Early in November many churches around the country observe the International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church.
Hebrews 13.3 says,
“Remember those who are in prison, as though in prison with them, and those who are mistreated, since you are also in the body.”
The verse speaks of early Christians who were in prison for their faithful witness, and those who are not in prison but were “being mistreated,” for following Jesus.
What does it mean to “remember them”? The verse does not tell us. We are left to figure this out for ourselves. In my opinion, remembering them means—that we won’t forget about them, that we pray for them, and that we will help them anyway we can.
The reason for doing this is mentioned at the end of the verse. The reason is— “you are also in the body.” In other words, when Christians suffer for their faith, we should not think of them as strangers, but as family. They are brothers and sisters—an essential part of the body of Christ. So essential that we need them, and they need us.
Keep in mind that in the last 100 years, more Christians have been persecuted or martyred for their faith than in any other era of history—including the early church!
So this “persecuted church stuff,” is not “long ago and far away;” it’s today’s news!
This year we’ve heard about the suffering of Christians in Iraq and Syria; many have had to flee their homes because of ISIS.
Although the persecution of Christians is not just in the Middle East. Many Nigerian Christians have been systematically murdered by a Islamist terror group called Boko Haram. This group has not only abducted hundreds of girls, subjecting them to forced marriages and conversions. It has also been burning churches. Earlier this year 50 Nigerian Christians were burned alive in a pastors home where they fled for refuge from the attacks of Boko Haram. Yet neither the Nigerian government or Western governments are doing much to stop it.
Nigeria is where most Christians are being killed today. North Korea is the nation known for repressing Christians the most. And China is known for repressing the largest number of Christians. Other nations are persecuting Christians intensely as well: such as Iran, Pakistan, North Korea, Somalia, Eritrea and Vietnam.
The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life notes that between 2006 and 2012, Christians were targeted for harassment in 151 countries, making Christianity the most persecuted religious group today. Similar findings have been reported by the Vatican, Newsweek, the Economist and groups like Open Doors, International Christian Concern and Voice of the Martyrs.
Thankfully, some Western governments are beginning to speak up about this. Recently the British prime minister and the German chancellor have acknowledged that Christianity is the most persecuted religion in the world. Even the president of Russia has been speaking out about this. The Italian Foreign ministry has established an observatory on religious freedom. The French foreign minister has done something similar. But strangely, while the US has an ambassador at large for religious freedom, that office has been vacant for over half of President Obama’s tenure. And when it was filled, the office was marginalized! This is disturbing!
So given this 21st century reality, what should we do?
That’s where church observance of an International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted church is important. It brings many spiritual benefits.
First, knowing about persecuted Christians elsewhere helps us put our own lives in perspective. It can help wake us up from our spiritual lethargy
Second, we can let the courage of the suffering church inspire us to greater boldness in our witness.
Third, a day of remembrance should prompt us to pray for those who suffer for Christ.
Fourth, learning about the plight of persecuted Christians elsewhere should prompts us to speak up for them to our government. Our voices for religious liberty and justice must be heard.
The reality of present day persecution confirms the words of Jesus who told his disciples that they too would be persecuted. Paul wrote, “everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.” (2 Tim 3.12)
So whether your church observes the International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church or not, Scripture calls us to remember. Not just in November, but whenever they are being mistreated.