Sometimes, one of the hardest things to understand as a Christian is the reality of persecution. It instills fear, questions, and doubt. It causes many of us to shy away from sharing our faith, and even telling others we believe in Jesus. Yet, persecution for Christians is as certain as death. In fact, within many of the countries around the world, persecution of Christians is a way of life.
For some time now, ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and Syria) has been persecuting Christians within Iraq and Syria. More recently, believers in Jesus have been told by ISIS to either leave the area at once, convert to Islam, or die. Thousands of Christians have left, while thousands more have chosen to stay behind, eventually facing death. And ISIS has not been shy at making these deaths public. Men, women, and children are being beheaded, shot, and crucified for choosing Jesus over Islam. Today the city of Mosul has zero Christians left, where previously believers dominated the city for 1,800 years.
The persecution is very real. The faith of these Christians is being tested beyond our comprehension. And this type of persecution will only continue spreading throughout the world.
As leaders, then, how do we help our students (and congregations) to comprehend and come alongside of persecuted Christians?
Social media has played a major role is creating awareness about social issues around the world. Some of these things feel like a “fad” sometimes, in that a movement will start, create huge amounts of awareness and momentum, and then quickly fade as the next movement arises. While there are an overwhelming amount of social issues to take-on, we need to remember that they aren’t fads and God isn’t calling us to be a part of every movement. We should be involving ourselves with the things God lays fervently on our hearts.
However, there are some issues which God calls every believer to be a part of, such as caring for those in need and praying for those being persecuted (Hebrews 13:3, 16).
When it comes to Christian persecution:
- Regularly educate yourself and your students (churches). Two great sites for this are Voice of the Martyrs and Operation World. In regards to the Iraq situation specifically, here is a great resource by The New York Times.
- Who are the people being persecuted? How are they being persecuted? Show their pictures, where they live, and tell their stories to students. Help them see that persecution has a face and name.
- What does Jesus teach His followers about persecution? Three great places to start: Matthew 10:16-22, John 15:18-25, 16:33, and Acts 4:1-31.
- Are there people you could bring in to give first-hand experiences about persecution around the world?
In educating students and adults about worldwide persecution, help them to develop a compassion for their “brothers and sisters,” too:
- In the midst of persecution what is our view about God: Is He good? Is He near or distant?
- Put your students in the shoes of persecuted Christians (such as in Iraq), could they continue professing Christ? Why?
- What does it mean to be a Christian? How does where you live influence your faith?
- How is persecution in the USA the same and different in regards to other parts of the world?
- What are some practical things you can do to bring awareness and support to those being persecuted?
Prayer is powerful weapon … when used. Revival starts by praying. Growth happens and things begin to change when we pray. But if prayer is nonexistent, so is transformation.
- Teach your students how to pray for those being persecuted, and then provide them opportunity to pray.
- Teach them to remember Christians their age who are fighting for life simply because they’re Christians. (I wear a #PrayforWorkers band to remind me to pray for missionaries and the persecuted church.)
- Put up a bulletin board displaying areas of persecution, and pray for a specific area monthly. (VOM and Operation world provide such maps and resources.)
- Partner with other churches and ministries in your area around this issue.
We cannot stop persecution, Jesus is pretty clear that it will happen until He returns. However, we can help people not feel isolated because of persecution. We can make persecution “our” issue and not just “their” issue. We can be the Body of Christ we are called to be, and proclaim to the world: Jesus is worth living and dying for.
With you and for you,