In the United States, we are very foreign to the concept of persecution. Our “persecutions” take place in a court-room, through lame jokes, or by people with an ax-to grind in movies and books. Very rarely is there ever a physical expression of persecution (though it is on the rise). We are blessed with Bibles in our homes in our language, with the freedom to carry them anywhere. We are blessed to live in a land where we can worship God anytime, day or night. We can pray, read Scripture, and talk of God freely without any repercussions.
In other countries, however, that is not the case. Becoming a Christian is a dangerous, often fatal choice that millions make a year in areas of severe persecution. Carrying a Bible can result in a life-sentence in prison. Sharing your faith in Christ with your neighbors can bring down an almost instant execution order upon your head, or at least imprisonment and torture.
According to the World Evangelical Alliance, over 200 million Christians in at least 60 countries are denied fundamental human rights solely because of their faith. David B. Barrett, Todd M. Johnson, and Peter F. Crossing in their 2009 report in the International Bulletin of Missionary Research (Vol. 33, No. 1: 32) estimate that approximately 176,000 Christians will have been martyred from mid-2008 to mid-2009. This, according to the authors, compares to 160,000 martyrs in mid-2000 and 34,400 at the beginning of the 20th century. If current trends continue, Barrett, Johnson and Crossing estimate that by 2025, an average of 210,000 Christians will be martyred annually. Now understand that it is truly impossible to know the correct numbers, and this is just a statistical report. I am confident the numbers are much higher.
Rather than just giving empirical evidence, let’s put some faces on this: Children are forced to watch their families murdered in front of their eyes for not converting to Islam. Children are violently murdered, dismembered, and burned for putting their faith in Jesus. Church camps become massacre sites as all the attendees are murdered for being “Christ worshippers.” Churches are forced to close their doors by China’s government because they have “too many followers.”
I was thinking about these incidents, and then I thought to myself, “how often do you pray for the persecuted church?” Unfortunately I answered, “not too often.” Actually, I realized that I rarely, if ever, thought of these brothers and sisters who are massacred for their faith and love of Jesus on a daily basis. We can confidently say that we, in the Unites States actually have no idea what it means to be persecuted.
I hope that we never have to see this kind of thing in our lives, but one can never tell. Tertullian, a Christian historian said, “The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church.” Jesus said to the disciples,
“Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child; children will rebel against their parents and have them put to death. All men will hate you because of me, but he who stands firm to the end will be saved” (Matt. 10:21-22).
He then says,
“What I tell you in the dark, speak in the daylight; what is whispered in your ear, proclaim from the roofs. Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell” (Matt. 10:27-28).
Challenge yourself this week to pray for those you don’t know who are suffering for Jesus. Ask God to help you live Hebrews 13:3, and help you to share in their sufferings. Then ask yourself how you would fare if you were really persecuted. Just something to think about.