We have all read terrifying stories about the persecution of Christians. Recently I’ve seen articles about attacks on Christians in Nigeria, China and the Middle East. Although most of these stories are based on real events, some have been making the rounds for years. I’ve seen the same handful of stories about persecution in China more times than I can remember.
There is a risk of “crying wolf” when we share dramatic stories like these. How many articles about beheadings in North Africa or demolished churches in China do we need to see before we don’t even click on them anymore? And even if we do open them, we are not serving the persecuted church by simply skimming a viral post and sharing it once again.
I don’t want to discourage anyone from learning about the persecution of Christians. We are commanded to intercede for the suffering body of Christ. However, the reality is that our prayers will be much more effective if they are based on the reality of what our persecuted brothers and sisters are facing every day, rather than just on a few sensational stories that go viral on social media.
Here are some realities about the persecution of Christians that we all need to know:
1. Its not only pastors who suffer. I am currently reading Tortured for Christ, a book by Richard Wurmbrand that was published in 1968 after his release from decades of imprisonment in Romania. I have been blessed tremendously by the testimony of his steadfast refusal to turn over his fellow gospel workers to the Communists.
However, the vast majority of those who suffer for Christ today do so alone, with no publicity or recognition. They are not famous leaders. We never hear of their pain or their deaths. We don’t get to see their courageous stands for truth in the face of devilish hatred for God’s Word. Yet there are millions of them. They may be unknown to us, but not to God.
So, is not merely a few preachers who suffer for Christ, but Christian moms and dads, working class teachers and shop owners, Sunday School teachers and deacons, underground seminary students and home-schooled toddlers. The vast majority of those who face daily threats and persecution are “normal” Christians like us.
These believers are regularly kicked out of their homes, fired from their jobs, forced to relocate back to their hometowns in the countryside, locked up for weeks or months at a time, separated from families and fellow believers; all for simply continuing to “gather together” as a church and proclaim the gospel. This kind of persecution is happening on a scale that would fill countless volumes of books.
2. Intercession is your first step. Hebrews 13:3 tells us: “Remember those who are in prison, as though in prison with them, and those who are mistreated, since you also are in the body.” We must not despair in the face of such suffering, but pray! And the best way we can pray for our persecuted brothers and sisters is by realizing that they are men and women like us.
We are not praying for mythical Christian heroes. We are all so very much alike! So the first step is to put yourself in their shoes and pray for them as you would want someone to pray for you under similar circumstances.
As we intercede for our persecuted brethren in their suffering and imprisonment, here are three specific ways that you can pray for the church in nations such as China:
n First, pray for God’s Word to “spread rapidly,” as Paul states in 2 Thessalonians 3:1. While the godless governments in many parts of the world seek to prohibit God’s Word, we must pray that the message of Jesus Christ spread like a wildfire in every nation!
n Second, pray for God’s people to remain faithful and to boldly proclaim the gospel in their difficult circumstances. The Apostle Paul himself, writing as a prisoner in chains in Ephesians 6:19-20, twice asks for the church to pray that words would be given to him to boldly proclaim the gospel.
n Third, in the same passage in 2 Thessalonians (vs 2-3), Paul asks for prayer that they “may be protected from wicked and evil men”. So let us cry out to the Father to protect His children from Satan’s minions, as He has already done countless times throughout Scripture and church history.
3. Let your prayers turn into a passion for action. Many times during my nearly two decades in China I have been asked by well-meaning Christian guests if it would be possible for them to attend an underground church gathering. Almost always the answer is no. It is just too risky for local Christians to have foreigners around.
This does not mean that western Christians should not visit China at all, but that we should serve strategically when we come! In the current climate of persecution, Communist authorities are trying to intimidate believers into keeping quiet about their faith.
However, Christian visitors and short-term missionaries rarely face these same threats and restrictions, simply because they are seen as tourists along with millions of other foreign guests China receives each year. So it is not an exaggeration to say that there is nothing stopping multitudes of Bible-believing, Jesus-loving, gospel-preaching Christians from every state and city in America (or any other free country) from visiting China and sharing the gospel!
China’s millions of students and the burgeoning middle-class are learning to speak English more fluently than ever before. But what about the persecution, you say? China is a strange place. Foreign visitors are treated very differently from locals. While Chinese Christians face life-altering persecution for merely attending church, the worst that happens to a foreigner caught evangelizing is to have their tourist visa cancelled and be sent back home.
4. Prayer and evangelism as peaceful protest. Do you want to encourage the persecuted Chinese church in a practical way? Then send a team over to walk the streets, intercede for the nation and boldly share the gospel. Imagine the joy you would feel as a Chinese believer in prison knowing that Christian reinforcements were coming from around the world to share the gospel with your unreached neighbors, classmates, teachers and co-workers.
I am reminded of Early Rain Covenant Church in western China. For years, up until they were forced entirely underground last year, when any of the church members were arrested for the “crime” of evangelism or holding illegal meetings, they would quickly pinpoint the location of the police station where their brothers or sisters were being held and dispatch a team of volunteer church members to attempt to visit them.
If they were not allowed to make contact, then there on the sidewalk, in peaceful defiance of the arrest of their fellow Christians, these small groups would begin to sing hymns of praise outside the police station—loud enough so that their friends inside could hear and join in the fellowship. Imagine the joy their fellow church members must have felt! They were able to join in the chorus, despite being locked up inside!
Let’s not stand idly by while our brothers and sisters suffer in persecuted nations around the world. Let us intercede for them faithfully, visit and encourage them as we are able, and take up the mantle to evangelize their people as the Holy Spirit fills us with boldness and the love of Jesus compels us to action!
Originally published in Encourage Magazine.