How do Persecuted Believers Show the Strength, Resilience and Faith that They Do in the Midst of Their Suffering?
In Nigeria, a pastor's son was hacked to death by machete-wielding Boko Haram terrorists. His response to the tragedy was that he still loved his son's attackers.
Iranian American pastor Saeed Abedini has been held in Iran's notorious Evin prison for over a year. Reportedly, he came out of solitary confinement, meant to break a prisoner, actually elated and encouraged from the experience. What happened in that confinement? More on that in a minute.
image from International Christian Concern's website
The answer may come from Acts 4. As is the case with modern persecution, Peter and John did a good deed that got them into hot water with the authorities and locals. A man was sitting at the gate of the Temple, asking for alms. Poor man had been lame for his whole life. Not having money to give him (note that prosperity preachers), Peter stated the following:
“Silver and gold I do not have, but what I do have I give you: In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk.”
And that's what he did. Well, since they did this in the name of Jesus, it ticked off Jesus' opponents. Something we see with persecution of Christ's followers in the heart of the Middle East. As Jesus said, "If they persecute Me, they will most certainly persecute you who follow Me" (my paraphrase).
Fast forward to chapter four and the hostilities erupt. John and Peter dared to heal the man in the name of Jesus and preach the Gospel. As the passage states, "The people, the priests, the captain of the temple, and the Sadducees came upon them." They were greatly disturbed.
Though their reasoning for being upset centered on the preaching of the resurrection, the whole truth comes out as the passage unfolds. You see, it was effective, five thousand began to follow the resurrected Christ. And, as Peter later pointed out, their opposition centered on a man who was born lame being healed in Jesus' name. And Peter did not back down despite the incredible intimidation that the crowd, the priests and Sadducees (who don't believe in the resurrection), the captain of the Temple and his guards must have hoped that they displayed to the apostles.
They took note of their boldness and reached a conclusion. These backward fishermen were so confident and well-spoken because they had been with Jesus. Actually, they were half right. What over three years of being with Jesus couldn't do (remember the denials and the running like scared rabbits in the garden), being forty days with the risen Lord did accomplish.
Verse eight and verse thirty-one give another reason they were so bold, they were filled with the Holy Spirit. Nearing His departure from this Earth, Jesus prepared the disciples for what was to come. He said He would no longer be with them, that where He was going they could not go yet and that there He would prepare a place for them until He returned for them. In the meantime, Jesus promised a Helper, Comforter, someone like Him, who would be with them and empower them. His arrival would come when they waited in Jerusalem (fulfilled in Acts 2). The immediate impact of the Holy Spirit's arrival was that 120 scared followers of Jesus came bursting out of the place where they gathered and testified of God boldly to the thousands upon thousands gathered for Pentecost.
So, there is our answer. How does the Church under persecution do it? And the implication for us who stand in amazement, how will we do it, if God forbid, the same should happen to us in our lifetime? They did it in the power of the resurrected Christ who promised to prepare a place for them in His Father's house and come back for them. And they did it in the power of the Holy Spirit, an effective agent against persecution not available to them before Christ's death, burial, resurrection and ascension.
Some Western Christians think that because God has their back, we need only pray for the persecuted Church. However, if you look at the life of Paul, his imprisonments and sufferings, you will see in the Scriptures that the Church did far more than pray, though prayer was a powerful tool that we too often dismiss (or use too infrequently) in our culture. I will have to comment on what we can do and its Scriptural case more in a future post.
Pray for the persecuted Church. Here are some suggested prayers:
1) Pray for boldness -- this is what the apostles prayed for after being persecuted and it is what the persecuted church often requests from us
2) Pray for the families of the imprisoned/killed -- each one of our persecuted brethren has a family
3) Pray for Christians in the most hostile lands -- Egyptian and Syrian believers are two very obvious cases. Also, Christians in Nigeria where the Boko Haram terrorists have sway.
4) Pray for powerful Western leaders to care about what happens to Christian minorities as much as they care what happens to Muslims. Since 9-11-01, it seems the West has bent over backwards to the breaking point to placate the world's Muslims while turning a deaf ear to the cries of the Church in Muslim lands.
5) Pray for God to see and respond to regimes based on how they treat the defenseless, the powerless, the children and most especially Christian minorities in their countries.
6) Pray for how God would have you to respond to the plight of your persecuted brethren
-- motivate others to pray?
-- give to Christian relief organizations working with Syrian refugees in the name of Jesus or to besieged Christian communities?
-- contacting your elected representatives in federal government and letting them know what you think and how you want to hear and see that they care about Christian minorities.
-- some other way? Let God lead you and then act
Remember, Jesus told the disciples to look on the harvest fields already white unto harvest and to pray that God would send laborers. Not too long after that Jesus sent those very same praying disciples into the harvest fields (see John 4:35-38).
Getting back to Pastor Saeed Abedini. What happened in solitary? According to the Iranian American, he had an experience with the risen Christ. God is with them in their pain. The question remains: are we?