Monday, October 20, 2008

Persecuted Church

Yesterday, we had a special service that highlighted the suffering of Christians around the world who are persecuted for their faith. For those who weren't able to be there, I want to make sure you have access to the same information that was available to those in the service. For more, you can visit these websites, which are all run by various organizations that work on behalf of persecuted Christians: (send letters to Christians imprisoned for their faith) (helping kids understand persecution against Christians)

Persecution against Christians usually comes in one of two forms--either from governments or from practicioners of other religions. These two forms are fused in the case of Muslim governments that enforce mandatory adherance to Islam.

More Christians have been killed for their faith in the last 100 years than the entire rest of church history combined. Countless more have been beaten, imprisoned, tortured, impoverished, mutilated, burned, or maimed. It's our responsibility to stand by our brothers and sisters around the world, and there are three ways we can do that:

  • Defend. Be a voice for them. Visit the websites above, and arm yourself with information. Speak up for those who are persecuted for their faith, and plead the cause of the oppressed.
  • Encourage. Send messages to those who are in prison or to their families through the websites listed above. Give money to the organizations who work on behalf of the persecuted.
  • Pray. Pray regularly for those who are victimized because of their faith in Jesus. Pray that God would strengthen them, that he would comfort them and be near them. And pray also that their character would remain strong under suffering and would be a witness to their torturers, to the other prisoners, and to others who have contact with them, and that they would be an encouragement to one another. Pray for the families who have breadwinners in prison--they often suffer just as much.

During the service, I read a selection from an excellent book that I read this summer called "The Heavenly Man: The Remarkable True Story of Chinese Christian Brother Yun." It was one of the best books I've ever read. Much of the book focuses on the various trials that he underwent, but there are also many stories of deliverance and miracles. Through all of it, it is mostly about the power of the gospel to transform lives. I'd like to share a few more passages:

The next morning the guards took me out from the cell and practised martial arts on my body. They kicked and punched me to the ground and ordered several other prisoners to stamp on my chest and private parts. Blood gushed from my mouth. I was dizzy and in great pain. I was sure I was going to die. pp. 89-90

I cried out to the Lord and said, 'Jesus, I can no longer endure. Why are you allowing me to be tortured like this? Please receive my spirit now.' The guards travelling in the back of the van switched on an electric baton when they heard me praying and jolted me with shocks. The pain was too severe for me and I felt my heart and my brain were going to literally explode from my body. Again I cried to the Lord, 'God have mercy on me. Please receive my spirit now.' The word of the Lord came to me clearly, 'The reason you suffer is so you can partake in the fellowship of my suffering. Be still and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations. I will be exalted in the earth.' In my proud heart I'd been thinking that I was important to the church, that they needed me to lead them. Now, I vividly understood that he is God and I am but a feeble man. I realized that God didn't need me at all, and that if he ever chose to use me again it would be nothing more than a great privilege. Suddenly the pain and fear left me. p. 92

Since my escape from China in 1997, I've been responsible for the training and implementation of the Back To Jerusalem missionaries. When the first batch of 39 missionaries left China in March 2000, 36 of them were arrested. They didn't lose their vision, however. They went back home, prayed, and found another way to get across the border. Little more than a year later, the number of Chinese house church missionaries outside China already exceeded 400 serving in more than 10 countries... Each missionary receives training in several main subjects:

1. How to suffer and die for the Lord. We examine what the Bible says about suffering, and look at how the Lord's people have laid down their lives for the advance of the gospel throughout history.

2. How to witness for the Lord... under any circumstance: on trains or buses, or even in the back of a police van on our way to the execution ground.

3. How to escape for the Lord. We know that sometimes it is the Lord who sends us to prison to witness for him, but we also believe the devil sometimes wants us to go to prison to stop the ministry God has called us to do. We teach the missionaries special skills such as how to free themselves from handcuffs, and how to jump from second-storey windows without injuring themselves.

This is not a 'normal' seminary or Bible College! pp. 289-290

I can tell you, in my four years of Christian college and three years of seminary, I never once had a class on how to suffer or die for the Lord, but I think I probably should have. This is the normative experience for Christians around the world who want to follow Jesus. It was he who said, "They will lay hands on you and persecute you. They will deliver you to synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors, and all on account of my name. This will result in your being witnesses to them. But make up your mind not to worry beforehand how you will defend yourselves. For I will give you words and wisdom that none of your adversaries will be able to resist or contradict. You will be betrayed even by parents, brothers, relatives and friends, and they will put some of you to death. All men will hate you because of me." (Luke 21:12-27 NIV).

And we complain about being tired and busy.

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