One thing that has made an impact on my Christian life has been my awareness of the importance of remembering and serving those who suffer for their faith in Christ. In 2007, I became a local volunteer with the Voice of the Martyrs Canada, a ministry that serves the persecuted church.
In my limited travels around different assemblies and reading assembly-based literature, I find this subject to be rarely addressed. Other evangelical churches that I have visited in the past also appear to be largely silent about this subject. When it is addressed, it is usually historical, hearkening back to Christians who suffered during the time of the Romans or in Europe in the Middle Ages.
However, the persecution of Christians is happening right now in our world. In fact, in much of the world outside the West, persecution is the norm rather than the exception. Although we don’t often hear it in the media, we have seen reports in recent history of the terrible things that Christians in Syria and Iraq have suffered at the hands of ISIS.
Much of the New Testament was written under persecution and sometimes the only way to properly interpret it is to see it in that light. The suffering of the righteous goes all the way back to Genesis with the story of Cain and Abel, where righteous Abel suffered because of his evil brother. The Lord’s command for us is found in Hebrews 13:3 which says,
Remember the prisoners as if chained with them—those who are mistreated—since you yourselves are in the body also.
The church is not divided between the free church and the suffering church. There is only one body and one church, comprised of every true believer. Suffering Christians are not figures or statistics, rather they are believers who are Christ’s.
There are many things to consider regarding the persecuted church. One message is how that the Lord Jesus Christ is building His church, and the gates of hell are not prevailing against it, as He promised (Matthew 16:18). Despite all that our brothers and sisters suffer, God is still working. Reports tell us that the church is growing the fastest in places of persecution, such as China and Iran. However, persecution is not necessarily a guarantee of church growth.
I encourage everyone to get informed about the persecuted church by reading their stories and reaching out to specialized ministries such as the Voice of the Martyrs and Open Doors. Invite people from these ministries to speak to your assembly. We have done this and we have been enriched by it.
Last year, a man spoke at our assembly who was imprisoned for a short time because of his Christian activity in a country that persecutes Christians. During the time of his imprisonment we prayed for him as a congregation and wrote a letter of encouragement to him. What an honour and blessing it was to now have him in our midst! We were impressed with the Lord’s work in his life despite the difficulties he faced.
I challenge people to care about the persecuted church. I challenge people to get involved in the ministry of serving them. Integrate them into the life of your assembly by reading prayer items and referring to them in Bible teaching. Integrate them into your personal prayer and devotions.
By doing these things, you can change your Christian life. How do I know this? It changed mine.