George Bowers Sr.: Sunday is Day of Prayer for Persecuted Church
Sunday is a very special holiday that deserves recognition by all believers. Not only is this All Saints Day when the church has historically recognized the contributions of past members and leaders, but this year it coincides with the Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church. The first Sunday in November is the annual date for this observation.
We are so blessed in the United States to enjoy the opportunity to practice our religious beliefs relatively free of government persecution or oppression, but such is not the case in many countries around the world. While we may assume such rights are enjoyed by Christians in every nation, this is far from true.
Although we gather for worship without the oversight and suppression of the military or police, our brothers and sisters in China sneak into and out of house churches to avoid detection. Across that nation, the government has imprisoned many Christians while others are being harassed and hassled on a daily basis. In 2013, the Chinese government began removing hundreds of crosses from churches, sometimes demolishing the entire building in the process. Interestingly, smaller crosses have cropped up in greater numbers than before! As the second century church father Tertullian once said, “The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church.” Jesus himself proclaimed that the very gates of Hell will not prevail against his bride.
Unfortunately, such persecution is not unique to China. The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom documented religious violations in no less than 33 countries in its 2015 report. Across Iraq and Syria, ISIS continues its horrific massacre of Christians wherever they find them. Over 1 million believers in this region have been driven from their homes and businesses and forced to become refugees just struggling to survive. Thousands more have been less fortunate and have been ruthlessly beheaded by those with nothing but hatred for Jesus’ followers. It’s hard to believe that young men and women are being decapitated just because they believe the same things I do. If we were the ones in the orange jumpsuits, I dare say we would be yearning for the prayers of all God’s people.
In Nigeria and Cameroon, the Muslim group Boko Haram has caused over 1 million Christians to flee their homes to escape death. This past July the Nigerian Christian Choir shared firsthand stories about the killings, kidnappings, and oppression they witnessed before taking flight. In South Sudan, Christian men are being executed while many of their wives are also, but only after being brutally raped.
In Iran, Pastor Saeed Abedini continues to suffer behind bars because of his faith in Jesus. He is now into his fourth year of incarceration while his children grow up without their father, and his wife cares for them solo. It is unfathomable that such abuses could be completely ignored and not even mentioned by our administration when negotiating the recent Iran nuclear deal. If the U.S. turns a blind eye toward religious persecution, we no longer deserve to be a world leader.
While we can rejoice in the stories of boldness and determination from those who suffer, these individuals desperately need our prayers. It may be a bit romantic to imagine taking such courageous stands, but the reality of beatings, property confiscation, imprisonment and death are anything but pleasant. While we bask in the lingering freedom of religion granted by the very First Amendment to our Constitution, we owe it to our persecuted family members to hold them up in prayer for special strength. In light of many recent rulings and the general mood of our nation, we may be the ones in need of their prayers in the not too distant future.
Hebrews 13:3 reminds us to “remember those in prison as if you were their fellow prisoners and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering.” Take some special time this Sunday to lift up our hurting brothers and sisters wherever they may be and pray that God would grant them special grace to be faithful even in the face of great persecution. And pray that we might do the same if ever called upon to do so.
In Jesus, George
George Bowers Sr. is the pastor of Antioch Church of the Brethren in Woodstock and the author of four books, including his latest book of poetry, “Wit and Wisdom of the Woods.” He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.