How persecuted Christians are teaching me to love my enemies

April 4, 2022 by Olivia Boyd in Devotions

As the editor of the Open Doors prayer app, I’ve pored over countless stories of persecution around the world—oppressed believers calling us to stand in faith on their behalf. As I read these stories, it has become impossible for me to ignore some of the disparities between the Western church and the church in countries where persecution is violent and extreme. The U.S. is still largely a nation populated by people who say they are Christians, but there are signs that we are slowly settling into a postmodern age. According to the Pew Research Center, in 2018-2019, only 65% of the population declared themselves as Christians, which was a drop of 12 percentage points from the previous decade. But what is the reason for this rapid departure from the faith?

The polarization of politics and culture have widened the breach between those of faith and those who don’t or haven’t yet believed in Jesus. To be sure, there is some level of hostility against Christians in some part of American culture—but what have we done in response to this hostility? Has this caused further offense in our hearts, making us dig in our heels even more and resist any call to love our enemies? After all, we can openly worship Jesus without fear of imprisonment, abuse or torture unlike many of our friends in countries like North Korea, Afghanistan and India. So why do we have such a hard time with forgiving people who don’t like us … while the persecuted church seems to be thriving in this area?

As I read over the requests on the Open Doors prayer app, I can’t help but be overcome by the love the persecuted church has for those afflicting them. Over and over, the prayer requests of the church remain steadfast pleas for the blessing of their enemies. Even more than calls for justice, persecuted Christians ask that we pray for the salvation of their enemies, that they would experience the love of God, and that they, themselves would quickly forgive their tormentors.

In an area of Cameroon, red listed and specifically targeted by Boko Haram, Christians leave their homes behind to live in the wilderness, amongst mud and mosquitos, for fear of abduction, torture and death at the hands of the radical Islamic group. Yet still, one of believers’ primary requests is that we pray for their enemies. One Christian asks: “Pray the Lord will change the hearts of our persecutors so they may know Him as their only Savior.”

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Amadou, another believer in Cameroon, agrees: “We pray that the Lord will bring all the enemies to faith, so that they will be part of us. Because I know that the Apostle Paul also persecuted Christians.”

We can look at the Apostle Paul’s life and see the great love and passion he had for his persecutors, the religious leaders of Israel, of whom he was once a part. They were quick to find a way to put him in prison, as they did His Savior Jesus, but Paul expressly stated: I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were cursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my people, those of my own race, the people of Israel” (Romans 9:2-4,).

I think there is a lot to learn from our family of faith around the world. When I finished graduate school in a humanities program at a secular university, it was easy for me to feel a little hardened, a little unneighborly toward my classmates and professors who were openly jaded about Christianity and mocking toward Christians. It is not pleasant to be thought of as a fool or that you might have less intelligence because you are a person of faith. We see it on television and hear it on news radio all the time. Is it possible to change people’s perception of us? Maybe. Or maybe not. But when I look at Scripture, I think Jesus cared less about what we were doing—how many numbers of people we led to Jesus, for instance— and more about how our hearts were positioned towards others, including those who hate Him and hate us. And that’s what we see with many in the persecuted church—hearts still loving, still tender towards those that are lost. Hearts still living with the hope of redemption.

Sometimes, it can feel like persecuted Christians are far away—out of sight, out of mind, even if we don’t truly believe that. But we have so much to learn from the example of these members of God’s family. So, here in the West, let’s remind ourselves about what Jesus values most. Let’s remind ourselves that He went after the one sheep that wanted nothing to do with the rest. And as we read about persecuted Christians modeling the character of Jesus, in humility, let’s follow their example.

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