Sunday, November 9, 2008

Thankful For Those Who Stand Firm

Today is the International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church.

Here in North America, Christians have the luxury of legally gathering for worship, speaking freely, sending their children to Christian schools if they like, and participating in the political process. Occasionally I hear a conversation where someone expresses the feeling that Christians are being persecuted in this country. I disagree. We experience some social discomfort once in a while as a result of choosing a counter cultural lifestyle, but that's happening to other non-Christians as well who live a little out of the mainstream. We are occasionally derided or ostracized for things like refusing to have sex outside of marriage, giving birth to children we knew would have special needs, or asking our employers to respect our need to set aside time to worship on Sundays, or a small handful of other things. But let's be honest; this is nothing more than peer pressure. It is not to be compared to having to meet in secret, fearing loss of employment or educational opportunities, and worse- much worse.

In the last two months Christians have been burned alive, beaten, raped, and had their homes burned in Orissa, India. They have been jailed and beaten in an attempt to silence them before the Olympics in China. They have been threatened, burned out of their homes, and beaten in Mexico for refusing to cooperate with drug lords. They have been forced to meet in secret and had their Bibles and other reading materials confiscated and burned in Vietnam. They have had to hide from the Mafia in Italy for refusing to pay protection bribes. A young woman in Saudi Arabia was burned to death by her father for converting to Christianity from Islam, and her death is not being treated as a murder. If you were to peruse the Voice of the Martyrs website, you would see that the list goes on and on.

Interestingly, the focus of this International Day of Prayer is not on praying for the persecuted:

"The theme this year is “Pray for the Persecutors.” Praying for people who bring so much harm to our brothers and sisters can be a difficult task, one that we can only hope to do if we ask Christ to work through us. But this Sunday, Christians across the world will pray that those who persecute will come to know Christ, just as Paul did. In 1 Timothy 1:13-16 Paul writes, “Even though I was once a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent man, I was shown mercy because I acted in ignorance and unbelief. The grace of our Lord was poured out on me abundantly, along with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners – of whom I am the worst. But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his immense patience as an example for those who would believe in him and receive eternal life.” Join us this Sunday as we pray for the persecutors, asking God to use our lives to draw them to Him."

So today I want to express my thanks for the example of bravery and faithfulness persecuted Christians set for me. My faith is too easy, not that I wish for difficulties. They prove that following Christ is important. Important enough to suffer and sometimes die for. I don't ever want to forget them.

The November 30 Day Thanksgiving Challenge


Rose said...

I often wonder if I had lived in another time or lived in another place today where Christians are persecuted whether I would be brave enough to speak up. That sounds cowardly, I know, but thankfully we don't have to worry about that in this country.

Joyce said...

I don't know about myself, but we have a wonderful cohort of Mandarin speaking people at our church, and some of them have experienced persecution. Although they seem like such ordinary people when I meet them, when I get to know them, I find out that they are some of the most spiritually deep people I've ever met. I think they grow that way from having to constantly choose to remain firm. That's the thing we aren't able to replicate here, where we have so much freedom. Not that anyone wants persecution, but it does grow strong believers.