Today is the International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church. Christians around the world will join together to pray for those who face persecution for their faith in Jesus Christ. But this is more than just a one Sunday prayer. We see the first expression of this prayer in Acts 4, as the church on the front lines of the battle to proclaim the gospel in the first century gathered together to pray for strength as they prepared to go into the world. They prayed for power to proclaim the gospel with boldness. That is what our brothers and sisters prayed then, this is what they pray now, and this is what we should be praying for ourselves every day.
Around the world, over 245 million Christians live in places where they experience high levels of persecution for their choice to follow Christ. Persecution has many forms. In some places like North Korea or China, it comes at the hand of an authoritarian government that seeks to control all religious thought and expression as a way to maintain power in all aspects of political and personal life. This results in many Christians being imprisoned or sent to re-education camps for their faith. In some areas like Turkey and Indonesia, it comes in the form of family or community rejection and isolation. Often times this is the hardest form of persecution for believers, losing their family, their job, and their identity in the community, resulting in isolation and loneliness. And even still, persecution in many areas of the world comes in the form of martyrdom.
Last week I had the privilege to sit down with a girl named Shay, a sister in Christ from Indonesia. This young woman is Sundanese. The Sunda are one of the largest Muslim people groups in Indonesia. Shay grew up in a traditional Sunda household where they were devout followers of Islam and also worshiped spirits in nature. By God’s grace, Shay heard the gospel and became a follower of Christ when she was in her early twenties. A few months after she believed, she went home to visit her family and her brother found a copy of her Bible in her bag. Her father was so angry that he tried to kill her. She was able to escape the house with the help of her mother and was told never to return to her family. With tears streaming down her face, Shay described the pain she felt from this rejection and threat to her life at the hands of those in her own family. Her identity had been completely stripped away. In those same tears, however, she also described this as a grace from God. That even though her family had rejected her, God had not. Shay proclaimed boldly that God was faithful and could be trusted. Through this truth, it allowed her to walk confidently in loving the family that rejected her. Today, she boldly proclaims to others what Christ has done for her. God has used Shay to bring many other Sunda to Christ. Shay’s greatest hope is that her family will one day believe in Christ as well.
As I sat across the table from Shay, I was reminded of how much I need brothers and sisters like her in my life. It is often times easy to forget that we need the global church. We often think that the global church just needs us: our resources, our prayers, our missionaries. But God has designed the body of Christ to need one another, both locally and globally. Our involvement with the global church exposes our own blind spots. Many of us ask why we don’t experience much persecution here in the United States, and the answer to that may be because we aren’t faithfully proclaiming the gospel in our context. When we look at persecution biblically, when we look at it historically and when we look at it today, we see the goal is to silence witness to who Jesus Christ is. Why does persecution exist? What is the spectrum of persecution? All of that has to do with an attempt to quiet or silence witness to Jesus Christ, but what happens all too often is that we silence ourselves.
When we pray for the persecuted church and highlight brothers and sisters from other parts of the world, we are encouraged by one another to faithfully declare the gospel wherever we live. In Acts 4, we also see the persecuted church gathered to pray for the glory of Christ to be lifted up as they suffered, for God to help them speak the Word with great boldness, and for the advancement of the kingdom to spread among all people. These are still the prayers of the church today. Knowing about our brothers and sisters around the world and joining together in prayer for them not only strengthens their souls, but also strengthens ours as we press on in faith together.
So Brook Hills, let us be resolved as a church to pray for our persecuted family around the world. Let us not just pray that they would be released from any kind of suffering or hardship that they are facing as a result of following Christ, but pray that they would be faithful in the midst of it. Pray that we would be faithful as well and that God would use all of these things to extend His Kingdom and His fame, literally to the ends of the earth.
Callie serves as the Coordinator of Global Partnerships at Brook Hills.