Nov. 1 marks International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church
“I don’t think my father will kill me.”
Zane Pratt, vice president for global training at the International Mission Board, heard these words from a 17-year-old boy who placed his faith in Christ only an hour earlier. This teenager was the first Muslim that Pratt had ever led to Christ.
“I have to tell my father,” the boy told Pratt. “This is too important. This news is too good. I don’t think my father will kill me. My neighbors, absolutely, would kill me. But Jesus is worth more than my life.”
According to Pratt, this boy’s experience is normal. Most believers around the world today recognize that their love for Christ will bring persecution and may cost their lives.
‘There is no persecuted church’
That this is the reality for Christians across the globe, I have no doubt. As such, I was dumbfounded when I first heard someone claim that there really isn’t a “persecuted church.” Yet, in an important way, this person was right.
“There is no such thing as a persecuted church and a free church,” says Ruth Ripken, who served alongside her husband Nik on the mission field for decades, where they learned from persecuted believers about bearing up under suffering. Nik tells their story in two books, The Insanity of God and The Insanity of Obedience.
“There is only the church,” Ruth adds. “There is one church – one church that is at the same time free and persecuted.”
Her words point to an important truth: Whether living in freedom or amid persecution, Christians around the globe are one in Christ. And we who live in America should never forget our brothers and sisters in chains for the gospel. In fact, we have a great opportunity to link arms with these believers in prayer on Nov. 1, which is the International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church.
“What is a dagger in the heart to believers in persecution is our lack of understanding of how we connect with them,” Nik says in a documentary based on their books. “We’ve got a decision we can ask every day. Do I want to identify with believers in persecution, or do I want to identify with their persecutors?”
How do we stand
with the persecuted?
The answer should be obvious, but how do we know whether we’re truly identifying with and standing alongside persecuted believers across the globe. Two questions for self-assessment come to my mind:
First, are we fighting against sin? Hebrews 11 describes the great “cloud of witnesses” who throughout history have endured in their faith to the end. Many of these, the letter says, suffered greatly for their faith. They “were tortured … destitute, afflicted, and mistreated” (Hebrews 11:35-37). Chapter 12 then urges us to look to Jesus, “who endured such hostility from sinners against himself,” so that we “won’t grow weary and give up.” But then it adds something that applies to most believers in the United States: “In struggling against sin, you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood” (Hebrews 12:4).
The book of Hebrews, therefore, describes persecution as a “struggle against sin,” and many across the globe have shed blood in this struggle. Yet we in the United States are called to struggle against sin, as well. Have we put to death the sin in our own lives and turned stridently away from the sins that our culture celebrates? If not, are we truly linking arms with our persecuted brothers and sisters across the globe?
Second, are we sharing the gospel? The Ripkens note that, if believers keep Jesus to themselves, they can go anywhere in the world – Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Oman, anywhere – and live peaceful lives. In fact, the persecuted believers who live in these countries could lead quiet lives, if only they stopped sharing the gospel. Instead, they risk everything to proclaim Jesus’ love for sinners.
By contrast, most Christians in the United States are far too silent about their faith. According to a 2019 survey by LifeWay Research, more than half (55 percent) of Protestant churchgoers in the United States told no one how to become a Christian during a 6 month period. Another 24 percent only shared their faith one or two times during that same time period.
“What does our silence do? It increases the suffering of believers in persecution,” Nik says. “It breaks God’s heart. It demonstrates that we have forgotten our eternal family members who live daily with persecution.”
So let us share the gospel daily, intentionally. By doing so, we share the only hope that millions across Missouri and around the globe need. And, through our witness, we also stand with global Christians who lay their lives on the line to share the same message.