Hundreds were martyred in Sri Lanka recently for simply being in church. One of our graduates from our Bible College now serves as a pastor in one of the cities attacked, so it feels close to home. The creeping body count pushes up the number of killed for their Christian faith – a number which Open Doors estimates to be approximately 11 every day on average 1. It can be sickening to see brothers and sisters in faith tortured, persecuted, mistreated and murdered around the world. It happens so often, far more than most realise. But all will be addressed by the judge of all the earth in due time.
“I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain for the word of God and for the witness they had borne. They cried out with a loud voice, “O Sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long before you will judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?” Then they were each given a white robe and told to rest a little longer, until the number of their fellow servants and their brothers should be complete, who were to be killed as they themselves had been.” (Revelation 6:9-12)
The example of Jesus
Yeshua’s cousin had been thrown in prison for just standing up for what was right, and then had been beheaded on a whim. The bloody head of the great prophet, John the Baptist, was presented on a platter as a favour to a pretty girl who had caught the eye of the king. Due to Herod’s ego and wickedness, Yeshua’s priceless cousin was murdered.
“Now when Jesus heard this, he withdrew from there in a boat to a desolate place by himself…” (Matthew 14:13)
Who knows what happened in his interaction with God up in that desolate place. The Psalms show that it’s right to pour out all kinds of emotions to God – he can take it. The main thing is to direct our fury, disappointment, and pain upwards to God, not lash out at others. As we commune with God, we can share his heart and his perspective, and reach a place of forgiveness, even to the point of loving our enemies. Not only did Yeshua refrain from rage and lashing out at people, we see that when he is accosted with demands for attention and healing, he responds with remarkable compassion. In a way that I find hard to fathom, he puts himself aside and serves others, even in his grief.
It’s right for us to feel pain with the persecuted church though, and long for justice on their behalf. The writer of Hebrews urges us:
“Remember those who are in prison, as though in prison with them, and those who are mistreated, since you also are in the body.” (Hebrews 13:3)
The writer reminds us that we are one body, with all other believers, and Paul also says, “If one member suffers, all suffer together.” (1 Cor 12:26)
What can we do?
Part of the anger and frustration that so often comes to the surface at these times is the feeling of helplessness, but there are several ways we can position ourselves rightly. We need:
- Awareness and acknowledgement of the extent of suffering inflicted on believers around the world.
- Ability to direct the hard emotions that arise in the right direction by standing with those who are suffering in our love and prayers.
- Refusal to fall into bitterness, and a commitment to seek God’s heart for the ones inflicting the persecution. Forgiving and loving our enemies is not optional.
- Willingness to take action, whether it is writing a letter of support or encouragement, listening to someone’s story, or giving to an organisation that helps those in need.
Ironically, many in the persecuted church will say, “Don’t pray that the persecution stops!”, explaining that they are more concerned about the coldness and compromise that comes with the ease enjoyed in the West. I have heard several accounts of believers asking simply for grace to endure. Some have even led their attackers to faith in Jesus. The truth is, we can often gain more than we give when we take time to interact with persecuted believers, and hear their hearts. Many have learned lessons we may never have had to learn, and the depth of their faith walk can be truly inspiring.
Here is a response from some Middle Eastern believers, reaching out with love to their persecutors:
The importance of acknowledging suffering
We are between the dates of the Armenian Genocide Remembrance Day – one of the most outrageous examples of Christian persecution in history – and Israel’s Holocaust Remembrance Day: Yom HaShoah.
Israel now has the widespread practice of inviting Holocaust survivors to share their harrowing stories with the younger generations thanks to an initiative called “Zikaron BaSalon”. This project involves inviting friends and neighbours to gather in someone’s private home, and after hearing about the personal experience of a survivor, there is time for creative response and discussion. It is a powerful way of giving survivors and their horrific memories the honour they deserve, but one of the hardest things for Armenians to handle is that so much of the world refuses to hear or acknowledge what happened to them back in 1915.
Over 1.5 million Christians – Armenians, Assyrians, Greek Orthodox, and Catholics – were slaughtered by the Ottoman Turkish regime, who had decided they didn’t want any Christians in their empire. The atrocities experienced by those who survived are truly hard to fathom. Their trauma continues and healing evades many as world leaders refuse to accept that it even happened, often for twisted political reasons. We all need to be heard, and it is important to have that pain acknowledged.
Today I would encourage you to learn about those who have been killed for their faith, whether it’s reading about famous martyrs of history, or finding out about the Armenian genocide, or connecting with an organisation that serves the persecuted church. Our love, our prayers, and our solidarity with those in prison and in pain, with those who have experienced trauma and bereavement, really matters. We need to know what others are going though and support them.
We are one body.
Photo by Ben White on Unsplash