The recent news of a pastor beheaded by ISIS in a central Asian republic brought to me by a trusted friend reminds us of the continual challenges faced by our brothers and sisters in parts of the world where living openly for Christ really does mean putting their lives on the line.
The writers of the New Testament letters frequently referred to suffering when they wrote to encourage their flocks. They regularly stressed that it was normal, that we had been warned in advance about it, and that it’s all part of the cosmic conflict in which we are on God’s side. Jesus said that the world would hate us because it hated him first (John 15:18ff). We in the West have been mostly insulated by the ‘Christian’ nature of our culture from the normality of suffering which is only too familiar to people in Asia, the Middle East and north Africa.
The Apostles’ teaching did not deny the tragedy of their suffering, but placed it into a larger context. We read of Peter and John rejoicing that they had been considered “worthy” of suffering shame after they had been flogged (Acts 5:41)! Paul talks about “momentary light affliction” (2 Corinthians 4:17) and says that the suffering of this life cannot be compared to the glory of the next (Romans 8:18).
For millions of Christians around the world, but particularly in the 10/40 window, their faith means that life is a daily struggle to get served in shops, find jobs, be treated fairly by police, and avoid government oppression or mob lynching. We in the West can help them by funding agencies like Open Doors which work among our persecuted family to protect, empower and advocate. We can keep informed about their sufferings by following websites like persecution.org, and we can pray using resources like the World Prayer Map.
It can be so tempting for us just to shrug our shoulders and think it’s just another person we don’t know in a country far away. But let’s not lose sight of the fact that this is our family, we will meet them one day in heaven and rejoice in the stories of their faithfulness even to the point of death (Revelation 12:11). But until then we are parted from them, and as John Donne wrote in his poem No man is an island:
…any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind.