It is a sad fact, a reality we wish did not exist. People worldwide are discriminated against because of their faith. Among them, Christians are probably the biggest group, with an estimated 100 to 150 million persons affected. And there is no improvement on the horizon — quite the opposite! In some parts of the world, such as the Middle East, discrimination and persecution have become more severe. In other parts, like Africa, new regions are affected. Even in countries like Mexico or Argentina severe incidents were noted. The widely accepted Word Watch List reports that both the severity and the geographical widening of persecution have increased. Even Pope Francis commented on the issue, saying that he is convinced the persecution against Christians today is stronger than in the first centuries of the Church.
When we hear these things, we immediately ask ourselves: What can we do as individuals? What can we do as churches? Can we do anything at all? The Bible also speaks about Christians who were suffering, and there is hope and comfort in those verses. But we cannot read them without being challenged in our faith and feeling a certain duty.
REMEMBER THE SUFFERING CHURCH
We live in a fast-living society. Things that are important today do not matter tomorrow or after a short time. In such an environment, it is at times difficult to keep things in mind that are more important than short-lived news. To remember the suffering church is important because the Bible clearly commands us not to forget them. Besides the hardship persecuted Christians have to bear, there is nothing more discouraging for them than being forgotten. As we all know, nothing makes a terrible situation more difficult than the feeling that no one cares about it, or worse, even thinks about it. This is particularly true for those who suffer because of their faith. The churches in areas of the world where followers of Christ enjoy religious liberty should do everything they can to keep the suffering church in mind and heart.
There are a number of ways we can do so. The most important of all is prayer. Prayer brought a strong encouragement to the apostle Paul when he was in prison, as we can read in Philippians. If we regularly pray for the suffering church in our private prayer life as well as in the church, we will not forget our brothers and sisters easily.
In order to be able to pray, we also need to be informed. It has never been easier to get information from around the world than today. A number of well-recognized organizations provide useful information about the suffering church. They are only a mouse click away and can be found on the Internet. One of these organizations is Christian Solidarity Worldwide. CEO Mervyn Thomas is a member of the WAGF Commission on Religious Liberty. To regularly inform our local churches about the reality of believers in hardship is a powerful tool to remind us of critical situations and a constant motivation to pray for those needs.
We can also give. We can support churches, denominations and organizations that have a recognized ministry to the suffering church. Persecuted Christians and churches, as well as families of imprisoned persons, have great needs. Places of worship must be rebuilt or relocated, financial pressures on families must be solved, ministries to refugee camps or to traumatized children are vital. To give is another way to remember these people and to show our care for them.
Then we can spread the news about the reality of the suffering church. We should speak about the crisis and share reports with others to keep the subject alive! Stories and experiences inspire faith and commitment not only in those who are persecuted but also in those who are not. As pastors we can dedicate a service to the suffering church and preach about the biblical principles connected to the often-neglected aspect of suffering.
We can also advocate on behalf of the suffering church. This is done by specialists who lobby various governments and institutions that guard the rights to religious freedom on behalf of those who are denied such rights. Churches and individuals can give their support to organizations such as Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW), a Christian group working for religious freedom through advocacy and human rights in the pursuit of justice. WAGF Chairman Dr. George O. Wood has intervened personally on behalf of the WAGF churches to governments that do not guarantee religious liberty.
To be engaged in the theme of religious liberty is more than just fulfilling a task. It is a commitment to contend for the freedom of conscience, the freedom of expression of opinion, and the freedom of belief. There are a number of theological and biblical reasons to do this. Let’s pray, be informed, give, speak about the suffering church, and offer meaningful assistance. Suffering members of the body of Christ must not be forgotten. They need our help and support.