On Independence Day, Remember the Millions of Christians Who Share Our Faith, Not Our Freedom
[above photo: Eti Pangesti served three years in prison in Indonesia for running a Christian Sunday school where Muslim children attended.]
In the six months Pastor Morad spent in an Iranian prison, 20 people were executed. The minister saw the fear of death in his cellmates’ eyes as they were dragged away to their fate. And as the guards announced the executions over the loudspeakers, Morad prayed.
Lord, You see all this, he said from his cell. Why do You allow this?
There was no answer–only silence.
As the cries of the prisoners echoed in the halls of the jail, Morad’s prayer echoed through the centuries–an age-old question lifted up by countless believers over thousands of years, wondering why a benevolent God would allow such suffering to occur.
Because They Have a Different Faith
Morad, a teacher at his church, is one of millions of Christians around the world who are either wrongfully imprisoned for their faith in God or must live as Christians in the face of persecution. This week, as we celebrate our freedom in America, we urge you to remember and pray with those who have been wrongfully imprisoned or face high levels of persecution simply because they have a different faith from those around them.
Hebrews 13:3 gives a visceral exhortation to pray for the persecuted: “… Remember those in prison as if you were together with them in prison, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering.”
Please kneel in solidarity with Christians throughout the world, especially in these five countries on the World Watch List where arrest and imprisonment for being a Christian is a true threat:
- Eritrea (East Africa). In the Horn of Africa peninsula, persecution of Christians is twofold. Eritrean President Isaias Afwerki runs a dictatorial regime that routinely arrests and imprisons Christians, accusing them of being agents of the West. Meanwhile, the country’s Muslim population–representing about half the nation–has become increasingly radicalized, leading to further persecution for Christians at home. In one case, Ogbamichael Teklheimanot, an Eritrean pastor, was imprisoned for 11 years–and he wasn’t even charged. He was recently released.
2. North Korea. The secret church of North Korea, 300,000 strong, are victims of extreme persecution and oppression from Kim Jong Un’s regime. If they are found out, Christians are arrested and sent to prison or labor camps where conditions are brutal and inhumane. Hea Woo, a North Korean believer who spent time in a prison camp, was able to escape the country and tell her story. She still sings “Amazing Grace,” one of the hymns that has sustained her after her husband was killed for his faith and after watching her daughter die of starvation. Pray for the 50,000 Christians who are imprisoned in inhuman labor camps.
3. China. Christians in the world’s most populous country face the most persecution if they hail from a minority, such as Tibetans in the Tibet Autonomous Region or Muslims in Xinjiang Province. The Communist-run government in China is a major engine of persecution since the party forces a unified cultural identity that does not include the Christian faith. John Sanqiang Cao, a Chinese-American pastor, was arrested for smuggling Bibles from China to Myanmar and sentenced to seven years for “organizing others to illegally cross the border,” a charge normally reserved for the actions of drug traffickers and hardened criminals.
4. Pakistan. Christians in this Central Asian country face extreme persecution, with many, like Pakistani believer Asia Bibi. The wife and mother of two daughters is in prison and sentenced to death because of the country’s unjust blasphemy law. In Pakistan, many believers are accused of blasphemy by people who hold personal vendettas against them or have vested interests, and due to the slow crawl of the Pakistani justice system, it can take years before their cases are resolved. As they wait in prison, they are mistreated because of their faith and are seen as “untouchables.”
5. Southeast Asia. Depending on their country of residence, Christians in countries like Vietnam, Malaysia, Indonesia, Myanmar and Brunei, can face persecution from government, community, friends and family. In a culture dominated by ethnic traditions, Buddhism and Islam, Christians are in the minority, often seen as a threat. In Malaysia, church leaders like Pastor Raymond Koh and others are kidnapped because they are leading Malaysian Muslims to Christ. In countries like Vietnam, believers are repeatedly arrested and thrown in prison for their faith.
On Our Knees
This Independence Day, please remember the millions of people around the world who are not free to worship. In countries where it’s illegal to be a Christian, persecution comes from the state. In other countries, like India, persecution comes from the culture itself–from community members, friends, and even family. In places like Egypt, Indonesia, and Nigeria, Christians are targeted by extremist groups like ISIS and an extremist group that is located primarily in Northern Nigeria. Around the world, 215 million people are experiencing high levels of persecution.
During Morad’s time in prison, he became increasingly frustrated at the silence from on high–but he didn’t give up.
“After one of my interrogations, I remembered a quote from Abraham Lincoln,” he said. “‘At the end of the world, I fall on my knees.’ And that’s what I did, I fell on my knees. And finally, God spoke to me. He said, ‘Be silent, embrace Me.’”
And he did.
Years later, as Morad attended a trauma care training event hosted by an Open Doors ministry partner, he said he still wonders why God was silent in his darkest hour.
“If you ask me why God was silent back then, I still don’t know,” he said. “But what I do know is the assignment He gave me: to live out the gospel.”
As for Morad’s question on suffering, there is no easy answer. For Morad, there was no answer at all, except for this: “Be silent, embrace me.”
Praying with the Persecuted
In your prayer time this week, ask God to grant the following to our brothers and sisters behind bars and those who live in constant threat of persecution for their belief and trust in Jesus.
Peace. In the chaos and brutality of prison and persecution, Christians need the peace of God more than anything. Ask the Lord to give His children “the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding” (Phil. 4:7).
Endurance. Ask God to give Christians the endurance they need to keep praying and witnessing to others. Pray especially for those in prison. Time there is often exhausting, and it’s easy to give in to despair. Pray that the Holy Spirit would give prisoners strength to carry on.
Forgiveness. Christians persecuted for their faith are often abused, tortured, starved and mistreated. Pray that God would give them heavenly eyes to see their captors as humans in need of God’s love. Ask God to give believers, especially those in prison, supernatural capacity for forgiveness.
Boldness. Ask God to give Christians boldness to share the gospel and for prisoners, the courage to find ways to witness to their neighbors and cellmates. Even the smallest acts can lead others to Christ, especially when they know they need something to cling to. Pray that God would grant Christians words to speak and show them deeds to do.
Liberation. Pray that God would break the chains of prisoners and those who aren’t free to practice and share their faith without threat. Ask Him for justice for His children–that their churches and Bible could be freely opened, that the cases of prisoners would be resolved, charges dismissed, cell doors opened, and hearts set free.