A pastor in Afghanistan received a threatening text message informing him that the Taliban were coming for him. When American military forces withdrew from the country, the floodgates of Christian persecution were opened — so much so that, according to World Watch, Afghanistan is the new world leader in persecuting Christians.
Persecution is a powerful word, both in English and New Testament Greek. The idea behind the word is to pursue, hunt down like an animal, oppress, harass, and torment. The Apostle Paul was a famous persecutor of Christians before his conversion. Following his conversion, he wrote about being persecuted himself as a believer and in 2 Timothy 3:12 warned that “indeed, all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.” Those words may not be pleasant, but they are words of truth from God.
David Curry, CEO/president of Open Doors USA, said, “While Christian persecution takes many forms, it is defined as any hostility experienced as a result of identification with Jesus Christ. We are committed to those who suffer for following Jesus, and we believe the persecuted church is part of the DNA of every Christian. No matter where they live, we believe God’s people are one Church, one family.”
Open Doors is now in more than 60 countries helping persecuted disciples of Jesus Christ.
They reported that last year over 360 million Christians “experienced high levels of persecution,” which included harassment, abduction, discrimination, torture, and death. According to Christians In Crisis International, about 60 percent of believers being persecuted are children.
The International Mission Board is partnering with Nik Ripken, IMB missionary emeritus, to help the persecuted church around the world. He said, “The number one crisis of persecution globally is when people accept Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior.”
The persecution of Christians has continued since the time Jesus was on this earth — and it has not stopped. Should we pray for persecution to end? Ripken says no, because the “only way for God to answer that type of prayer is to stop people from following Jesus.”
IMB posted a statement from a persecuted Christian: “Don’t pray for our persecution to end. Pray that we will be obedient through our suffering.”
We should pray for persecuted Christians but also help them as we can. Voices of the Martyrs provides tools to help Christian witnesses get the gospel to the forgotten people of the world with such things as supplying horses to carry Bibles to nearly inaccessible areas, sponsoring underground training, providing bicycles or motorbikes to reach remote areas, and utilizing solar-powered video projectors to show gospel films. Several other ministries are devoted to help suffering believers across the globe. VOM states, “For millions of people, the truth is an extremely dangerous thing to believe.”
Yet, Jesus said He was the truth, His word is truth, and the truth will set people free. Imprisonment can capture the body, but it cannot imprison the spirit. We can — and should — pray, give, and get involved in whatever way is possible for our fellow Christians who live in an atmosphere of life-disrupting and life-threatening persecution.
The Southern Baptist Convention’s National Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church this year is June 5.