“Woe for me if I don’t preach the Gospel,” said Apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 9:16. He is a man who understood his responsibility to reach non-believers with the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Despite the persecution he faced, Paul was obedient to the world of our Lord Jesus Christ who commanded His disciples to “Go and make disciples of all nations,” Mathew 28:19. I wonder how many of us are heeding the Lord’s command to preach the Gospel.
In my recent trip to Nigeria, I came across persecuted Christians who are ready to pay the ultimate price for evangelizing to Muslims. Pastor Luka (name changed for security reasons), has lived among Muslims for several years preaching the Gospel to the lost. His church has been demolished twice by his Muslim neighbors.
His persecutors even tried to kill him. In 2011, his home was surrounded by Muslim mob. More than 100 Muslims came with the intention to kill him. It was truly miraculous how the Lord saved him. The pastor told me:
“The Muslims found me but couldn’t kill me. I heard them saying to each other, ‘What are we doing? [The pastor] is just walking away. Why don’t we apprehend him?’”
Of course they don’t have the answer to that question—it was divine intervention that saved the pastor. After hearing his story and seeing his demolished church, I asked him, “Pastor, your life and the life of your family is in danger. Why don’t you leave this area? I was astounded by his response:
“If God calls you for the ministry, it is not about what you want anymore. You must obey and do what God tells you to do. I actually want to go to other places to do evangelism. Anywhere I want I could go. My [relatives] recently asked me to leave the area, but I said no. If the time I will die here come, I must die here. If God doesn’t allow me to die here, I must go to another place. Whatever God says, I must obey.”
What a great man of God! May the Lord help us to cherish our callings the way Pastor Luka do.
If you could give a poor person a home to live in or the message of Gospel, which would you choose?
Have you ever been asked this question and thought that whatever answer you give is the wrong one?
While creating a document for our financial supporters about the work ICC does, I noticed that our funds are divided into two categories: those that bandage the persecuted Church, and those that build the persecuted Church. While we have Biblical mandates to back up this two-handed business model (not to mention 17 years of consistent growth and rising impact), it is still surprising how divisive this is among Christians.
Most would probably say, “Sure, I think both are important,” but then have a knee-jerk reaction when they see one superseding the other. In fact, we were recently accused of being responsible for people who are sent to prison, because we send Bibles into a country where we know there are consequences for owning one. This is not an uncommon criticism. These two giving strategies are divided between “sacred” (the Gospel-only) and “secular” (the home-only) as are their supporters.
In the sacred camp, you see people who are focused on the spiritual needs of a person or people group. They pay for Bibles to be printed, churches to be built, and missionaries to be sent, yet gloss over the immediate physical needs that are present. They are quick to lay hands and pray for healing, but blind to the need of a grumbling stomach, or cold hands and feet.
In the secular camp, you see people who are focused on the tangible, immediate needs of a person or people group. This camp will lead the charge in demanding clean water, safe housing and decent wages, yet forsake the spiritual matters, either because “it’s not important,” or “we don’t want to be offensive.”
There seems to be a tension between the two, disallowing people to value both at the same time. Yet the truth is, you do not have to choose between the house and the Gospel, the two ministries do not have to be mutually exclusive. We model our ministry this way because Jesus modeled his ministry this way. He healed the lame, and said that He alone was the way, the truth and the life. If he did both, why shouldn’t we?
Although we acknowledge that at times, needs have different degrees, we are just as passionate to build the Church as well as bandage the persecuted church. This is what we are called to do, to fight for the rights of the destitute, as well as make disciples of all nations. This is a living Gospel.
Our Senior Regional Manager Corey Bailey explores the culture shock of working with the persecuted Church for the first time.
Panic surfaced, threatening to break through and spill out onto the dirty street around me. I was surrounded by people on every side; pushing, prodding, bumping. The sound of honking cars, and foreign languages filled my ears as my eyes were bombarded by the site of poverty at every turn. A child, with only one eye, clothed in rags, tugged on my arm reciting over and over: “One dollar, Lady? Please? One dollar?” A woman, skin and bones, lay on the ground. Her body would later be removed, as she breathed her last while people frantically hurried by.
I was walking the streets of Kolkatta, India, and I had never seen such need in all my life. I lasted only one hour into my initial outing into the city before, unable to take any more, I fled to my hostel and hid in my bedroom. In the end it was my growling stomach that forced me back out on the street, in search of a place to eat.
You see, I grew up in the suburbs. I had a nice house, running water, a loving family, clothes on my back, food on my table and my choice of schools for education. I was a believer with a compassionate heart. I wanted to help people and share with them the love of Jesus. I had read books about martyrs, watched news stories about those dying from unclean water and my family sponsored a child in Africa. I was aware that there were those “less fortunate.” I just didn’t think about them all the time, and I certainly had never truly seen them. When I finally did, the pain of it all was too much.
As I was seeking solace, trying to plug my ears from the noise, I realized that God did not have the luxury to plug His ears. God does not change the channel, so to speak. He is with the poor, the needy, the persecuted. He hears their cries day and night. He never closes His ears or turns away.
I believe the question is not “Should I be involved with ‘the least of these’?” but instead, “Lord, how can I be involved with the ‘least of these’?” If God cares about the widow, the orphan, the wounded, and the persecuted, so should we. The Bible is packed, and I mean packed, with verses about justice, social justice and helping the hurting. So, take a look around, don’t change the channel. Choose to have eyes to see. Take a moment to intentionally look at what God looks at every day, and see how you can help.
Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke? Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter–when you see the naked, to clothe him…Isaiah 58:6-7
Difficult times are still ahead for Christians in Egypt. Just last week, Egypt’s highest court dissolved the country’s newly-elected Parliament to give more power to the military council. Days later, the Muslim Brotherhood declared victory in Egypt’s presidential elections. But, on Sunday evening, just as the elections were ending, the military announced a constitutional declaration that expands their power over a civilian government and grants them authority to draft a new constitution.
What does this all mean? Some speculate that an Islamist takeover was so dangerous for the country that the military had to step in—willing to risk civil war—rather than to remain passive and turn over power. Others believe that the military is simply trying to regain control by staging a potential military coup. More than likely, both reasons are true, but at stake are the very ideals that brought hundreds of thousands of Egyptians to the streets to protest authoritarian rule in Egypt’s revolution.
Bottom line: If the military were to regain power than it would be as if the revolution never happened. Some 2,000 people who were killed during the protests may have died for nothing. This scenario, however, is what many Christians are hoping for.
“Christians are happy, because they were afraid the Muslim Brotherhood was taking over,” said Athanasious Williams, a Coptic Christian human rights lawyer in Cairo. “But now they feel that there might be a better chance for a secular government.”
Islamists who have gained power since the revolution have done nothing for Christians. Instead, Christians have seen their churches burned and destroyed and many of their fellow brethren suffer from severe persecution or killed. Some recent reports from Egypt said that 200,000 Christians left or are waiting to leave Egypt due to the threats they receive on a daily basis.
But, is a military takeover worth the risk to safeguard the Christian community? Remember that a similar situation occurred in Algeria when the army staged a coup just before elections to stop the Islamic Salvation Front from gaining victory in 1991. The result: 150,000-200,000 people were killed in a decade-long civil war. Like in Algeria, Egypt’s Islamists will not back down quietly, considering that more than 50 percent of Egyptians voted for them. While Egypt will probably not break out in civil war, it is a risk the military appears to be willing to take.
Egypt needs our prayers more than ever before. Anything can happen as Islamists and the military fight for power. Like Iraq and Syria, Christians will inevitably be caught in the middle and attacks against the church will continue to increase.
“The situation is difficult in these days,” an Egyptian ministry partner recently told ICC. “Please pray for the coming days and the stabilization for our people.”
The only hope that remains, and that should remain, is in God’s provision. “We firmly believe in God’s protection in his people,” said Rev. Joseph Boules, a priest at St. Mary & St. Verena Coptic Orthodox Church. “We have that hope that we are in the hands of God.”
In the summer of 2004 I was a lanky missionary kid who didn’t always realize how fortunate I was to be spending my teenage years growing up in Asia. In fact, I took it completely in stride when my family announced we would be taking a week-long vacation at a church member’s vacation home in Indonesia. After all, didn’t everyone go on vacation to Indonesia at some point or another?
Little did I know that this would be my first experience in a Muslim-majority country. At first the mosques were simply fascinating, but as we left the more populated areas and traveled into the countryside I remember starting to feel slightly uncomfortable at the attention we were getting. I was long used to getting curious glances (thanks to my Western appearance), but this was somehow different. I had been a missionary kid for over 10 years and suddenly, for the first time in my life, I realized that it might just be possible my family, and my faith, were not welcome in this part of the world. At the time I had never really heard much about Wahhabi Islam and never connected the radical terrorist organizations in the Middle East with Indonesia. Like so many people, including Christians, I was completely oblivious to the fact that over a thousand Christians had been killed in clashes with Muslims in Indonesia just a few years before.
Nor did I recall even seeing the news when, on Christmas Eve 2000, a series of explosions across nine cities in Indonesia blasted holes into churches and Christian homes, killing at least 18 and wounding more than 100. This high-level and well organized terrorist plot turned out to be a coordinated effort between al-Qaeda and Jemaah Islamiyah, a terrorist organization based in Southeast Asia. Sadly, the world didn’t pay much attention to this group until they killed over 200 people (including 88 Australians) at a popular night club in the resort city of Bali. It took the events of Sept. 11 and a large death toll of foreigners before the international media decided Muslim fundamentalism in Indonesia was worth paying attention to.
Today, the same thing seems to be happening again. Both President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton have alluded to Indonesia as a model for how a “tolerant” and pluralistic Muslim democracy should function. The violence of a decade ago is forgotten, and, outside of domestic news sources and Christian organizations like ICC, little attention is given to hardline groups like the Islamic Defenders Front when they push for the imposition of Sharia law or hurl rotten food and bags of urine at Christian worshippers trying to make their way to church.
Perhaps not surprisingly, the group did manage to make a small splash on the international media radar a few weeks ago for threating to cause “chaos” at a planned Lady Gaga concert. The sold out concert was cancelled and, if you looked closely, some articles even mentioned that the group also had a history of violence towards Christians. Suddenly, for a week at least, news outlets began asking if not all Indonesians seems to be as tolerant as their government would have us believe.
For those of us who noticed that nearly two dozen churches have been closed down over the past few months and at least 20 more are being ordered to shut their doors, the answer to this question is obvious. Local authorities have blithely ignored vague statements from the countries president, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, about non-violence and even dismissed rulings from the Supreme Court to re-open sealed churches. When the federal government is too weak or too apathetic to address a rising wave of oppression against minorities, in this case Christians, the stage is set for even greater conflict. With an estimated 20 million Christians versus more than 200 million Muslims, such a conflict will no doubt be heavily one-sided.
To increase our awareness and effectiveness overseas, ICC routinely sends Regional Managers into the field to collect data and make contacts. Our Regional Manager to Africa recently returned from Nigeria.
By now, many of you know about the unspeakable level of violence against Christians in Nigeria. But I warn you: do not be fooled by what the media tells us. The truth is, you cannot fully grasp the plight of the persecuted Christians in Nigeria until you actually visit them. That is why I decided to fly to Nigeria to see to myself what is really happening to the persecuted church there. Nothing prepared me to what I saw.
I experienced the pain of the Christians in northern Nigeria in less than an hour after I landed in the country. My host Rev. Samuel Ayoba (name changed for security reasons) picked me up from the airport and we started driving to the city of Kaduna. As we drove, my mind started to wonder to the different stories I have read about attacks on Christians. Hoping that it was just me, I asked Rev. Ayoba, “How safe is this road? Are we going to be stopped by the Islamic radicals and get killed?” Instead of reassuring me of our safety, the reverend looked into my eyes and said, “Anything could happen. All we could do is to entrust ourselves to God.” As soon as I heard those words, I felt the pain of living in constant fear. I noticed that we were the only car on the road, and my mind became clouded with suspicion and questions: It’s getting late. Where are the other cars? When will we get there? But I told myself not to be shaken and focus on trusting the Lord.
As we drove towards Kaduna, I saw several mosques. A friend told me that Muslims receive funds from Saudi Arabia and other wealthy Muslim countries to build the mosques. Some of those mosques are then used for teaching hatred against Christians.
When we finally arrived in Kaduna, it was obvious to see evidence of violence in the city. There were check points every few miles. Shortly before I arrived, Islamists carried out a suicide bomb attack targeting a church. They missed their target, but the attacker killed over 40, mainly Muslims who happened to be near the church.
I stayed in Nigeria for 10 days. During my time there, I spoke with dozens of victims of persecution. I visited villages decimated by Islamic violence. One of the saddest days of the trip was when I was asked to speak at the funeral of a Christian who was killed. The man was killed after he visited his father, an evangelist who is living among Muslims.
I came face to face with what it means to go through persecution. I was also reminded of how important it is to stand with the body of Christ that undergoes persecution. I came back from Nigeria with the passion to work more to help the oppressed. One of the victims that ICC helped said to me, “You make us feel that somebody cares for us.” Let us continue making them feel that they are loved!
Fifty years ago, the Church was informed of persecution when missionaries visited churches or wrote letters to family and supporters. My great-uncle served in Nicaragua and only visited the States every five years. It could take weeks, even months, to receive information, let alone send aid. In the past, the church did not know a lot, but they prayed earnestly still. Today, we have the time and ability to send assistance, but are we remembering to pray?
Before, if you were talking about the persecuted, you were most likely speaking of someone who had died for their faith: a martyr. Today however, we have the ability to advocate for the oppressed in a manner that might save their life. We are able to receive information, verify its validity, contact world leaders, and send assistance—all in a days’ work. There is help available to the oppressed, thanks to technology.
And yet, there was something powerful happening when the only help the Church could offer was prayer. God was still moving in miraculous ways, when all the Church had to offer was faith. Intercessory prayer, meaning to plead the case of another before God, was a vital part of prayer meetings, even when they didn’t know what to pray or who to pray for.
The book of Acts tells us that it was the prayers of the first century church that freed Peter from prison (Acts 12:5-12). “Constant prayer was offered to God for him by the church,” and the Lord sent an angel to release him from prison. “It is really true!” he said. “The Lord has sent his angel and saved me from Herod and from what the Jewish leaders had planned to do to me!”
Although these advances allow us act quickly and efficiently, the truth is, unless partnered with prayer and faith, they are useless. We can have a large networking group, a vast amount of followers on social media, and the attention of Capitol Hill; but if the Church is not praying, asking the Lord to move, and believing in faith that He will, our retweets are a waste of word count.
Our prayer moves God. Let us not forget that we have the attention of the Lord Almighty, and that this is the greatest tool we have in battling persecution.
So the next time you ‘like’ a Facebook post, retweet a link to a news article, or read through our newsletter, take time to say a prayer for the person or persons in question. You might be surprised what a difference it makes.
Click here if you would like more information on how to pray for the persecuted.
Our new Senior Regional Manager, Corey Bailey, gives her first impressions of joining the team, and working for the persecuted church at ICC.
As ICC’s newest staff member, I have had a crash course on the issue of persecution against Christians. The funny thing is, I already thought I knew a lot. Perhaps I did, but it was nowhere near the amount I know now.
I grew up in the Church and even as a child was reading books about martyrs, missionaries and the like. I admired these people that I read about and would pray and ask God to give me faith like theirs. I would also throw in a quick: ‘please God don’t let me have to suffer for my faith’ prayer, followed with a ‘but if I have to please give me the strength to stay true to you’ prayer. Ah, the heart of the pre-teen.
After college, I joined a missionary organization and for the next 10 years travelled around the world working with the poor and destitute. I rubbed shoulders with unsung heroes of the faith and witnessed poverty first-hand, and walked paths that would change me forever. I taught in a Christian university about the love of God, and led times of prayer and intercession for the persecuted who had no one to speak up for them.
Since working at ICC, however, I have had both the pleasure and heartache of learning more than I ever wanted to know about our persecuted brothers and sisters. I found myself stunned to read stories of persecution, like the Malatya Martyrs in Turkey, that I had never even heard of. I was a Christian who cared about such things! How did I not know? Had I been living under a rock? That is why I am grateful to be here at ICC, and grateful that you take the time to read our blogs, our news posts, and get involved with our projects, relieving the suffering of the persecuted.
Because I am aware, I am equipped to do something about it.
As the body of Christ, I believe it is our mandate to care about such things. We are to be the hands and feet of Jesus to those who don’t know the good news and to our brothers and sisters who are suffering. That has been a mandate of mine since for a few years, when, during a time of prayer, I felt the Lord speak to me about those who are unable to speak up for themselves. I had a picture in my mind of a little abused girl who was standing alone in a corner crying. Jesus had his arms wrapped around her, but it was as if He was a ghost because she didn’t know he was there. He turned to scream over his shoulder, “Can I get some help over here?” It reminded me of an EMT being the first on the scene after a big accident, yelling over his shoulder for back up. But Jesus was there alone and no one was answering his call to be His arms around the girl, to rescue her. I knew He was asking me if I was willing to help.
The Spirit of the Lord is on me…to proclaim freedom for the captives. Isaiah 61:1 NIV