Christmas is approaching. It’s a season when Christians all over the world love to share about their faith. Unfortunately, that also means that it’s a time when persecution increases.
I live in what is labelled a ‘closed’ or ‘creative access’ country. Basically that means the church here faces persecution, and while it’s definitely not as bad as it once was, it’s been a constant theme for me for the past 20 years. People are chased by the police, forced to hide or disguise themselves. People are beaten, their homes and fields are burnt, their families reject them, and they are thrown out of their villages. These are real, painful things. I know what it means to be scared, and I certainly don’t want to minimize it. Thinking back on some of my own experiences still makes me shudder. BUT, it’s not the whole story. Those snapshots are true. But I think too often we don’t tell the whole story, so we end up painting a picture of persecution that leaves God out.
Here are a few more snapshots of persecution.
When we first started the TCT program, we hired 16 people to train rural churches. Each planned to train several churches over the three months before we met them again. Less than a week after we prayed with them and sent them off, I got a phone call to let me know that one of our trainers had been arrested while teaching our materials and was locked up in jail. Needless to say, I felt horrible and joined others in praying and fasting. A few weeks later, after she had been released, she contacted us. She had something that we needed to discuss. I was fully expecting her to resign. Instead she shared that while sitting in the jail cell she had realized that she had forgotten some churches in her training plan and wanted to know if it would be possible to add those to her plans for the next three months.
Another time I was sitting on my porch listening to testimonies from trainers on how things were going in their area. One shared how severe the persecution had become in his area. Beatings, arrests, and church-burnings had become the norm. I responded that I was really sorry to hear what was happening. “Oh, no,” he replied, “Don’t be sorry. It’s a good thing. It purifies the church and draws us close to God. And anyway, when we are in jail, Jesus sits next to us and holds our hand.”
It’s easy to think of these people as amazing. And they are. But they aren’t any more amazing than many of my friends in other nations who don’t have quite such dramatic stories. People who love God sincerely and try to obey him even on the hard days. What’s amazing is the way that God turns up in the midst of persecution. Sometimes through peace that surpasses understanding and sometimes through miracles of chaos.
One time the police came to our house at 2:30 a.m. to “interview” us. It’s not entirely unusual. It’s very hard to get your brain to work well enough to lie when you’ve been awake all of two to three minutes. Especially when you are awoken by pounding on the door and greeted by people in uniforms. So it’s a great time to interrogate people. One of the first questions they asked was what I did. My husband and I looked confused (because the truth was going to get us a quick trip to the police station). Finally, after a painfully long time, we both blurted out completely different answers. Fortunately at the same moment, one of the policemen pressed the locator button on our cordless phone, causing it to start to make an extremely loud beeping noise. Another’s phone rang. Chaos broke out, and by the time we were all settled again the policeman that had gotten the phone call announced they had to leave, and they all scurried out of the apartment. For us, “peace that passes understanding” that night meant that we said, ‘Wow, we really need to learn how to lie,” and simply went back to sleep.
Persecution is real. It’s painful, it’s terrifying. And I have to agree with my friends—it’s also the time when God seems closest. God is so beautiful is those horrid moments. Somehow He takes that suffering and makes it okay.
Below are some prayer points:
- Pray for those under persecution to know the presence of God and His love in the midst of their circumstances. Pray for them to be strengthened to withstand any accusation or action against them. Pray for them to have supernatural peace in the midst of their situation. Pray for a boldness to stand in the truth of God’s goodness. (Though He slay me, I will still hope in Him. Job 13:15).
- Pray for protection of families and communities that are under persecution. Pray for wisdom in how to provide refuge and and safety especially for the more vulnerable family members (children, pregnant mothers, elderly, etc.).
- Pray for the church to grow in loving its enemies. Pray for the individuals of the persecuted church to know how to love their enemies well and wisely (Romans 12:20).
- Pray for those who are persecuting Christians. Pray that they would be blessed and that God would reveal His love and forgiveness to them. Pray for God to make it abundantly clear to them that He is the God of all heaven and earth.