Bearing the Burdens of Our Persecuted Brothers and Sisters In Prison
[A flashmob of 400 youth in Switzerland stands in solidarity with the persecuted Church and those in prison for their faith.]
My heart is heavy this morning as I think about the people of Syria who continue to be locked inside ongoing war, the families in Nigeria still waiting for their daughters’ safe return and Pastor Brunson and his family, whose trial in Turkey is happening as I write this. And those are just our top headlines within Open Doors. As we all know, there is so much pain and suffering all around us. While we are able to encourage those around us and even pray with them in their difficulties with relative ease, how are we to help bear the burdens of brothers and sisters living on the other side of the world? Does it even matter?
At Open Doors, we believe so. We firmly believe it is in the DNA of every believer to care for the suffering Church. Pastor Brunson would agree with us as he has written from prison saying,
“I know that God’s grace is sustaining me, even when I do not feel that grace, and I know that the prayers of God’s people are surrounding me and giving strength. One of my big fears has been that I will be forgotten in prison. Thank you for not forgetting! …It reminds me that I am not alone, and that I need to stand firm, with my face pointed in God’s direction always.”
Prayers Felt in Prison
Hebrews 13:3 instructs us to, “Remember those who are in prison, as though in prison with them, and those who are mistreated, since you also are in the body.”
In his book memoir detailing his experience ministering to the persecuted Church, The Insanity of God, author Nik Ripken shares about Dimitri, a Russian man imprisoned for leading a house church. After 17 years of imprisonment, the guards had finally found a way to break this man and get him to deny Christ; they lied and made him believe his wife was dead, leaving his two boys alone.
“That very night he sat on his jail cell bed. He was in deep despair, grieving the fact that he had given up. At that same moment, a thousand kilometers away his family – Dimitri’s wife, his children who were growing up without him, and his brother – sensed through the Holy Spirit the despair of this man in prison. His loved ones gathered around the very place where I was sitting as Dimitri told me his story. They knelt in a circle and began to pray out loud for him. Miraculously, the Holy Spirit of the Living God allowed Dimitri to hear the voices of his loved ones as they prayed.”
The Sacrifice of Time
Our God is a gracious God! He allows those in need to hear and feel the presence of our prayers even when we cannot be with them. Pastor Brunson is one of many pastors in prison for his faith and testament of Jesus Christ. Remembering those who are in prison will look different for each of us–whether setting an alarm on our phone to pray (like Norine Brunson has done for the last few days), using our time in the car driving to work, each time we sit down to eat a meal or possibly starting a prayer group with fellow believers at our church. Regardless of the method, the important thing is obedience as we regularly pray and intercede for Pastor Brunson and all those in prison for their faith in Jesus.
In their book, Prayer: The Real Battle, Open Doors Founder Brother Andrew and Al Janssen make it clear that interceding for our brothers and sisters is not to be taken lightly,
“The stakes are high. If we truly want our prayers, our intercession for loved ones near and far, to make a difference, then we must be willing to make the sacrifice. How important is this? What are you, what am I, willing to do? We may not be called to lay down our lives, but we are going to have to sacrifice. Are we willing to make the schedule changes necessary for intercessory prayer to be part of our daily routine? Are we willing to make the commitment to stay apprised of difficult situations around the world? Are we willing to accept the burden emotionally of bearing some of the suffering that our brothers and sisters around the world endure daily? And are we willing to persist in our prayers even when we don’t see, or aren’t aware, of God’s answers?”
Grace to Trust Him More
Yesterday my church sang the hymn “‘Tis So Sweet.” As I sang, I thought about the words and our brothers and sisters around the world who place their trust in Jesus even when facing circumstances that are so difficult for me to even imagine.
’Tis so sweet to trust in Jesus,
Just to take Him at His Word;
Just to rest upon His promise,
And to know, “Thus saith the Lord!”
Jesus, Jesus, how I trust Him!
How I’ve proved Him o’er and o’er;
Jesus, Jesus, precious Jesus!
Oh, for grace to trust Him more!
After the service was over, I looked up the history of the hymn and discovered like many great hymns, it was written out of loss and suffering. Louisa M. R. Stead wrote this hymn after tragically losing her husband, who tried to save a boy drowning in the Long Island Sound. Louisa and their four-year-old daughter Lily watched the whole thing.
For Louisa to write this hymn and claim to trust Jesus after losing her husband humbled me. Often, I become frustrated and discouraged when I don’t see God move in ways I think make the most sense. But here Louisa makes it clear. We trust in Jesus because He has gone before us in death providing us life
Oh, how sweet to trust in Jesus,
Just to trust His cleansing blood;
And in simple faith to plunge me
’Neath the healing, cleansing flood!
The final verse is one that I am praying is true in my own life and in the lives of Pastor Brunson and his family, the families in Nigeria waiting for their daughters’ safe return and the people of Syria who continue to face the tragedies of an ongoing war
I’m so glad I learned to trust Thee,
Precious Jesus, Savior, Friend;
And I know that Thou art with me,
Wilt be with me to the end.
I have already mentioned Hebrews 13:3’s commission to remember those in prison, but it seems appropriate for me to end with the reminder of God’s faithfulness found in Hebrews 13:5-6: “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” So we can confidently say, ‘The Lord is my helper; I will not fear; what can man do to me?’”
Lord Jesus, grant us the grace to trust you more!