Every year, I spend time with missionaries, pastors and believers in the suffering church around the world. With each visit, I am reminded of how blessed we are in North America, and of the high price our brothers and sisters are willing to pay for the cause of Christ. It is incredibly humbling to spend time with believers who suffer because of their faith.
I am compelled to give, to pray, and to lead the church I pastor into a better understanding of the suffering church around the world. We have learned the following principles that help us relate to, support and pray for believers who serve Jesus in the face of great danger.
1. We are not persecuted. In the last 18 months, some have termed facemasks, closures, and vaccine mandates as persecution. When we elevate our inconveniences to this level of persecution, we diminish the price paid by those who face true suffering. No doubt, we will one day face persecution, as all Christians will. Jesus promised that. But if we call everything “persecution,” we will be ill-prepared to face real opposition with faith, perseverance and strength. We also run the risk of building a theology based on success, comfort and ease.
2. Many believers are persecuted. Persecution is real. Many pay a high price when they make the decision to follow Jesus.
Recently, I sat down with Nabiz*, a believer from a Muslim background who lives in a place where persecution is intense. When he made the decision to follow Jesus, Nabiz was kicked out of his home, disowned by his family, and fired from his job. Homeless and penniless, he has been beaten, ridiculed, and threatened with death. My heart broke for my new friend and the pain he has endured. Yet through it all, Nabiz’s love for Jesus remains strong.
Nabiz told me, “Since I came to faith, I experienced the presence of God in every struggle. Many times when I went through trials, the Lord delivered me. Each time, I have seen the hand of the Lord protecting me. If I die, it is for Him and His glory. I keep sharing my faith because my confidence is in Jesus. Whatever happens, He knows the way I do not know. God has plans for me.”
We cannot close our eyes and ears to the struggle of those who serve Jesus in hostile contexts. We need to know the price people are willing to pay. We need to understand what they face. We cannot shy away from that which makes us uncomfortable.
There are some who do not believe followers of Jesus should struggle or endure hardship. They don’t want to see or hear about persecution because it runs counter to their distorted image of Christianity. But, they must hear. They must know.
3. Knowledge must lead to action. Awareness and advocacy aren’t enough. We must act in response to the call of God and in obedience to Scriptures like these:
“Remember those in prison as if you were their fellow prisoners, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering” (Hebrews 13:3, NIV).
“…Stop doing wrong. Learn to do right; seek justice. Defend the oppressed. Take up the cause of the fatherless, plead the case of the widow” (Isaiah 1:16-17, NIV).
Those verses command us to action. When we take action, we obey God.
At our church—First AG North Little Rock—we regularly talk about and take offerings for the suffering church. Jesus said, “Where you treasure is, your heart will be also.” We must re-prioritize our finances in order to support the suffering church. As we strategically position more of our resources in ministry to the suffering church, our hearts naturally follow.
We’ve received offerings for the suffering church in Iran, Uzbekistan, Cuba, Somalia, China, India, Sri Lanka, Vietnam, Burma, Zanzibar, Djibouti, Saudi Arabia, and countless other places. We do not pray that God will bless us because of this giving. We pray that God will instead confer that blessing on those who are suffering for Jesus.
We are compelled to give and to go. Giving money is relatively easy. But we must also be willing to send our best and brightest to serve God’s church in spite of hardship and danger.
Recently, I led our church in prayer over a young couple from our congregation who have responded to the call of God to serve among a dangerous, violent people group. Tears streamed down my face as I prayed for peace, protection, favor and impact—all the while realizing the dangers they will face. The plight of the persecuted becomes much more real when those we love are serving side by side with them.
We must support missionaries who serve among the suffering. It is the most important missions dollar that we can share. My friend Nabiz said about missionaries: “They are the face of Jesus. I know the love they have for us is a love from above. Whatever happens, we know God has a plan. If it had not been for missionaries from America, it would have taken more time for us to hear about Jesus. God works in amazing ways—He brought someone from America to share with me.”
4. We must regularly and strategically pray for the suffering church. Not everyone can go or even give, but everyone can pray! We have implemented strategies to engage God’s people in intentional, strategic, targeted prayer.
Recently, we formed a private prayer group to pray for one woman who was being challenged because of her faith. This confidential prayer team was able to receive updates, share encouragement and intercede for specific needs. Although we couldn’t publicly talk about the situation, trusted prayer partners prayed daily for this new believer.
We rally people to prayer when a believer is in danger. In fact, as I write this article, a group of people in our church are praying for a believer who has been abducted. We are praying for his protection and safety, and that he will stand boldly for Jesus in the face of extreme pressure. Another group is praying for a missionary team that is facing repeated spiritual attacks while ministering in a heavily Islamic context.
We are determined. We will answer the call of God to give, go, and pray on behalf of the suffering church.
Lead pastor, First Assembly of God North Little Rock, Arkansas