Persecution and martyrdom are two things about which we American and Western Hemisphere Christians know little. Our perspective on persecution is the strategic and intentional efforts by some in our nation to silence and remove Christianity from the public square. We speak of violations of our religious freedoms. With all glory and thanksgiving to God, we Americans have never experienced the harsh, abusive, and deadly persecution endured by our Christian brothers and sisters in other parts of the world.
I would encourage you read the book, The Insanity of God by Nik Ripken, which is built on personal research across the globe into the suffering of believers for their faith in Jesus as Lord and Savior. It is a sobering read as page after page details the beating, imprisonment, and killing of our global Christian family members.
I remember sitting with an East Asian pastor a few years ago who told of his 14-year imprisonment to hard labor just because he preached the Gospel. Today, in his late 80s, he leads a church of more than 4,000 in attendance.
But the stories are not just of the past, and are no longer hidden from public view. There seems to be a new tide of unthinkable persecution against the followers of Jesus, and thousands of Christians are dying for their faith.
Recently, I sat with a man from a major city in the largest country in East Asia. His city has the highest percentage of population of believers in that country. After many years of increasing freedom to open expressions of faith and growth of the church, persecution has taken a dangerous and disturbing turn.
A group of American believers sat with this East Asian gentleman as he shared how the government had arrived at a new and very large church building in his city and destroyed the building the government had given permission to be built. Just the day before we met with him, in his city several believers of all ages were beaten to a bloody pulp as they sought to keep government officials from removing a cross from their church building. Christ followers are routinely interrogated and many imprisoned for their faith all over this East Asian country.
Persecution and martyrdom are no more vile and unthinkable than in parts of the world where radical Islam is in control. The stated purpose is to eradicate, not just persecute, the so-called “infidels” of whom Christians are the most hated.
Stories coming out of Iraq tell of unspeakable wrong done to our Christian brothers and sisters.
The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) has moved into large sections of Iraq and defeated any opposition. ISIS has accomplished this by using weapons and technology taken from the “so-called” Iraqi Army. The equipment and technology were given to Iraq by America. When ISIS captures an area, an ultimatum is given to Christians—renounce your faith and convert to Islam or you will be killed. Rape of Christian women and abuse of Christian children are especially heinous. Recent reports give unimaginable details of the beheading of children and of Christian parents with their heads placed on public display. The martyrdom of Christian adults happens daily.
The writer of Hebrews closes chapter 11 with a tribute to those who gave their all because of their faith in Christ. Read his words in verse 35 beginning with “Others were tortured . . .” through verse 38. Do not read quickly over these words, “The world was not worthy of them.” The same is true today.
Oh, how blessed we are in America, but be assured, it does not make us better. Paul and 1st Century believers accepted their persecution and martyrdom as a privilege. I know it does not compute in our Western minds, but in Paul’s day, believers counted it as an honor to suffer and die for the name of Christ. While the believers did not seek persecution and martyrdom, neither did they run from it.
So what does this mean for us who live in such unfettered freedom? First, it should jolt us to reality. Freedom is a precious gift from God, and should not be squandered. We should boldly take advantage of this freedom to declare the Gospel privately and publicly.
Second, we should not allow our brothers and sisters who face persecution and martyrdom to die without recognition. We cannot be silent when so many die simply because they choose to follow Jesus. We must press our government, the strongest on Earth, to speak up and defend those who cannot defend themselves.
Third, we need to make it a regular practice to pray for fellow Christians facing persecution. Only Heaven will reveal what our prayers mean to those who must face persecution and death.