November 1st was the International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church. In this post, Honoria Brennan shares some timely reflections on the day and the grave situation of our persecuted brothers and sisters around the world.
Remember those who are in prison, as though in prison with them, and those who are mistreated, since you also are in the body. (Heb 13:3)
I have always struggled with this verse—partly because I find it hard to imagine being in prison; mostly because I didn’t want to imagine it.
Well, lockdown this year, gave us all a little taste of prison and it has helped me to develop some sympathy. I think it could help us all.
Here are a few ways that 2020 has given us opportunity to consider the plight of our persecuted brothers and sisters around the world.
For a while, in our state (and still in Melbourne) we couldn’t sing at church because of the increased danger of infection. It was really special when we could sing together again. Meanwhile …
- Last year, we heard that the Chinese church had to stop singing songs … only Christian songs, though. They had to sing nationalistic ones instead. The Government is displacing Christian symbols with communist ones.
- I was recently told by a friend that in the capital of one Central Asian country, Christians meeting in their houses have to whisper their hymns so that their children in the next room do not realise what they are doing (and accidentally mention it to others).
Who’d’ve thought singing would be so dangerous?
2. Congregating and Evangelising
During the peak of the wave, we had to put church online. This has led to new people hearing about Christianity, but it was hard for us to make contact with them and welcome them. While we were still learning how to unmute ourselves on Zoom …
- Persecuted Christians had already found creative workarounds and alternative ways to connect. Underground churches in Iran quickly jumped on encrypted apps like Telegram.
- Christians in Wuhan saw the pandemic as an evangelism opportunity. They broadcasted sermons from their balconies or in front of shops for those hungry for hope. Others distributed facemasks with gospel pamphlets, while Christian messages played in the background. The Police tried to crack down on this, but they were preoccupied by the pandemic.
Who could forget the Great Toilet Paper shortage of 2020? Yet, at the same time our supermarkets experienced some supply issues with a few hygiene and pantry items …
- In Bangladesh, many have lost income, including 1 million garment workers. Some Christians are denied government support or relief aids. They are starving, rationing food, supplies and borrowing money at high interest to buy food.
Christians are often already impoverished in places like Nepal, Pakistan and Egypt. When they lose their jobs, some are denied aid because they are of the minority religion. Some are denied access to public facilities, like the town well. Some were asked to leave Christianity to receive emergency aid. Christian organisations are trying to meet these needs, but it’s a drop in the bucket.
You may have noticed that the pandemic has been an opportunity for bigotry. Some friends received racist abuse because they looked Chinese. Can you recall a country, a state, or a community has been blamed for outbreaks? However, at the same time …
- In the north of Colombia, some new Christians were imprisoned for “causing coronavirus”. Leaders of certain ethnic groups claim that when someone in their community converts to Christianity, they destroy the harmony with the spiritual realm and bring natural disasters.
- In Somalia, al-Shabaab warns Muslims that coronavirus is spread by “the crusader forces [Christians] who have invaded the country and the disbelieving countries that support them.”
- Persecutors in places like Nigeria and Ethiopia have been using the pandemic as an opportunity to increase attacks on believers.
5. Threats to personal safety
During COVID many of us have feared for family members and friends who work in medicine or who contracted coronavirus. Some of us even lost loved ones. Yet in other parts of the world …
- Indian government officials have been choosing Christian nurses to care for contagious coronavirus patients because Christians are considered dispensable in India. The latest instance of mounting cultural discrimination of religious minorities. In one Muslim-majority country in Asia, Christian nurses have been denied personal protective equipment.
- In Iran, the regime released 85,000 prisoners, for fear the virus would spread throughout the prisons. Yet the regime refused to release all of those imprisoned for their Christians faith.
Remember and Pray
These are “unprecedented times” for us—but not for the persecuted. Our (mostly mild) afflictions have given us a glimpse of the some of the things that many of them endure continually. We naturally want things to get back to “normal”, but miss the chance to increase our capacity for empathy.
Let’s find tangible connections with our Christian brothers and sisters suffering for Christ. Let’s use this opportunity to remember them and do what we can to support them with our resources and prayers.
When you are next reaching for your mask; reacting to news items, or having trouble planning more than a month in advance, remember the persecuted church. When you sing, remember those house-churches whispering their hymns or imagine having to sing the Chinese National Anthem instead.
Next time you are kneading sourdough or buying toilet paper, pray for those who cannot access food, aid, and medical help.
And if you find yourself self-isolating, remember those who are in prison in Iran, Colombia or North Korea, as though you were in prison with them.
Our Heavenly Father,
Even in the midst of suffering, you are powerfully and mercifully contending for this world. Please help the Christians whose suffering is further compounded by the pandemic. Please protect and provide for them, and sustain their faith.
Help us to not forget our persecuted brothers and sisters in the majority world. But to remember since we are also in the body.
In Jesus’ name,