Persecution and C4C
By Gary Fallesen, founding president, Climbing For Christ
I was returning from Mission: Nepal in April 2014. As soon as my 14-hour flight from Dubai touched down at JFK, I turned on my phone. Emails poured in. One was from a Climbing For Christ member and ministry partner in Pakistan. “I would like to update you with the great sorrow that my younger sister was kidnapped on the 6th of April,” our dear brother wrote. “After two days we got the phone call from an unknown number and unknown person to inform us that she is forcefully converted to ‘M’ and they convinced her forcefully to get married to the ‘M’ man. Now we could never do anything according to the Pakistani law except forget about her.” Nothing has been heard from or about our beautiful sister since that day.
Welcome to the world of the persecuted Christian.
Two years earlier, we’d sent our Tibetan missionary into an area where we were ministering in Tibetan China. It was the last we heard from him. While praying for our brother “Frank” (what we called him because we couldn’t pronounce his Tibetan name) on another mission trip across the border in Nepal, the Lord revealed to us that Frank was with Him. Frank had been martyred.
These are the harsh realities of living out our faith in Jesus.
In the Gospel of John (chapter 15, verses 19-21) Jesus told His followers: “You do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you. ‘No servant is greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also. They will treat you this way because of my name.”
“Who are you, Lord?” Saul asked in Acts 9:5. “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.”
The body of Christ — the church — is being raped and tortured today. Global persecution has never been greater. I’m going to introduce you to a few places in the world where persecution is on the rise.
What is persecution?
Phil Sabella of the International Christian Concern writes that persecution “takes on many different forms, ranging from physical torture to mental trauma and execution to financial destruction and destitution. In the most severe cases, people are viciously tortured and forced to recant their faith or die. In the less severe cases, Christians are boycotted and ridiculed because of their faith.”
Climbing For Christ has walked with some who are enduring rigorous persecution.
I have prayed in hiding with the only two Christ followers in a Hindu village in Nepal. In another Nepali village, we led a young man to Jesus (right in photo above) only to learn a few months later that he allegedly committed suicide. He’d been outspoken against the Hindu practices of his village and refused to participate in community events. He died from poisoning, and we do not believe it was by his own hand.
I have sat in darkness on a roof in Indonesia hearing the testimonies of two Muslim background believers from the Middle East, who gave up everything (family, home, position, job) to gain more than the world could offer. They asked me to pray for them to be empowered to witness to others.
That’s why we’re here: to pray for the persecuted. Not for the persecution to end, but for the church to realize God’s will in the face of it.
James, the brother of Jesus, wrote: “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything” (James 1:2-4).
Faith grows in persecution.
In Indonesia, one Christian spoke about Muslim attacks and the result: “Because we’re being persecuted, the more you press us, the bigger our faith becomes.” That means, the church grows in the face of persecution.
We pray not only for those being persecuted, but for those doing the persecution. Jesus told us: “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matthew 5:44).
Who are our persecutors?
Three of the biggest sources of opposition to the Way:
Today, we are going to pray for China, for Southeast Asian countries with a culture of persecution, and for seven countries impacted by Islam. One of those is Nigeria.
- Communism. In China, we have sat with nationals forced to watch nightly documentaries on evolution. They have been brainwashed for generations.
- Southeast Asian Culture. The power of community can be overwhelming. We have led people to Christ time and time again, only to hear how the village where they live has turned on them and forced them to recant.
- Islam. Jeff King, the president of the International Christian Concern, was speaking to us at The Bridge: Conference on the Persecuted Church in July. “Islam is intimately connected with persecution,” he said. “Islam is a system; it’s a trap. Anyone who comes in with the truth is killed.” Brother Rachid, a Muslim background believer from Morocco whose satellite TV show (called Daring Questions) has helped lead more than 150,000 lost souls to Jesus, says: “I hate Islam. We have the right to hate false doctrines. We love people. We should distinguish between doctrine and people. Jesus loved sinners, he didn’t love sin.”
Koma Hills, Nigeria.
Open Doors, a ministry that serves the persecuted, reported the following:
Christians in northern Nigeria have suffered severely from physical attacks resulting in the destruction of churches, houses and shops. Thousands of believers have been badly injured, many macheteed to death, some burnt alive, and even more shot dead.Another story from International Christian Concern:
Despite all that has happened in northern Nigeria, the Body of Christ is not discouraged, declaring instead they are willing to continue carrying the cross. One Christian articulated their commitment, “We will be steadfast to the end.”
Another leader declared, “They destroyed our church buildings, houses and business centers, but the good Lord is comforting us. The Christians are growing in strength and total submission to God. Our challenge now is how to rebuild our churches and continue with the fellowship to encourage each other.”
The affected families of pastors and church members have gone through unimaginable hardship, after all they labored for, all their lives, was destroyed within minutes. Many families were left unattended, while some were able to move to refugee camps. Others are living under trees with their children, gazing at their destroyed houses and life belongings, shedding tears and calling for help in this desperate situation.
A lady who was crying inconsolably said, “I have nowhere to go. All I have labored for is gone. I cannot afford to feed my children, and life is difficult. I almost gave up, but I will continue to wait on God to come to my rescue.”
“It is difficult to fathom the scale of destruction, but we have accepted it in good faith,” said one pastor’s wife who had lost her home. “It is nothing short of the fulfillment of the Gospel. We love these Muslims even though they hate us. They are not our enemies. We are only against the person behind their actions. We so much pray that they change their ways and accept Christ, so that we will rejoice together when we get to heaven.”
The believers in the affected areas are now confronted with the challenge of how to rebuild their churches and lives, while facing the call of sharing love and total forgiveness.
A pastor who lost his church building commented, “We are always ready to pay the price for our faith. This added strength to our faith, there’s no going back. We are going to encourage our people to see this from God’s perspective. We want the world to know that what has happened in northern Nigeria…is even beyond politics. It is purely religious, and we need your prayers.
“Christ was rejected here on earth to the point that they crucified him on the cross for our sins; therefore, no amount of sacrifice for Christ would be too much. All we can do now is pray for the aggressors, because they do not know what they are doing. We will be steadfast to the end.”
At 1:30 in the morning, shouts began to echo off the walls of a rural village in Borno, a district in Nigeria’s northeastern corner. Muslims from the jihadist terrorist group Boko Haram, armed with AK-47s, began to pour into the village screaming, “Allahu Akbar,” an Islamic phrase meaning “God is great.” These armed Muslims quickly stormed the local church and burned it to the ground. Then they began to go door to door, giving each person a choice: Renounce Christ and convert to Islam or take a bullet to the head.Let’s turn to Proverbs 31:8-9. As we look at this passage from Scripture, I want you to realize that believers in more than 53 countries cannot legally read the Bible. If they are caught they could be arrested, tortured, even killed. Let’s appreciate the freedom we have as we read Proverbs 31:8-9:
During this raid, 5,000 people were able to escape the village. Philip and his elderly father were two of them. He and the others fled to a mountain a few miles away from the village and hid in caves. Boko Haram quickly surrounded the mountain and began to starve them out. After four days, Boko Haram advanced. They sent troops to one side of the mountain and bombed the other side in an effort to destroy the remaining Christian presence in the area. Philip said that the Christians hiding in caves decided to try to flee. Philip picked up his elderly father in his arms and ran down the mountain, dodging bullets and mortars. Halfway through the escape, Philip could no longer carry his father. His father told him that if he carried him any further they would both die. He told Philip to leave him behind and live. So Philip made the hardest decision of his life. That was the last time he saw his father.
“Speak up for those who cannot speak up for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute. Speak up and judge fairly, defend the rights of the poor and needy.”
We have been told, “If one member suffers, all suffer together” (1 Cor. 12:26, ESV). May we share in the suffering of many, many brothers and sisters in Christ today as we lift them in prayer.
Thank you for feeling the burden for the persecuted church. Pray on!