Making Eye Contact With God
For nearly 20 years Al Janssen worked closely with Brother Andrew, the Founder of Open Doors. Together they traveled to Muslim countries, wrote six books, met with political leaders and spoke to ministry donors. This blog tells the story of their friendship and some of the many lessons Al learned from this beloved mission leader.
‘We take the broken bread into a broken world.’
Today is Persecuted Church Sunday in the Netherlands. Here in America, we’ll observe a similar day on November 10 this year called the International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church (IDOP).
In 2009, Brother Andrew and I celebrated IDOP with the persecuted church. My life will never be the same.
I’ll never forget being at a secret location in one of the countries in the top 10 of our World Watch List. We sat with more than 30 church leaders as the facilitator read the familiar words of 2 Chronicles 7:14, “If my people, who are called by name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face….”
She also read verse 15, the words of God saying, “Now my eyes will be open and my ears attentive to the prayers offered in this place.” Then she challenged us with these words: “Today, let us make eye contact with God.”
The Heart Cry of God’s People
After singing several hymns and psalms, we heard reports from a community where three months earlier churches were burned, homes destroyed and a dozen Christians were killed by a fundamentalist mob.
A pastor read words from a family whose daughter was raped: “We request you accept our appeal drenched with tears to give us back our lives. For we have been buried alive with our child.” There was a time of intense prayer for Christians in this community.
Then we sang again. One of the hymns was so melancholy, so intense in emotion, that though I couldn’t understand the language I could feel the heart cry of these people and joined in their groans, their longing for redemption. Paul’s words in Romans 8:22-25 took on new meaning, the need for the Spirit to help us in our weakness as we pray.
Praying With Shepherds
We then broke into smaller groups for two hours of more intimate sharing and intercession. There were nine leaders in my group, and all bared their souls. One pastor in a village told how three families in his small congregation of 20 families had, under financial inducement, converted to Islam. But when they tried to arrange marriages for their children, they discovered that while their daughters were eagerly spoken for, no Muslim family would allow their daughters to marry these “Christian” sons.
“These families now want to return to the church,” the pastor reported. “But the Muslim leaders say they can’t convert from Islam or they will be killed. We want to welcome these families back and are trying to support them.” We joined hands to pray for this pastor and his flock and for the three families that had wandered away like lost sheep.
Another leader served a far-flung congregation that could never meet together, which required him to travel constantly. He was away from his family for three weeks every month. Because he had to pass through many security checkpoints, he no longer carried Bibles and other literature for his flock.
“I can only give them whatever Word is hidden in my heart,” he said. We gathered around this faithful shepherd and laid hands on him as we prayed for him and his ministry.
There were three women in our group. Two were wives of pastors and shared about the pressures they felt on their families. A third managed a shelter for women who suffered from severe abuse because of their faith. These women were taught the basics of Christian discipleship and a vocational skill that allowed them to earn a living. This leader faced several challenges, and so we prayed for her and this ministry, as well as for the many other Christian women who suffer abuse and are unable to find the help of a center like this.
One Body, One Church
After six hours of prayer, we concluded our day together by celebrating Holy Communion. Brother Andrew gave a brief homily before we partook of the bread and cup. His words still resonate with me today: “Remember, we take the broken bread into a broken world.”
The pastor officiating served each leader a wafer of bread, snapping it in two as he said, “The body of Christ broken for you.” I followed with the chalice, serving each congregant with the words: “The blood of Christ shed for you.”
By the end of the service, I felt in my soul a deeper understanding of communion. These were my brothers and sisters. Christ died for them, for me, for all broken people. In Christ, we are truly one body; and on this day I had the privilege of sharing a little in their suffering.