Two Ways to Support the Persecuted Church
Recently, I had a moment of déjà vu. Only this time, the nearly identical circumstances occurred 2,000 years apart. It happened while I was doing research for a paper on the persecution of the Early Church for Todd Miles’ history class. A helpful book called Early Christian Martyr Stories by Bryan M. Litfin was on my shelf. The stories of brothers and sisters enduring terrible torture and horrific death for the sake of Christ, filled me with grief and yet I felt pride for their tremendous courage and love for Jesus.
That same week, I received my copy of a monthly newsletter put out by Voice of the Martyrs. In it, there was aletter from a pastor in Syria. He wrote to tell his brothers and sisters around the world what it is like in Syria right now. Every word could have been written 2,000 years ago. He states, “Whatever evil things you can imagine are nothing compared to what is really happening in Syria.” He goes on to describe how Muslim extremists killed one of his relatives and played soccer with his head. Women are being raped until they die. Children are kidnapped and burned to death in ovens. The horror that leaps off the pages in the stories of the early martyrs is found in our world right now.
Yet, there is a hopeful side to this story. After witnessing Christians die for the faith, Tertullian noted “The blood of Christians is the seed [of the Church].” What he means is that whenever Christians are persecuted, the gospel advances. Jesus has set it up this way, and the same is true in Syria right now. The pastor says that a great revival is taking place in the churches in Syria. He explains, “Before the war, not many people attended our church. We could not have imagined or dreamed about how the evangelical churches are right now. Thousands of families attend the evangelical churches.” They are distributing hundreds of thousands of Bibles, and most of them are going to Muslims. One woman shared this testimony: “I lost my house, I lost my furniture, I lost everything, but I won the Lord as my Savior. I am the daughter of the Lord; I am going to the heaven.” This should give us great faith and courage that, although Christians have the same enemy in Satan who is working through evil people, we also have the same God, the same Savior, and the same Spirit accomplishing his mission through the witness of his people.
We are One with Them
One of the most important things the local church can learn from these stories is that if the body of Christ is suffering in Syria (or anywhere else), we are suffering with them. The pastor from Syria began his letter, “I bring you greetings from your brothers and sisters in Syria. We are one body of Christ; if one suffers, all others will suffer with him.” This is a true spiritual reality. Jesus prayed that we would all be one, even as he and the Father are one (Jn. 17:21). Paul writes, “For even as the body is one and yet has many members, and all the members of the body, though they are many, are one body, so also is Christ. For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free, and we were all made to drink of one Spirit.” (1 Cor. 12:12-13) Because we are in Christ, all believers are united as brothers and sisters. When we hear of situations like these, they should move our hearts with compassion as if they were happening to people we know personally. The Holy Spirit is able to create this kind of unity.
Two Ways to Help
Since we are one with these brothers and sisters, there is much we can do to support them. Here are two ways:
1. Of greatest importance, we can pray for them. This first involves finding out about their situations through organizations like Voice of the Martyrs (http://www.persecution.com). They have a monthly magazine which tells stories from persecuted Christians. They also put out a yearly calendar in which each day contains a different country and prayer request. These resources are invaluable to the church, because although we can hear about their deaths on the national news, we do not get to hear about what God is doing in their lives or in the advancement of the gospel. Voice of the Martyrs also has tools to teach you how to pray in a biblical way for them. Paul never ceased to pray or to ask for prayer. His greatest request is that he would be given the Spirit to be bold in his witness, whether he lived or died (Phil. 1:19-20). This was the same request made by persecuted Christians in the past. It has not changed. Our heavenly Father truly hears and answers these prayers.
2. Second, we can support them financially. Many times when a man is martyred, he leaves behind a wife and children. Sometimes people are persecuted, but still live. In these cases, there are often medical needs and bills to be paid. Oftentimes, Christians lose their homes and livelihoods for the sake of the gospel. The more affluent churches in the New Testament would often send monetary gifts to the apostles and to other churches. When Paul received a gift from the church in Philippi, he considered those Christians to be fellow participants in his imprisonment and proclamation of the gospel (Phil. 1:7). Once again, because of our oneness in Christ, when one suffers, we all suffer. And when we encourage a persecuted brother or sister, we share in the gospel together.
It is a heartbreaking reality that our brothers and sisters are dying for the sake of Christ. At the same time, it is joyful to see that their sacrifice is producing a harvest for our King. It is our honor to join with them in suffering, knowing that one day soon Jesus will return. On that day, the ancient martyrs will join with us in celebrating the Christ’s victory over Satan and over death. Please make it soon, Lord Jesus.
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