Abdul tensed as he heard the angry voices nearing his home in Central Asia. Suddenly, a group of young Muslims crashed through his door and began threatening him. “If you don’t renounce Christ, you’ll regret it!” they shouted. But Abdul refused. “I might be kicked out of the village, I could be beaten, but Jesus went through it all. If my Lord faced persecution, who am I not to expect the same treatment?” he said.
HIAN AND PHUNG
On a road in Vietnam, Hian and Phung glanced at each other as they placed the last of the hymnals on the back of their motorcycles—each knowing the risks if they were caught. They set out anyway, determined to transport hymnals to those in need. While en route, they came upon Vietnamese authorities. A quick search revealed the hidden cargo and brought their mission to an abrupt halt. Authorities seized the hymnals, along with their motorcycles, and sent Hian and Phung to a jail in Southern Laos.
LILY AND AVA
“Lily!” The young girl turned as she heard her mother call. “I want to talk with you about what will happen to your dad and me,” Ava said, searching her daughter’s face for understanding. Although Lily was still in primary school, Ava knew she needed to begin preparing her daughter for what lay ahead.
“The day will come when they ring our doorbell and take mom and dad away to prison,” Ava explained. “When they come, don’t worry. The Bible tells us it is normal to be persecuted as believers. They will take us to prison, ask us some questions, and hit us. Then we will come back.”
It took several years, but the day did come. On a winter morning, while Lily was at school, authorities rang Ava’s doorbell and hauled her and her husband off to prison.
WHAT THEY CAN TEACH US
For millions of Christians around the world, these stories represent their everyday reality. They live with the constant threat of persecution for their faith—the threat of intimidation, isolation, beatings, imprisonment and even death—and they choose to follow Jesus anyway.
It’s a humbling thought, knowing that our brothers and sisters in Christ are willing to suffer for their faith. It’s also a foreign concept for many of us. Persecution? That sounds so extreme. Does that stuff really happen anymore? The short answer: yes—to millions of believers all over the world.
According to the Pew Research Center, 75 percent of the world’s population lives in areas with severe religious restrictions—many of whom are Christians. The United States Department of State has identified 60 different countries where Christians face persecution from their neighbors or from their government—simply because they believe in Jesus Christ.
Daily life for these Christians is a struggle. The hostility they experience as a result of their faith can take many forms. Some suffer verbal harassment and discrimination at work or school. Others endure more extreme persecution, including imprisonment, torture, rape and even death.
A PROPER RESPONSE
Although the level of persecution around the world has been on the rise, persecution itself is not new. As long as there have been Christians, there has been persecution. In fact, Jesus told His followers to expect it, saying, “If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also,” (John 15:20 NIV) and “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world,” (John 16:33NIV).
It’s easy to hear about Christian persecution and feel afraid. But that shouldn’t be our response. Scripture says, “for God did not give us a spirit of fear,” (2 Timothy 1:7 NLT). Rather, hearing about our brothers and sisters in Christ who are suffering should motivate us.
Here’s where we need to take a breath.
You hear about millions of people suffering and you might think, “How can we stop it?” But persecuted believers aren’t asking for an end to their hardships. For them, persecution is normal and they pray for the strength to withstand it. Pastors in these areas aren’t praying for an end to the persecution either. Instead, they see these hardships resulting in believers with genuine faith. With so much on the line, there can be no halfway commitment to Jesus Christ. These believers are all in.
“Then Jesus said to his disciples, ‘Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.’” (Matthew 16:24)
It’s humbling to think of Jesus’ words in the context of persecuted Christians. All they have to do is remain silent about their faith or simply deny Christ to avoid punishment or suffering—and yet, daily, they choose to deny themselves instead. How much more should we be proclaiming Christ with the freedoms we have?
So, the goal is not to end persecution, since we know God is using it and has promised that His followers will face it. Instead, the goal is to stand with our fellow believers—empowering them, strengthening them and praying for them.