convicting to me.
I hope as you read about persecution, you will consider what you can do to aid our fellow believers in Christ. Here are a few suggestions:
Educate yourself about persecution. Christians all over the world are the subjects of attacks and opposition. Martyrs of the Christian faith are a 21st-century reality whose stories must be told.
The list of countries that violate religious freedom is long. Organizations that track these matters include U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, on the Internet at www.uscirs.gov, and the Center for Religious Freedom at the Washington-based Freedom House, at http://www.freedomhouse.org/religion/.
Recognize God is in control. As you educate yourself about persecution, it would be easy to question whether God is truly sovereign. How, you might ask, can God allow his children to be persecuted? This question is especially likely for American Christians who cannot fathom the reality of suffering for our faith. Nevertheless, the testimony of Scripture is that followers of Christ should anticipate persecution. Jesus told his disciples, “Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me” (Matthew 5:11).
The early church took comfort in God’s control. Acts 4 records its first persecution as Peter and John were arrested for preaching the gospel. After their release, the church praised God and made his sovereignty the focus of their praise (Acts 4:24-26). Not only did they praise God for the apostles’ release, but also for his control over the ones who were persecuting the church: “Indeed, Herod and Pontius Pilate met together with the Gentiles and the people of Israel in this city to conspire against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed. They did what your power and will had decided beforehand should happen” (verses 27-28).
Heather Mercer, the American aid worker arrested Aug. 3 by the Taliban for spreading the Christian faith in Muslim Afghanistan, understands God’s sovereignty. After her Nov. 15 release, Mercer testified to God’s control in the midst of that dark situation: “This is a story about Jesus and who he is and what he’s done. … This is a story about the sovereignty of God — his desire to make himself known in all the earth. And God used a few simple people who love him and obeyed him to not only change us, but to change a whole nation and to touch the four corners of the earth.”
Pray for the persecutors. “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,” Jesus said (Matthew 5:44). Ask the Father to change their hearts as he did the apostle Paul’s heart — one of the greatest persecutors of the early church before God saved him (Acts. 8:1-3; 9:1-6).
Pray for the persecuted. Because we may expect persecution for our faith (Matthew 5:10-12) we should make prayer for the persecuted a regular part of our prayer life. How should we pray for the persecuted? “And now, Lord, take note of their threats, and grant that Your bond-servants may speak Your word with all confidence, while You extend Your hand to heal, and signs and wonders take place through the name of Your holy servant Jesus” (Acts 4:29-30).
Ask U.S. government officials to act. Although persecution may be expected, we should nevertheless urge our government to stand against the evils being perpetrated against Christians around the world. Our Constitution guarantees religious freedom. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights also recognizes religious freedom as a basic human right that all nations should protect.
For American Christians who enjoy the blessings of religious freedom and material comfort, it is difficult to appreciate what it means for some believers to daily take up the cross of Christ and follow him. While we thank God for our liberty, may we use that liberty in behalf of the needs of our fellow believers. Let’s remember the persecuted.
Smith is executive editor of the Florida Baptist Witness newsjournal.