November: Prayer for the Persecuted Church.

Persecution of Christians today is as common as it was in the early church.

Some of the recent news headlines highlight the reality and the magnitude of Christians who suffer persecution for their faith in our modern times.
• “Syrian Christians facing extinction: 'A tragedy of historic proportions'.
• “ISIS Purge Christians in Iraq: 'Bishop of Baghdad', says 'The End Is Very Near' for Christians in Iraq.”
• “Imprisoned Christian woman Asia Bibi’s Husband “Weeps Bitterly,” after Death Sentence is Confirmed”
• “Iran: Harsh Sentences Given To Church Leaders.”
• Boko Haram kills scores of Christians and destroys villages.
• “Syrian rebels massacre entire Christian Villages.”
• “Overwhelming Need!’ In Iraq as winter approaches, Thousands of refugees may freeze in makeshift tents.

The majority of the 21st century Christians are not aware of the persecution faced by their brothers and sisters around the world. These Christians face some of the fierce challenges to their faith in Christ and remain faithful, and identify themselves with the early Church who had their share of persecution.

During the first 3 centuries of the Church’s existence, there were 10 waves of persecution that occurred which were mainly instituted by the Roman Empire. The most severe persecution was instigated by the Emperor Diocletian during whose time half of all the martyrs in that period were killed. Diocletian raised a column in Nicomedia in Asia Minor with the inscription: “The name Christian is extinguished”, but today there stands a church in that same place in the modern city of Izmit in Turkey.

While we acknowledge and celebrate the triumph of the Church in the midst of persecution, it is easy to overlook or even ignore the experiences of suffering such Christians go through.

100 Million.
It is estimated that about 100 million Christians around world today are being persecuted for their faith. In some of these nations it is illegal to own a Bible, to share your faith in Christ, meet for worship or teach your children about Jesus. “Those who boldly follow Christ—in spite of government edicts or radical opposition—can face harassment, arrest, torture and even death.” Yet Christians continue to meet for worship and to witness for Christ, and the church in restricted nations is growing.

Rising persecution is also an indicator that the Gospel is spreading rapidly in many nations and Kingdoms.
Yes, and all who desire to live Godly for Christ Jesus will suffer persecution. 2 Tim 3:11.

Number of Martyrs doubled last year!

Christians are still by far the most persecuted demographic on earth — and the trends are getting worse. In 2012, the Open Door’s annual report documented the martyrdom of more than 1,200 Christians. Last year, Syria martyrs alone exceeded that number. Overall, the report documented 2,123 Christians were murdered for their faith in 2013.

Other sources estimate that over 100,000 Christians are martyred every year, and this is based on the average of those killed in the 20th century.
The last century saw more Christians martyred than any other time in history, and most of them were Catholics and Orthodox Christians. During the Communist rule in Russia alone close to 20 million of them were killed. It must be noted that both Catholics and Orthodox Christians have faced persecution and martyrdom more than any other branch of Christian faith.

Today, many believers in Christ still suffer from ruthless persecution around the globe. Other atrocities carried out against Christians for their faith include: imprisonment, torture, rape, execution, expulsion, forced labor, and more. The vast majority in Asia and Africa — and especially in the Middle East, where Islamist rulers often purport to make faith in Christ a crime.
The surge in anti-Christian attacks were most extreme in Syria, and Iraq as anti-Christian jihadist marauders continue to flood in from around the world to establish an Islamic Caliphate in Middle East. Thousands of Christians were uprooted from areas where they had lived for centuries and made refugees because of the threat: “Convert or die.”
"I will send them prophets and apostles, and some of them they will kill and persecute,' Luke 11:49.

While some religions uses the concept of martyrdom by the number of people they can kill in the process of sacrificing their lives, Christian martyrdom is unique, following Christ’s example of self-sacrifice so that others could live so that none will perish.

What is persecution?
“And you shall be hated by all for My Name sake…” Mat 10:22.
Persecution is described as when a person’s right to practice their faith freely is denied or they are punished for doing so. When these rights are denied, they have to follow their beliefs under restrictions, opposition, oppression or threat.
Persecution of Christians has been there from the inception of the Church and Jesus Himself warned His followers that:
"If the world hates you, you know that it hated Me before it hated you. John 15:18.

Who are the persecuted?
"Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake” Matt 5:11.
There are over 100 million Christians living in around 60 Countries that are persecuted for their faith and the majority of them are in Middle East, Africa and Asia.
This list of 60 Countries with the levels of persecution is prepared and updated by Open Doors, who monitor the incidents and levels of persecution around the world. (See link below)

Why are they persecuted?

“If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you.” John 15:20.
Reasons for Persecution: People don’t generally attack others unless they feel threatened. Most persecution arises because of successful or active evangelism, or out of the fear that the Christian message will spread in their community or nation.
According to one source, persecution is not only an issue of religious difference but also other factors contribute to it.
1. Religious – the doctrine of Christianity is opposed due to rising number of converts which threatens the hegemony of other groups.
2. Financial – Christian doctrine threatens certain trades or practices; Christians share business and resources; Christians have lands, property and resources others want to confiscate.
3. Anti-Western bias – Christianity is seen in many places as Western. Where the West is hated, so is the Christian faith.
4. Political – Often social, religious, and political groups get melded into one. Often it is the political threat being attacked, not the religious faith; but the Christians become the target.
5. Racism – Again, certain groups are dominated by Christians. If there is genocide against that ethnic group, it may have little to do with their doctrine.
How do they Persecute Christians?
The 3 common phases of persecution in nations where Christians are persecuted today are:
• Disinformation about Christians.
• Discrimination.
• Violent Persecution.
Many Christians are denied employment or positions; children are forced to study other religions; others are denied land ownership or rights; Church buildings are not allowed and registration denied, and in some cases they are evicted or made refugees.
The Christians in Syria and Iraq either have to pay a tax, convert to Islam or face death. The women and children becomes the property of the oppressors and most of them are often used as slaves.
Can you imagine that happen to your family?

What can we do for the Persecuted?
Christians around the world have a responsibility to pray and care for the persecuted. Here are some things we all can do for the persecuted.
a. Remember them:
Many of those who are persecuted feel lonely, abandoned and forgotten.
This is why Paul says:
“Remember the prisoners as if chained with them--those who are mistreated--since you yourselves are in the body also.” Heb 13:3.

b. We must pray for them.
Prayer is the most frequent and effective thing you can do for the persecuted. Paul while in Prison, writes to the church in Philippi and says that their prayer brings, “an abundant supply of the Spirit of Christ,” (1:19,20) which gave him courage to face the challenge of death. Millions of persecuted Christians will greatly appreciate your prayer. The first 2 Sundays of November are dedicated to pray for the Persecuted when more than 300,000 churches in 100 countries takes part in the International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church.
See link below:

c. Encourage them:
“Onesiphorus… for he often refreshed me, and was not ashamed of my chain.” 2 Tim 1:16.
There are ways to write and encourage them. There are many in prisons who need our encouragement. Normally prisoners are not allowed to receive letters, but you can write to their families, churches and encourage them. There are organizations who help in this area.

d. Be informed and make others aware of them.
Many Christians are totally unaware of the 100 million of their fellow members of the Body who are persecuted. Pastors and leaders must share about them in their churches and get them to pray for them. Their stories and experiences inspire faith and commitment in both those who are persecuted and those who are not. Read stories of Asia Bibi, Sayeed Abdini, Miriam and many unsung heroes of the faith.
See links below.

e. Give generously to them.
The persecuted Christians and churches have great needs. Families of those imprisoned need to be looked after; Churches who have lost their places of worship need to rebuild or relocate; pastors lose their means of support when churches are persecuted and believers are scattered. There are many ways you can give to help the persecuted church. Take a special offering for those persecuted churches. See the organization who can help.

f. Symbolic Suffering:
The Bible says that in the Body of Christ, when one member suffers, the others also must suffer. Jesus; as our High Priest is ‘touched by the feelings’ of those who are suffering for Him. We can make some form of sacrifice which can makes us feel for those who are going through suffering for Him.

g. Preach about the principle of Suffering.
Jesus said that “Blessed are those who are persecuted for Righteousness.” We must teach the blessing of persecution to our church members.
It is easy to be isolated from those who are suffering because of the blessing of God on our lives.
“For it has been granted unto you not only to believe in His Name but also to suffer for his sake” Phil 1:29.
See “Theology of Persecution”.

h. Advocate on their behalf.
After Paul was illegally imprisoned in Philippi and authorities later released him, he claimed his rights as a Roman Citizen to be released in a proper manner, which would help those who are persecuted in the future.
We can lobby to various governments and institutions which guards the rights of religious freedom on behalf of those who are denied such rights.

Please lead your congregation in Prayer in November as you join with the Persecuted Church around the world.

Sources; WAGF Religious Liberty, Open Doors, Voice of Martyrs, “Sorrow & Blood”, Mark Moore, The Persecuted, and various media sources.

IDOP – Don’t stand in Silence:
International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted.
List of 50 Nations:
Theology of Persecution.

Stories of the persecuted:
Asia Bibi.
Iran: ME Concern:
Writing to Prisoners: