Friday July 1, 2011
Responding to Persecution
A while back I drove with a friend, Alex, from New Delhi to the North of India. We drove past a number of car wrecks along the way and were thankful for God’s ongoing protection. As we drove along a straight stretch, we saw a man on a bicycle riding from a field onto the main road. A motorbike with two riders coming along the main road slammed into the cyclist full force and sent him flying. The two men on the motorbike turned out to be policemen. Alex stopped the car and went to see if he could help. I stayed in the car and had a strong sense that I should pray for protection. The cyclist lay lifeless on the road and the policemen got back on their motorbike and took off. Two people dragged the cyclist off to the side of the road and left him lying in the grass, never giving him another look. Someone suggested to my friend that we should take him to the hospital in our car. Alex said he only wanted to do that if a relative would come along, in order to provide the needed information. New onlookers came and asked what had happened. The situation seemed to grow increasingly tense. As Alex made his way back to the car a man asked him, “Are you a Christian?” Alex answered, “I’m a follower of Christ.” Then the man said, “I am the pastor of a nearby village you must go now, go, now, GO!” Why would he urge us so strongly to go? He realized the danger we were in by stopping to help a hurting man. Helping him would be interpreted as a sign of guilt and taking him to the hospital would have been equal to a confession. God used that pastor to protect us from getting blamed with something we had nothing to do with. Suddenly the parable of the Good Samaritan gained new significance.
In the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:29-37), Jesus answers the question of how to define “neighbour.” He does so by telling a story and asking the question “who shows themselves to be a neighbour?” Both a priest and a Levite avoided the injured man. A Samaritan traveling the same road saw the wounded man and felt compassion for him. He did not make any excuses but took action and responded to the needs present. It is taking action that constitutes the difference between pity and compassion. I recall one of my old bible teachers explaining it this way: “pity weeps and walks away but compassion comes to help and stays.”
Human suffering comes in many forms but the one that Scripture tells all Christians to expect is persecution for the sake of righteousness (2 Timothy 3:12). It is estimated that close to 230 million Christians in over 60 countries are suffering for their faith. This suffering calls for the Christian community to express its solidarity.
In talking with people here in the West, I frequently encounter several ideas as to why the persecution of Christians in other parts of the world is not really a topic of interest. Some of the most prevalent excuses are:
- Persecution is taking place far away from us and therefore does not impact us. Yes, there is persecution but not here.
- Persecution used to happen a long time ago but not anymore.
- Persecution does not happen in countries or cities that are “Christian.”
- Yes, there is persecution but the people that are suffering persecution are only nominal Christians. If they were strong believers, they would not be persecuted.
- There are many other things that are far more important and pressing to be concerned with.
Why should we care? Why should it matter to us that Christians suffer persecution? First of all God expects us to feel personally affected by the suffering of our brothers and sisters in Christ! The apostle Paul understands the church to be the body of Christ and he points to an interdependence of all Christians. An event that impacts one of its members calls for solidarity from all its other members (1 Cor. 12:26). Second, active participation in the suffering of others prepares us for what may yet lay ahead. God alone knows when and how our commitment to Jesus may be challenged. The commitment of persecuted Christians to Christ and their perseverance in difficult circumstances challenges us in our daily struggle to keep living God-centered lives.
What can we do? Participation in the suffering of others consists first of all of prayer. Many of those who are suffering persecution tell us that this is their most urgent need. They ask not for the relief from suffering but for the strength and ability to endure for the sake of Christ. Practical compassion forms another part of supporting the suffering and includes concrete spiritual, social, and political assistance.
Ongoing communication is crucial in providing believers with the opportunity to respond to the needs of their suffering brothers and sisters in Christ. This is why we seek to function as a communications channel between believers in various countries, enabling us to pray and support strategically.
Christians who have the privilege of living in countries that still enjoy religious liberty must not rest upon their success but must recognize that they enjoy freedom of religion only because others, Christians and non-Christians, have fought for it. As we read and hear of our brothers and sisters in Christ suffering persecution, let’s not just feel pity and walk on but let us live out compassion and respond to their needs.