Set the prisoners free
“They killed his entire family. They threw him on a burning fire, and they left him to die. Question: Why would a 10-year-old boy be subjected to such cruelty? Answer: He is a Christian.” I read about James Jeda and the tragedy this child experienced as soldiers of Sudan’s National Islamic Front killed his parents and his four siblings. In our media-jaded world, his suffering easily becomes just another statistic.
It is very uncouth to bring up suffering at a time like this; I mean, here we are, approaching Thanksgiving and only a few short shopping days left until Christmas. It is a joyous occasion for us who follow him! Yet, how can we enjoy our turkey and football when people are suffering? How can we have a meaningful Christmas when people are persecuted and jailed for believing in the Birthday Child? What suffering there was for Joseph and Mary all disappeared in the joy of the new Child. There seems to be a direct link: the suffering endured by Christians under militant and repressive regimes owes to the unspeakable joy of Christ living in their lives.
Persecution of Christians today is not incidental or due to misunderstandings. The Islam in Africa organization, founded in Nigeria in 1989 and consisting of 24 African nations, brushed any subtlety aside by proclaiming that one of their goals is “‘To eradicate in all its forms and ramifications all non-Muslim religions in member nations.” Thus, not only in North Africa, but increasingly in Sub-Saharan Africa, as well, are Christians harassed and often killed, while Christian places of worship are destroyed and burned.
On Sunday, November 12, Christians in thousands of churches will “Remember those who are in prison“(Hebrews 13:3) around the world as The International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church is celebrated. Further, Galatians 6:2 commands us to “carry each others’ burdens. “As part of Christ’s Body, the suffering of other believers is my own. But Dr. Paul Marshall, author of Their Blood Cries Out, observes: “Many evangelicals in particular seem to be so obsessed with their own well-being that they cannot get their noses out of their own navels to pay attention to the plight of their brothers and sisters around the world.” We need to step out of our comfort zone and for a moment try to experience life from behind those bars, held back by those chains. Some of us struggle with figurative bars and chains and feel overwhelmed by them. Yet, in perspective we realize that the physical bars and chains holding other members of the Body captive make ours all but go away.
How can we disprove Marshall’s claim? Richard Wurmbrand, who survived 14 years imprisonment in Rumania for his faith, offers a starting point for rebuilding our character: “…begin to practice the law of love, at least in little things. Deny yourself for a period the food you love most, or some luxury in clothing, and think of those who eat unbearable food and are in rags. Interrupt your sleep for prayer on behalf of those interrogated during the night. Give up some item of cosmetics for those who cannot even wash. Renounce an hour of TV for those who for years have been in solitary confinement in underground cells and see nothing …. Sacrifice your complaining and grumbling for one day. Take time from other preoccupations to pray for the persecuted.”
People under persecution sometimes come up with illuminating insights. Note what one of our persecuted brothers said: “We are not asking that the borders of our country be opened, we are asking that Heaven be opened.” He didn’t ask for a new car, a political solution, a one-way ticket to anywhere, or even more Bibles. To him, suffering comes with the territory and he prays that God’s mercy will be poured out on his people and his country.
We must participate in the pain of our suffering brothers and sisters in Africa and elsewhere by considering what active role we can take to join James Jeda and others in celebrating the presence of Jesus!