The Persecuted Church

I am often called upon to write a formal recommendation for people, and I always struggle with how to close the letter. Typically, I’ll use words like, “Sincerely,” “Cordially,” or “Respectfully.” But consider how the Apostle Paul closed his letter to a group of believers in Colossae. “I, Paul, write this greeting with my own hand. Remember my chains. Grace be with you.” (Colossians 4:18, ESV)  “Remember my chains.” Those three words stand in huge contrast to my experience as Christian.

Paul took the liberty to share with the Corinthian church in more detail, some of what he suffered during his ministry

Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea; on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers; in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. And, apart from other things, there is the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches. (2 Corinthians 11:24-28, ESV)

Most Christians in the West have little or no experience with persecution, but 74% of the world’s population, over 5 billion people, live in countries where there are extreme restrictions on religious freedom (Pew Research Study – Jan 2014). According to the Open Doors World Watch list, 2014 set a record for the number of Christians facing persecution. Approximately 100 million Christians across the globe face dire consequences for believing and practicing their faith in Jesus.

There are multiple stories that break in on our news feed, but one that continues to grip me happened 2 1/2 year ago, on April 2, 2015 — a Thursday — the day before Good Friday. On this particular morning at 5 am, gunmen broke into a Christian prayer meeting on the college campus in Garissa, Kenya. They stormed the dormitories, demanding the separation of Muslim and Christian students and then placed the Christians face down on the floor and executed them, killing 147One student was quoted as saying, “If you were a Christian you were shot on the spot. With each blast of the gun, I thought I was going to die.”

The world in which many of our brothers and sisters in Christ live is vastly different from ours. We are naive and possibly arrogant, to believe that our “Americanized Christian experience” of religious freedom and prosperity is what the overwhelming majority of Christians experience, both throughout history and in our current day. Many times it’s hard for us to identify with those who are suffering such big things, including the loss of life.

But just like Paul asked the Colossian church to “remember his chains,” I am firmly convinced that we are called to remember those who are suffering, because if one member suffers, we all suffer. Take some time this week, and next week, and the weeks after, to “remember the chains” of our brothers and sisters around the world. You can also find information further information at:

http://barnabasfund.org

http://www.opendoors.org

http://www.persecution.org/

Chris Hyatt

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