“We are writing to ask you for urgent prayer,” wrote an ICC-supported pastor in a heavily persecuted country earlier this month. “I am receiving threatening phone calls from an unknown number… He says he is a Muslim and I am Jesus’ follower and they will bomb my house.”
Another email arrived from the same pastor two days later: “The phone calls continued this morning… the guy on the phone knew my name and my birth city and [the] major events of my life in the past years. I have no doubt that this is from the Taliban.”
Pastors and evangelists ministering the world’s most persecuted regions—including those that ICC supports in Somalia, Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Iran, among other countries—have learned what it means to “take up [their] cross daily and follow [Jesus]” (Luke 9:23). For them, to follow Christ comes at a great cost, yet it is their privilege to suffer, as He has suffered, for the sake of the Gospel.
“We believe our Savior is big enough to protect us from evil people,” the pastor continued. “If His will for us is to die we are ready. But we know that we are serving the King of Kings and we trust His character and want His will in our life. Please continue to pray for our protection, discernment and wisdom.”
These Christians are on the front-lines to be a light in the darkness and to proclaim the Good News to the helpless and hurting. And, in the face of immense persecution, the church is seeing tremendous growth. In Iran, for example, ICC-supported ministers reported that 13 new houses churches were started in the past three months and at least 28 Muslims accepted Jesus as their Lord and Savior.
“We’re moving forward and talking to people daily,” said an ICC-supported Iranian pastor. “This month alone, we had over 20 people come to Christ. Although people are very scared and timid to talk to strangers, God has given us a strategy to talk to many people about Him and people are responding!”
The underground church is the heart and soul of transformation in Iran and many other Islamic nations. Churches throughout the region are flourishing and quickly multiplying. This is a grassroots level ministry that will ultimately have some of the greatest impact of all that we do.
Saturday was a day of celebration for Christians and religious rights advocates around the world. Rimsha Masih, a 14-year-old Christian girl with mental disabilities, was flown to a secure location after spending nearly three weeks in jail on false blasphemy charges. And, Iranian pastor Youcef Nadarkhani—who was to be executed for his conversion to Christianity—was finally freed. Our voices were heard and our prayers were answered.
We must not be fooled, however, in thinking the views of those who put Rimsha and Youcef in prison have changed. As one article headline put it: Rescue of Christian Girl May Be Turning Point in Abuse of Blasphemy Law. But, was this really a “turning point”? Or, do the oppressor’s motives remain the same, only to have succumbed this one time to international pressure?
In Pakistan, numerous Christians and other religious minorities, mainly Ahmadis, linger in prison for allegedly blaspheming Islam. Among them is Asia Bibi, a young Christian mother sentenced to death by hanging for blasphemy in November 2010. Two of her closest advocates, Salmaan Taseer, the governor of Punjab, and Shahbaz Bhatti, Pakistan’s sole Christian cabinet minister, were assassinated for publicly opposing the laws that condemned her. Where is her justice?
In Iran, there are at least 16 Christians imprisoned for their faith, not to mention the hundreds of nameless Muslims that far outnumber Christians in the country’s jails for opposing the oppressive regime. Among them is Behnam Irani, a pastor suffering from stomach ulcers and being denied treatment. Where is his justice?
The release of two Christians last week was a great victory for the individuals and their families; in that we can rejoice. But, do not forget that thousands of prisoners of conscious, convicted for nothing more than their religious affiliation or political views, have yet to see justice.
When Christians rise up in defense of the persecuted Church, there is freedom. Your prayers, your advocacy, and your voices are heard. Please continue to be vigilant in prayer for Christians in Pakistan, Iran, and throughout the world who suffer discrimination, abuse, imprisonment, and even death for no other reason than following Jesus.
To support the persecuted church through assistance, advocacy, and awareness, visit Persecution.org. Sign our petitions to raise your voice for the persecuted Church.
The Closing of GPDI Kampung Bangun Sari – Tanjung Pinang, Indonesia
Living amongst 200 million Muslims, Christians in Indonesia have long been used to being the minority. But in the last year, the country has seen a growing list of churches forcibly shut down by the government after protests from Muslims in the community. Many of these churches existed for years without a problem, but it appears that radical Islamic groups have gained significant ground in a focused campaign to protest the very existence of Christian places of worship wherever possible. Behind each church closure is a unique story, and for the last several months a local ICC representative has been visiting those churches, collecting what would otherwise be the untold stories of Indonesia’s closing churches. Below is the second in a small series of these stories, shedding light on the plight of Christian’s in Indonesia that most in the English speaking world have never heard of.
The Kampung Bangun Sari Pentecostal Church in Indonesia (GPDI is its Indonesian acronym) was founded by Pastor Faragi Harita, and had been a vital part of the village since 1992. For more than a decade, the church lived harmoniously within the Muslim-majority community. Over the years, the congregation grew to nearly 300 members comprised of adults, youth and children who would meet regularly in their permanent church building, which they built in 1995.
Ten years later in 2005, a staunch and radical Muslim man moved into the area and started to build an Islamic boarding school and mosque right in front of GPDI church. Later on, this man became one of the leaders of a fast growing radical organization that has been responsible for the closing and burning of church buildings, and even the killing of many Christians. This organization is called Front Pembela Islam or the Islamic Defenders front, known by its acronym, FPI.
Using the influence as the leader of one of the most daring Islamic organizations, he began to stir and sow seeds of hatred toward the church and its members, while at the same time pushing the Islamic community and its leaders to reject the presence of the Christian church in their area. Sixteen years after the hard work of Pastor Faragi Harita had been planted, the church doors were sealed by the local government, thanks to pressure from the Islamic Defenders Front and local Muslim community.
Knowing that what they had done was not ethical, the local government has been facilitating the congregation by letting them use a room in a nearby hotel. The government has tried to move the church to a different area, with the hopes that they could resume their worship in peace, but the existing community there also rejected the presence of the Christian church. Hence the church members are still not sure when this situation will come to an end.
In spite of this situation, the pastor told ICC that church members are still faithful and are praying that one day they will be able to go back to their church building and worship there or possibly even build a new building in a new place. In order to this, the church will have to obtain proper licensing from the government and somehow get permission from the local community where they wish to build.
– ICC note: This process can be almost impossible in some parts of Indonesia, forcing churches to either meet in homes or operate illegally. Please keep the GPDI church and Pastor Faragi Harita in your prayers today.
The Closing of HKBP Kaliabang Perwire – Bekasi
By Ryan Morgan
Living amongst 200 million Muslims, Christians in Indonesia have long been used to being the minority. But in the last year, the country has seen a growing list of churches forcibly shut down by the government after protests from Muslims in the community. Many of these churches existed for years without a problem, but it appears that radical Islamic groups have gained significant ground in a focused campaign to protest the very existence of Christian places of worship wherever possible. Behind each church closure is a unique story, and for the last month a local ICC representative has been visiting those churches, collecting what would otherwise be the untold stories of Indonesia’s closing churches. Below is the second in a small series of these stories, shedding light on the plight of Christian’s in Indonesia that most in the English speaking world have never heard of.
Not far from the GKRI church that has been closed by the local government of Bekasi, another church, HKBP Kaliabang Perwira Church was also sealed due to the resentment of the community around the church. The HKBP Kaliabang Perwira church is now pastored by a young Rev. Hotman Sitorus.
As we sit down and talked together, Rev. Hotman told me that the congregation has not been able to worship in the church. Hence they hold their Sunday services within the church compound. He remembered how the congregation was even excited as they held the Holy Communion service in the church compound that Sunday. The congregation said, “Wow, we feel like having a party!”
Every Sunday, some policemen will guard the church service.
Rev. Hotman recalled how one time he was faced with a very difficult situation just before they had their services on Sunday. While the service was about to start, the about 1,500 Muslim people gathered armed and ready to attack the church. He had to act swiftly otherwise there could be chaos. Finally, the rev. told the congregation to go home peacefully and not to be provoked by their Muslim neighbors.
Even today, the pastor and the congregation still believe that one day God will open the door for them to be able to hold their service and ministry in the church again.
In Iran’s 1979 revolution, many Iranians believed that an Islamic-based government would offer the reforms and freedoms they had long sought under the Shah. Thirty-three years later, however, Iranians have grown disillusioned as their government has plunged them into economic stagnation and has isolated them from the international community. Though massive protests have thus far failed to grant Iranians the freedoms they desire, idleness and hardship have led many Iranians to seek answers outside of Islam. Thousands are now finding hope in the Christian faith, but not without great cost.
Religious freedom violations committed against Iranian Christians began in 2012 in the same manner that marked the end of 2011 – with mass arrests, lengthy prison terms, and potential executions. In February alone, eleven Christians were arrested; their health and circumstances unknown. Another Christian, Leila Mohammadi, was issued a two-year prison sentence for “deceiving citizens by forming house churches,” among other charges. The recent wave of arrests, beginning with a raid on the Assembly of God Church in Ahwaz in late-December, signifies that a renewed crackdown on Christians may be underway.
Christians Arrested in Church Raids
In the latest incident, Iranian security forces raided a house church meeting in a residential building in Shiraz. According to sources in Iran, ten Christian converts from Islam were detained, Bibles were confiscated, and the homes of those arrested were thoroughly searched for Christian literature.
Among those arrested were a family of three, including a 17-year-old boy and Mojtaba Hosseini, who was imprisoned once before along with eight other Christians in May 2008. The detainees have been unable to contact their families and their location remains unknown.
On the same day, Maasis Mosesian, an Armenian Christian and elder at Narmak Jama’at-e Rabbani Church in Tehran, an affiliate of the Assemblies of God church (AG), was arrested at his workplace and taken to Rajai Shahr Prison in Karaj. Like those in Shiraz, Mosesian has been denied visitations with his family.
Mosesian’s arrest was not the first time members of AG churches were detained in recent months. On December 23, state security raided the AG church in Ahvaz and arrested everyone in attendance, including children.
“The authorities herded the entire congregation, including children, into two buses that had been brought specifically for this purpose,” Christian Solidarity Worldwide reported. “The majority were interrogated, threatened and eventually released. However, the church’s senior pastor, Pastor Farhad, remains in detention.”
Pastor Farhad Sabokroh along with two other church members, Naser Zamen-Defzuli and Davoud Alijani, are reportedly being held in Ahwaz’s Karoun Prison. Prior to his arrest, Pastor Farhad underwent cataract surgery, but does not have access to the medication he needs in prison. Farhad’s wife – who was also arrested and released on January 1 after submitting the deed to their house as bail – has since visited her husband in prison and is very concerned about his health.
While most churches targeted by Iranian authorities are not registered with the government and consist of Muslim converts to Christianity, the AG church in Ahwaz is officially recognized. Nevertheless, Pastor Farhad has been detained on several occasions in the past and was warned not to allow Christian converts into his congregation.
On January 18, Leila Mohammadi, was given a two-year prison sentence by the Revolutionary Court in Tehran for “collaborating with foreign-dependent groups, broad anti-Islamic propaganda, deceiving citizens by forming house churches, insulting sacred figures and acting against national security.” Mohammadi was arrested at her home on July 30, 2011 and was held for 74 days in solitary confinement at Tehran’s Evin prison before being released on bail. After the verdict was issued, sources said that Mohammadi’s attorney sent the case to Tehran Province’s high court for review.
While Mohammadi was issued the first known prison term for being a Christian by an Iranian court in 2012, many other Christians remain behind bars, serving long-term sentences following arrests in previous years.
Noorollah Qabitizade and Farshid Fathi, both arrested during Christmas and New Year’s celebrations in 2010, have now spent over a year in prison.
Qabitizade (left) is being held at Karoun prison in Ahwaz and has reportedly been under severe psychological pressure. Fathi is being held at Evin prison in Tehran and is scheduled to appear in court in the coming weeks.
Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani – arrested in 2009 for denouncing Iran’s educational practice of requiring children to read the Quran in public schools – is on death row for apostasy. In December, the Iranian judiciary decided to delay Nadarkhani’s final verdict for up to one year following aggressive international pressure. While in prison, Nadarkhani has been struck by authorities during frequent interrogations and placed in solitary confinement for extended periods of time. Nadarkhani has also reportedly been given materials aimed at discrediting the Bible and propagating Islam in hopes that Nadarkhani will renounce his Christian faith.
Behnam Irani, who belongs to the same denomination as Nadarkhani, the Church of Iran, has been in prison in Karaj since May 2011. In January 2011, a court found Irani (below) guilty of “crimes against national security” and sentenced him to one year in prison. Irani is also serving a five-year sentence that was handed down during a previous arrest in 2008. Irani has been beaten by fellow inmates in prison.
A Glimmer of Hope
The arrests and sentences mentioned indicate merely a few of the numerous Christians and other minorities – mainly from the Bahá’í faith – that are imprisoned for nothing more than their religious beliefs. Although far less severe, some churches in Iran – while unharmed by raids – face other forms of discrimination. On February 10, the Ministry of Intelligence and Security ordered Emmanuel Protestant Church and St. Peter Evangelical Church in Tehran to stop holding Farsi language services. If the churches comply, there will no longer be services offered in Farsi in any officially registered church in Tehran. The AG Church in Tehran was ordered to cease their Farsi services in October 2009.
However, despite church crackdowns, mass arrests, long-term prison sentences, and a potential execution for apostasy, Iranian Christians continue to worship in secret and share their faith somewhat openly.
“On the ground, we’re moving forward and talking to people daily. This month alone, we had over twenty people come to Christ,” an Iranian church leader, who requested anonymity, told ICC in December. “Persecution is on the rise daily and inside has become more and more volatile. People are scared of the Iranian government. They’ve filled the streets with undercover officers to entrap people who speak against the government.”
Whereas anti-Christian crackdowns appear to be used to discourage the church, some speculate that Iranian officials realize that the opposite is true. Nonetheless, officials are still intent on persecuting the church.
“The issue has little to do with perceptions of how Christianity might respond, but rather with the obligation under Islamic doctrine to put and keep [non-Muslims] in their ‘place’ within Muslim society,” Clare Lopez, a senior fellow with the Center for Security Policy, told World Net Daily. “The forces of Sharia Islam are in the ascendant all over the Middle East these days and with the new-found sense of empowerment combined with what is perceived as Western complicity and weakness in the face of that situation, it is to be expected that all religious minorities, especially Christians and Jews, increasingly will feel the brutality of Islamic supremecism.”
While it appears that a renewed crackdown on Christianity is underway, the church remains undeterred. “Iranian church leaders have accepted persecution and are using it to their advantage,” an Iranian pastor told ICC. “In fact, the church is thriving under persecution.”
When officers from China’s Jiangsu Province Municipal Public Security Bureau travelled nearly 400 miles from their home base on a special trip to arrest Pastor Shi Enhao, few could have thought it would turn out well. The fifty five year old Pastor had committed the “crime” of holding “illegal meetings and illegally organizing venues for religious meetings”. This criminal offense was not severe enough under Chinese law to warrant a trial, but just bad enough to be sentenced to two years of forced labor.
This sentence, which can be handed out by the police in China without even needing to charge the suspect, would put Pastor Enhao (left) in a labor camp alongside perpetrators of other “minor” crimes such as prostitutes, petty thieves, and small time drug traffickers.
However the imprisonment and forced labor, up to 19 hours a day of it, would be anything but minor. Just a few years ago, another house church pastor had collapsed, vomiting on the floor of a labor camp, only to be ignored by the prison guards until he died. In that case the prison simply stated that the pastor, only a year older than Shi Enhao, had died of natural causes. To make matters worse, an investigation of China’s labor camps in 2006 by Western lawyers reported on the likelihood that political prisoners were being allowed to die or even killed in the camps in order for China to harvest and sell their organs.
For Pastor Shi Enhao, who comes from a family with four generations of service to China’s Christian church, and who is the deputy director of the Chinese House Church Alliance, the arrest was not necessarily a surprise. His arrest would be followed by a surge of pressure on his church to close its doors permanently. Leaders were repeatedly detained and released while church property, from $22,160 in offerings to the church vehicle and choir robes, was confiscated.
It was during this time that ICC began sending regular support to Pastor Shi Enhao’s family. Pastor Enhao’s 86 year old mother needed 24hr a day care, even as his wife, son, and three daughters were being threatened by police. ICC also posted news of Pastor Shi Enhao’s story on its website in an effort with other organizations to draw attention to his plight.
It came than as a sudden and palpable feeling of relief when word arrived in January that Pastor Enhao has been unexpectedly released. Not only did he serve just six months of his two year sentence, but Chinese officials failed to even have an explanation for why he was released, saying only that his case would need “further investigation”. Today Pastor Shi Enhao is at home with his family, and there can be no doubt that the prayers and attention his case received played a major role in getting him there.
However the battle is not over. The pressure on Pastor Shi Enhao and the Chinese House Church Alliance will almost certainly continue, and there are more Christians like Pastor Enhao who remain locked away in China’s labor camps because of their love for Christ and their unwillingness to attend a government controlled church. For our persecuted brothers and sisters in China the support they receive from outside is not only helpful, but life changing.
Pastor Umar Mulinde, 37, was a sheikh (Islamic teacher) in Uganda. He was committed to his Islamic faith, studying the Qur’an and other Islamic books. His life was transformed when he gave his life to Jesus Christ after hearing the gospel when he was a university student. After powerfully encountering the love of Jesus Christ, Pastor Umar became involved in preaching the gospel to Muslims. His knowledge of the Qur’an enabled him to openly debate against Islam. He was also open in his opposition to the Sharia law in Uganda.
His outspokenness and conversion from Islam drew criticism from many Muslims, including a leading Islamic leader in Uganda who began calling for Pastor Umar’s death.
According to Compass Direct News, Pastor Umar was attacked after he finished conducting a week-long revival meeting. A man called his name, and when the pastor turned to talk to him, he poured acid on the pastor’s face. The attacker shouted, “Allahu Akbar!” as he fled the scene of the attack. The acid burn affected 30% of the pastor’s face and blinded one of his eyes (above). Due to the severity of the damages, the pastor was taken to Israel where he is currently receiving medical treatment.
Speaking to ICC from Israel, Pastor Umar said, “The persecution because of the name of the Lord is real and it is happening to different people around the world. Those who have their freedoms, [should] be supporting [the persecuted] because people are persecuted for Christ. …The enemy is very determined. The believers should also be determined to raise the flag and defend the name of the Lord.”
Please keep Pastor Umar and his family in your prayers. Please pray for recovery for the pastor. The pastor and his wife have six children, the youngest being three-year-old twin boys. The pastor’s wife is currently with him in Israel. Please pray for their children as they are without their parents while their father undergoes treatment.
Here at International Christian Concern, we at times find ourselves working tirelessly to defend fellow brothers and sisters in Christ whom we have never met living in countries we have never been to. We remember Jesus’ promise to those who feed the hungry, clothe the naked, and visit the sick and the persecuted: “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me” (Matt 25:41). We find joy in helping fellow believers and come to the realization, as I shared with a house fellowship of Indian immigrants in Qatar last week, that we are all equal and co-heirs with Christ in God’s kingdom (Rom 8:17). “There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for [we] are all one in Christ Jesus” (Gal 3:28). Our shared oneness in the body of Christ compels us to bear one another’s burdens regardless of the trials or tribulations that may follow.
This foundational teaching is sometimes forgotten by God’s children, even among those sent by churches in the West to represent Christ in the lands of the persecuted. One brother in Christ, Said Musa, was imprisoned nine months in Afghanistan before being released. The news of his circumstance was kept secret for five of those months until a courageous few – despite the disapproval of persuasive Christian expatriates in the country – decided to publicize his plight. Once public, the international community took notice and pushed their governments to act. The international pressure eventually led to Musa’s release last February. Meanwhile, Musa had been abused, raped, sleep deprived, mocked, and spat upon as he waited patiently in his prison cell for help.
Our Security in Heaven
While some Christian aid workers in Afghanistan wrote private letters appealing to the U.S. embassy in Kabul and other government agencies to assist Musa, they determined not to draw attention to the case and demanded that others follow their lead. They neither spoke to the public about Musa’s imprisonment nor visited him in prison, afraid that any connection to the case could jeopardize their work. Meanwhile, Musa and other Afghan believers both in Kabul and in the refugee community of New Delhi, India, pleaded with foreigners to raise awareness and advocate on their behalf. The Afghan church sought the prayers of the international church and wanted their sufferings to be known. Yet only a few heeded their words.
“Our security is in heaven, yet many trusted more in human security than what the Lord promised us,” a Christian couple in Kabul, who were the only foreigners to visit Musa in prison, told ICC. “When Musa was arrested, people were afraid. When we tried to get help, one organization said, ‘We are not going to let our project be jeopardized, or our presence for forty years in Afghanistan, for one person.’ It broke our hearts completely to hear that from a Christian. Musa is not a nobody; he’s our brother in Christ. He’s an Afghan brother, like you and me. For us, we had no choice. Of course our NGO is in danger. Of course our life is in danger. Of course we may get in very much trouble. Of course! But we felt we had no other choice.”
“When we visited [Musa] in prison, I was trembling,” the couple continued. “I can tell you, my heart was beating and I put on a veil – I’ve never put a veil on in Kabul – but I put on a veil because I was very, very scared. But when we saw him, all the people were shouting [obscenities at Musa for his apostasy] and it broke my heart. But even though I was very afraid, I would go again. It’s our duty. We thought we just cannot let him rot and be killed in prison.”
The couple approached many human rights agencies, including Musa’s fifteen year employer, the Red Cross, but were told time and again that a Muslim conversion to Christianity is a highly sensitive issue in Afghanistan and they would not intervene.
Regardless of fear and inaction, God carried out His perfect plan by keeping Musa in prison so that other Afghans may also know Him. During his imprisonment, Musa shared the Gospel with and witnessed the salvation of at least four fellow inmates.
“Two guys were addicted to opium,” Musa said of two prisoners chained next to him. “Their hands were in the chain. The commander tied them beside me in the corridor. He told me, Musa you are a true man, you are a right man, don’t let them smoke opium or hashish. I said, ‘I’m not a good man, God is good, but I will advise them.’ [The prisoners] spoke to me little by little. ‘Musa, I did many right things in Islam. I read the Quran, I prayed, but my life has become a bad thing. Despite everything I did, everything bad happened to my life.’ I told them, ‘If you want eternal life, if you want to become good, then you believe in Jesus, the Son of God.’ And I spoke to them little by little, and both of them believed in Jesus.
“For me it was amazing. We spoke about the Holy Bible and I prayed for them. And they became really good men. When they left the jail, we hugged each other and they said, ‘Musa, I will become really sad about you. You are a good friend to me. A good advisor. You are now my brother.’”
Though some foreigners in Afghanistan were afraid to publicly condemn Musa’s arrest or defend his religious rights, Musa on the other hand was openly sharing the Gospel to Muslims in a Kabul prison! He was not afraid of death but considered it his duty and joy to preach the Good News.
“We should suffer for our faith, because our Lord has suffered,” Musa said. “To speak the truth is better because the light is always over the shadow. I told my brothers and sisters in Afghanistan that they should be encouraged because the Holy Spirit is always with them. Jesus is always with them. If they kill me or others it doesn’t matter because it’s for our faith in Jesus.”
While Christian humanitarian organizations working in countries ‘closed’ to the Gospel hope that their actions, love, and words will lead nationals to Christ, they must also consider how they plan to respond when a national who comes to faith is arrested or in danger. Will they visit their brother or sister in prison, or hide to protect their humanitarian aid projects or their own neck? Is one brother’s life worth more than aid work that may save hundreds? And, if it was a western expatriate rather than a national who was arrested, would the organization react any differently? Some argue that the Bible does not grant us the liberty to decide whether or not we should attend to the needs of our brethren, but simply commands us to “do good to all people, and especially to those who are of the household of the faith (Gal 6:10).”
ICC is often confronted by this dilemma as well – whether to speak out on behalf of injustice against national believers or remain quiet to protect the work of Christian aid organizations or missionaries inside the country. We have at times honored the requests of missionaries on the ground, but we have also been the ones to take a stand for the persecuted when they are begging us to assist them against the wishes of missionary organizations. We seek to serve both communities, but ultimately we know that every situation is different and we strive to seek and follow the counsel of the Lord in each instance.
Nonetheless, all of us must ask ourselves whether we will stand boldly for the name of Christ by defending our persecuted brethren even until death, or if we will cower in the face of oppression and injustice and persecution. Musa has made his choice.
“What great rewards for me if I am crucified on my cross… Please do not be afraid for the Lord is with us,” he wrote from prison on December 1, 2010.
Scripture exhorts us to “encourage the exhausted and strengthen the feeble” (Isaiah 35:3) and to “strengthen the hands that are weak and the knees that are feeble” (Hebrews 12:12). As a persecution ministry, this is obviously a part of our mandate, but with so many exhausted, weak, and feeble . . . where do we start?
I believe the Father gives us a clue in the instructions he gives to Moses prior to his death, “Charge Joshua, encourage him and strengthen him, for he shall go across at the head of this people” (Deuteronomy 3:28).
The Father’s plan for Israel’s success was to exhort Moses to encourage and strengthen Joshua – the godly leader who would go at the head of the people. Last year, we sent a pastor who is gifted in encouraging exhausted and weak leaders into a Muslim stronghold area in Africa to implement exactly this strategy. He told us something that really solidified this vision for us: “Touch a pastor, you’ll touch a church. Touch a church, you’ll touch a city. Touch a city, you’ll touch a nation.”
Pastor Greg spent four days training, strengthening, and encouraging 2000 pastors and key church leaders that we had gathered from 19 different denominations and 21 towns and villages. The pastors had arrived at the training weary and battered from continual persecution from radical Islamists, many of them ready to give up their calling. One of the pastors told us, “Mere words cannot fully express the unspeakable impact of the four days of training. My life and ministry vision is totally refreshed.”
The revival in the hearts of the pastors spilled over into three days of ministry to around 20,000 people from around the region. The team estimated that on the first night, about 90% of those in attendance were under 25 and 40% accepted Christ – including former Muslims who knew they were risking their lives to take such a stand. More than 2,000 rushed into a soccer field one night to pray for the baptism of the Holy Spirit.
One of the church leaders told Pastor Greg that the ministry to the pastors alone probably impacted an additional 20,000 people in their home churches.
“Our region is known for famine and drought, but today we have seen the fresh visitation from the Lord touching our lives and region,” said a senior government official. After the trip, we learned from our partners on the ground that the “visitation” the official spoke of had continued. Town drunks were actually stumbling into churches in the region asking what they must do to be saved!
In our line of work, touching pastors is touching the men and women on the front lines of persecution who literally lay down their lives for their flocks. This kind of ministry is enabling pastors who are faltering in their calling to return to their suffering congregations and encourage them to continue “rejoicing in hope” and “persevering in tribulation” (Romans 12:12). We are strengthening the weak hands and feeble knees of those who will strengthen the church, and in turn, the nations.