- Translating English Bible material into the Lao language.
- Receiving funds from foreign sources (6 of the group were employees of a Lao government approved humanitarian organization).
- Teaching the Lao people about the Christian religion.
- Hosting Bible classes in their home.
What began as a small house church of 6-7 people had grown into a church family of 70. One of the people who confessed Christ was a police informer tasked with getting incriminating information on the group. While most were released over the course of several days, 10 served extended prison sentences. Heartlight hosted the website that channeled response from around the world that helped get them out of prison early, but what these brothers and sisters in Christ endured in prison was despicable. Their crime? They believed in Jesus and met together to worship Him!
Most of us are unaware of the widespread persecution believers in Christ face around the world. Some have suggested that part of the reason is the very anti-Christian bias in the Western media against Christians — especially biblically conservative Christians. On the other hand, some of the ignorance is the fault of those of us so pre-occupied on minor differences in our church worship services, polity, and policies: we choose to not be aware of these major issues facing fellow believers while we battle over other issues. A study commissioned by Focus on the Family, conservatively estimated that 160,000 believers were martyred for their faith in Christ in 1996. The escalation of hatred and prejudicial acts against believers in Jesus has only grown stronger in the last decade.
So what should our response be?
Let's remember that we are called to be God's agents of subversive goodness. The opening of Paul's letter to the Colossians reads this way: "I, Paul, have been SENT ON SPECIAL ASSIGNMENT by Christ as part of God's master plan" (Colossians 1:1 MSG - emphasis added). Later in the same letter, he reminds these believers that they are on assignment as well, and so they must make sure their lives and speech are gracious and helpful to outsiders (Colossians 4:5-6). We are on assignment from God, behind enemy lines!
Too often, I fear, we go to war with our culture rather than identifying our real enemy. While we have biblical precedent for seeking our full rights under the law, too frequently well-intentioned Christian leaders are seen saying hateful things about our culture in political arenas. Many — probably the majority — of Americans perceive Christians unfavorably (Read David Kinnaman's book, "Unchristian" for details). Our rhetoric against culture often comes across as hatred or dislike of the unconverted, only driving them further away from the good news of Jesus.
God sent Jesus to show the world His love, not condemn the world (John 3:16-17). Jesus is our model on how to deal with people in our culture. We are His Body, His presence, in the world today. Just as the Father sent Jesus, Jesus has now sent us to be the agents of His redemptive love (John 20:21). We can't be enemies of our times, our culture, or our world. Instead, we must love them. Our enemy is the one who holds these people hostage, trapped in his dominion of darkness, unaware of the Son's great love (Colossians 1:13-14). So let's be more careful with our rhetoric and more genuine with our service to those in our communities who are unbelievers!
Let's also partner with those who are persecuted through prayer and action. Be a part of the Day of Prayer for the persecuted church. Check out the websites listed below and learn specific ways we can help. Remind your government officials about believers who are persecuted and encourage them to not let that issue be whitewashed over in discussions about foreign aide, diplomatic relationships, or most favored nation status. (Letters to congressmen from citizens and letters to the Laotian consulate from around the world helped secure earlier release from prison for our Laotian brothers and sisters. These kinds of efforts have had positive effect in other places around the world.) Most of all, let's diligently pray for their boldness in sharing the message of grace (Colossians 4:2-4). God takes these awful acts done against His children and provides great opportunity for the good news of Jesus to grow and spread!
Which brings me to the final thought I hope we keep in our hearts. "God's word cannot be chained!" (2 Timothy 2:9). Paul used his imprisonments as opportunities to share his faith with others. Some were fellow prisoners, others were visitors who came to see him, and still others were Roman soldiers chained to him. Despite his imprisonments, others were led to Christ: folks who would have never been reached otherwise (Philippians 1:13; Philippians 4:22). So let's not lose our confidence in God's power and the awesome drawing power of Jesus to bring all people to Him, even those who appear to be enemies of His people (John 12:31-33).
Did you realize persecution against believers in Jesus is this widespread in the world today?
What are some other ways we can help those who are persecuted in the name of Jesus today?
Have you been persecuted because of your faith? (We'd love to pray for you and hear your story!)
Let us hear from you on my blog: