Sunday, November 12, 2006

Our Suffering Brothers and Sisters: The Persecuted Church

Pray & Read Hebrews 11:35-39
Opening thought:Today is the International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church. When we think of martyrs the picture comes to mind of Christians being eaten in the Roman arenas of the first century. Not many of us associate this word with believers today. Most of the people who have internet access have grown up in a free society where attending church was as normal as going to school. But this isn't the case for our brothers and sisters throughout the world. Believers living in Communist and Islamic countries are being imprisoned, enslaved, tortured and martyred daily.

Jesus tells us in Matthew 24 that one of the signs of the last days will be an increase in the persecution of believers. I believe that we are seeing this sign fulfilled before our very eyes. There have been more martyrs in the 20th century than in all previous centuries combined. This persecution is increasing. It may seem like there has been a great advancement in stopping the persecution with the fall of communism; and it is true that believers in many of these former Communist countries have much more freedom to practice their faith than they had ever had before. But we can see the storm clouds starting to form on the horizon.

What if this happened to YOU?Imagine looking over your shoulder because you are studying a Bible, or worshipping in church. Imagine that if you are caught, you could be jailed, beaten, or even killed. To millions of Christians around the world, this is the stark reality.
Christians are persecuted dailyFor instance, in China there is a crack down on unregistered house churches, disrupting worship, and arresting their leaders.

In parts of Central Asia where the state religion is mandated, Christians are considered traitors to their country and their families. Family members are beaten, and then thrown out of their house and onto the streets.

In the Middle East and parts of India and Africa, laws prohibit Christians from evangelizing, and forbid citizens from choosing Christianity over the religion into which they were born. Christians caught sharing God’s Word are chased out of town, beaten, or worse.

A cord of three strandsChristians worldwide are severely punished for breaking religious laws or religious tradition. Yet they don’t ask us to pray for their persecution to end. Instead, they ask us to pray that they will have strength to endure—and they ask us to
send Bibles, so they may become stronger.

According to estimates by human rights organizations 200 million Christians suffer discrimination for their faith. This year 170,000 Christians die a martyr’s death, nearly 20 people every hour die for the cause of Christ.
Textual Notes:In the famous chapter 11 on Faith, the writer of Hebrews recounts many heroes of the faith and also mentions those who suffered for their faith as well. Then he transitions into chap. 12 with the great cloud of witnesses and the encouragement to keep moving forward with our eyes fixed on Jesus.

Our brothers and sisters face:Torture and refusal to recant (Hebrews 11:35)
The Bible's True Value Sustains Believers in Eritrea
Brother Isaac is a rough, tough, character, who swore, womanized and caroused, joining the army when only seventeen. Despite his ill-discipline, he was a brilliant and courageous soldier, and earmarked for promotion. Until he met the Lord.

At the time he was lying in a trench weeping. He had just seen 450 of his company of 500 men wiped out in heavy fighting during a phase of the Ethiopian-Eritrean war. He opened his eyes to find two soldiers crawling towards him. “You have been spared for a purpose” they said earnestly, “God has a call on your life.” And they handed him a Bible, saying, “Don’t just read this word, eat it, eat the word of God.”

Isaac was amazed at the risk they took to crawl to his position and to give him a forbidden book to read. At once he began to devour its words, and soon found himself praying to God for forgiveness. In a matter of days he stopped swearing and womanizing and with every spare moment kept reading the Bible.

The commander soon noticed, and said to him, “You’ve lost your killer instinct. You had the potential to be a really great soldier, but I will help you. If I find you reading that Bible again, I will teach you a lesson you will never forget.” So Isaac began to bury his Bible in the sand, and during siesta time, when no one was looking, stole away from the camp, dug it up, and read it for a precious half hour every day. But the commander noticed. He followed him one day and watched Isaac dig up the Bible. He was furious. “All right, let’s see what is the price you will pay to read this book.”

He was bound at the wrists and left for three days in the sun. “Will you stop reading the Bible now?” asked the commander. “No, I cannot!” he replied. So he was tied for three days in the “number eight” position, elbows lashed tightly behind his back. “No I cannot” was his reply again when asked if he would give up reading his Bible. He was made to dig huge holes without water, and then tied in the “helicopter position” – ankles bound to wrists behind the back, bending the body into an excruciating curve, with only his stomach touching the ground. This torture lasted a week. Still his answer was, “No I cannot.”

The commander said, “I’ve had enough, its time for you to go into the container.” It was the ultimate torture for Christians, to be placed into a metal shipping container, so hot you baked during the day, so cold you shivered through the night, and all in pitch blackness, with just a loaf of bread in the morning, and a drink of water in the evening. The only time Isaac saw the light was when he was led out every day and asked if he would sign a piece of paper swearing him not to read his Bible any more. “No I cannot sign” he said.

For nine long months he held out, and though he was such a young believer, his resistance became a great encouragement to other Christians. Eventually his army torturers gave up and handed him over to the prison authorities. At 26 years of age, he now sits in Asmara prison, a Christian man who has never known a day without persecution.
Jeers and beatings (Hebrews 11:36)Illustration: Delegates to IRC Indonesia Reconciliation Convention
Chains and imprisonment (Hebrews 11:36)Ronald Boyd-MacMillan, author of 'Faith That Endures' re: North Korea: “"It's really rather sad as we reckon that there are maybe upwards up to 50,000 Christians in prison in North Korea and their prisons are virtually like Auschwitz where you are not allowed to look up but you must always look down because you're forbidden to look up to heaven," he said. "And you're not given rations that are equivalent to other people who are not Christian so most of them very slowly starve to death. The numbers are really quite astonishing.”[2]
Illustration: Pencil, the North Korean boy
Execution in brutal ways (Hebrews 11:37)Illustration: Daoud I.
Illustration: Sam & Hope Kujiyat
Privation and financial and other mistreatment (11:37)
JILIN PROVINCE, CHINA (ANS) NOV 4, 2006-- A house church building on the campus of Changchun Agricultural University in the suburb of Changchun city, Jilin province was recently demolished forcibly by the local Chinese government.
China Aid Association (CAA) says it is known that the building served as the gathering place for Nongda house church when religious activities were held there. The place was also used as the Morning Star Supermarket in other times. According to witnesses, the government sent 500 policemen and several hundred peasant workers to the site at 4 o'clock in the morning.
"They drove the people out of the building while they were sleeping. Within an hour, the main part of the building as well as the furniture in it became piles of debris. In the entire process, no explanation was given on the issues," CAA says. The group adds: "Who can imagine that within an hour's time, the main part of their church building was bulldozed under the pretext of "urban appearance rearrangement." "Brothers and sisters of Nongda house church ask earnestly that the Lord's body pray for their church in tribulation."
Loss of refugees (11:38)Sudan’s Darfur region
The World is not worthy of them (11:38)
They were commended for their faith (11:39)

We must draw inspiration and encouragement from their witness. (Hebrews 12:1-2)
If they could do as they did, we can handle our troubles.
We must speak up and defend those who are suffering.a. They are our brothers and sisters, and we may be next

a. The full list:
[4]1, North Korea, 2, Saudi Arabia, 3 Iran, 4 Somalia, 5 Maldives, 6 Bhutan, 7 Vietnam, 8 Yemen, 9 Laos, 10 China, 11 Afghanistan, 12 Uzbekistan, 13 Turkmenistan, 14 Eritrea, 15 Comoros, 16 Pakistan, 17 Egypt, 18 Myanmar, 19 Azerbaijan, 20 Morocco.

b. Martin Niemoller: "First, they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out because I was not a socialist. Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out because I was not a trade unionist. Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out because I was not a Jew. Then they came for me, and there was no one left to speak out for me."
We must encourage and supply them in their need.
[3] Bulletin insert, Voice of the Martyrs[4] World Watch List ( Open Doors: