Whenever the Voice of the Martyrs magazine arrives in my mailbox, it is met with mixed emotions. The magazine fills me with joy and with sorrow. I grieve as I read of the atrocities Christians must suffer around the world, but I rejoice over those who withstand. Furthermore, somewhere deep inside me there is a mix of guilt and confusion. While Christians in China were sitting in dank prison cells last night, I was renting a video at Blockbuster. Does that make sense? Around the world Christians are being imprisoned, tortured, raped, and even slaughtered because of their faith–but I’m safe, warm, and healthy.
What is the appropriate response for those of us who live in comfortable situations when we read of those who suffer for Christ? Hebrews 13:3 tells us to “Remember those in prison as if you were their fellow prisoners, and those mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering.” It seems to me that the church in America spends precious little time talking about our brothers and sisters in chains or under some other form of torture. They seem so far away…and yet they are as close as the kinship we share in Christ.
The March Christianity Today presents two essays on the desired response of our nation to religious persecution throughout the world. Michael Horowitz, director of the Hudson Institute’s Project for International Liberty believes in a fairly strong-armed approach. stating that, “It is…imperative to insist on a zero-tolerance policy toward religious persecution,” Horowitz advocates loud and clear denouncement of governments that allow and/or practice persecution, as well as economic sanctions against them. His fellow essayist, T. Jeremy Gunn, senior fellow for religion and human rights at Emory University, is of a different mind. His opinion is that “engaged diplomacy is generally far more effective than denunciation in promoting religious freedom.” Both Horowitz and Gunn argue well, and Christianity Today promises the men will re-spond to each other’s essays in the next issue.
The time may come when the opinion of the average citizen is heard regarding what sort of policy our country should adopt for the purpose of alleviating persecution in foreign lands. We would do well to be informed. It could even be the case that God would like you or me to become politically involved.
But whether or not you and I are led into political action, we are certainly being led into devotional action. Can anyone doubt God desires us to pray for the persecuted ones? In New Testament times there were occasionally opportunities for Christians to alleviate the misery of those in prison by bringing items of comfort to them and visiting them. While Paul was in a Roman prison, he asked Timothy to come and be with him, and to bring his cloak and scrolls (II Timothy 4: 9 13). I am quite moved by a picture of prisoners in Nepal in the Voice of the Martyrs (Special Issue 2003, p. 12). But I cannot visit them, and I cannot bring them their coats or favorite books. I do not consider myself powerless, however, because I can pray. What miracles might God accomplish when Christians call upon him on behalf of others?
With Hebrews 13:3 in mind, let us ask ourselves how we would want free Christians to respond if we were the persecuted ones? If I were being persecuted for my faith, I imagine that I would wish to send these messages to the Christians enjoying religious freedom:
Know about me. Take the time to read about me and my situation. It hurts to think that you don’t care enough to even know how we suffer for the gospel in this country. I am your sister. Do not forget me.
Pray for me. I can feel God’s arms wrapped around me when you pray. I know you are far away. I know you do not know my name, or even my face. But I feel stronger when you pray.
Enjoy what God has given you. Celebrate your liberty every time you walk into a Christian bookstore. Such a store (and most of its contents) could not exist in my land, and if it did, there would be serious consequences for entering it. Enter your church with a sense of joy. How I wish I could freely walk into a church building, without fear of repercussions! Love everyone within the walls of that church, because you would sorely miss their fellowship if they were ripped away from you. Out of respect for my suffering, please be aware of your blessings.
If we consider ourselves helpless, we will quickly abandon our concern for our brothers and sisters. No Christian who is obeying God’s will is ever helpless. It may be that flexing our prayer muscle is the extent of our power at this time. But oh, what power! When Elijah prayed, God consumed a wet, stone altar with fire. When Hannah prayed, God placed a child within her barren womb. Our responsibility is to know, to care and to pray. Then miracles will happen.
(Check out these websites: www.persecution.com www.basicfellowship.com)