With the recent headlines out of Iraq and Syria, we are reminded again of the persecution of our Christian brothers and sisters that has been going on since the book of Acts. In fact, current figures estimate that 100,000 people per year are killed because of their faith. The headlines shouldn’t be such a surprise since Jesus warned His followers that in the end days, “Then you will be handed over to be persecuted and put to death, and you will be hated by all nations because of me.” (Matthew 24:9 NIV)
Yet in the middle of persecution, there is hope for the Persecuted Church because they are not alone in their suffering. Like the Fourth Man in the fiery furnace with Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednigo, Jesus is personally acquainted with unjust punishment and a cruel death … and intercedes to the Father on behalf of all believers. Paul, a former persecutor, was also personally acquainted with persecution (stonings, beatings, jail, mobs, etc.) and encouraged other believers saying, “We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed.” (2 Corinthians 4:8-9 NIV) He believed the difficulties he faced were minor in light of eternity with Christ.
The author of Hebrews challenged the rest of the believers (including us!) to “Continue to remember those in prison as if you were together with them in prison, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering.” (Hebrews 13:3 NIV) So, while we wait for Christ’s victorious return and justice to prevail, what can we do?
1. Stop by the table in the Timberline Church mall over the next month to get more information about organizations that spread awareness or provide practical care and support for displaced Christians. Find out how to financially support those in position to provide aid to the thousands and thousands of religious refugees in multiple countries. You can even pick up a bracelet to serve as a visual prayer reminder and conversation starter.
2. If you are on social media outlets like Facebook and Twitter, you may have noticed others changing their profile picture to the Arabic letter “N” (for the word “Nazrani” or Nazarene, meaning Christian in Arabic) as an expression of solidarity that you stand with the Christian being persecuted in the Middle East. Stories out of Iraq reveal this letter being painted on the homes of Christians who are given 24-hours to convert, pay a huge fine, or die. Thousands have fled their homes after being identified as a Christian and this symbol can be reclaimed as a badge of honor saying we are proud to be known as Christians.
3. Pray. For their safety and divine deliverance. For provision in times of need and for others to come alongside them with help. For strength to persevere under pressure and remain faithful to Christ in the face of horrific actions. For the enemy’s camp to be thrown into confusion. For those persecuting them to see Jesus, just like Saul/Paul did on the road to Damascus. For unity in the Body of Christ to be a light shining on the hill in the face of increasing darkness.
4. Speak up. Perhaps you feel led to contact our government officials and encourage them to take a stand on behalf of those whose voice is being silenced. Use the current events as a launch pad to start conversations with others where discussions about ISIS in Iraq can lead to bigger topics like God’s plan for the world, the issue of suffering, and the only true solution found in Christ’s redeeming blood.