There are parts of the Bible that seem a far cry from my day-to-day experience. When King David talks about the “deadly enemies who surround me” (Ps 17:9); when Paul speaks of his imprisonments, beatings and near-death experiences (2 Cor 11:23-27); when Jesus commands his disciples to be willing to lose their lives for his sake (Matt 10:39)—these don’t sound like anything I’ve faced.
But these sorts of situations are very real for many Christians living today. In fact, more than 200 million Christians around the world face genuine and extreme danger and persecution simply because they follow Jesus.
Sadly, Easter is a time of heightened persecution for many believers around the world. In recent years there have been violent attacks on churches and gatherings of Christians during the Easter period, such as in Kenya, Pakistan and Egypt. Many believers who meet together do so at great risk. Other believers don’t even have the option of fellowship, as they are the only Christian in their home or village.
As you meet with your church family this Easter to remember our Saviour’s death and celebrate his resurrection, think of those around the world who are doing the same—but at an immense cost. Will you pray for them? Will you love them “with the affection of Christ Jesus” (Phil 1:8)?
Now, if we are looking to encourage our persecuted brothers and sisters, we may not be able to speak or write to them directly as Paul and Peter did in the New Testament epistles, but there are things that we can—and should—do.
Firstly, we should earnestly pray for persecuted believers, and also for our own lives as we seek to live boldly for Jesus.
From an earthly perspective, Christians facing persecution are in dire circumstances. When we hear of brothers and sisters in Christ who are martyred for their faith, left homeless (or stateless), tortured, beaten, raped, imprisoned and vilified, it is easy for us to feel overwhelmed and hopeless. But God can do “far more abundantly than all that we ask or think” (Eph 3:20).
These believers have received the same Spirit who was powerful enough to raise Jesus from the dead. Just as Paul prayed for the Ephesians, we should ask God that they too would know and experience “the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead” (Eph 1:19-20).
Jesus modelled prayer to us in very practical ways. He taught us that nothing is outside our Father’s care. When Jesus knew that his crucifixion was drawing near, he prayed earnestly for those who trust in him, whom he knew would face trouble. Surprisingly, he prayed not for escape from persecution, but rather, for protection from temptation: “I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one” (John 17:15).
He also prayed that they would be united:
I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world... Holy Father, keep them in your name, which you have given me, that they may be one, even as we are one. (John 17:11)
If Jesus were to look at the western church today, would he see us standing as one with all believers around the world? Or only with those who are in similar circumstances to us?
Your Easter church gatherings are the perfect opportunity to stand united with believers in other parts of the world. Why not dedicate some time in your church service to focusing your attention on those brothers and sisters? There are plenty of stories that can be shared with your congregation that give a picture of what it is like for these believers, gathering at Easter under very different circumstances. Although their testimonies can be difficult to hear, they enable us to connect with members of our heavenly family who we have not yet met.
And as you dedicate time to pray together as a congregation, remember to pray for those who are suffering. Pray that they will stand firm in the faith, even in the face of oppression and danger. Pray that they will be comforted by their hope in Christ. And pray with them, that they might be bold and share the gospel with those who persecute them.
Perhaps your church might want to pray for the situation in a particular country they have a connection with. This is especially poignant for local congregations with large numbers of migrants, or those with overseas link missionaries.
All of us, whether persecuted or free, have the privilege of being part of the body of Christ, and therefore we cannot ignore the needs of our persecuted brothers and sisters. For “if one member suffers, all suffer together” (1 Cor 12:26). And there are things we can do that can help to meet their needs.
In many countries hostile to Christians, persecution is not just a matter of safety. It can mean poverty due to the loss of a job or livelihood, being evicted from home, or being denied food or medical care—simply because of their allegiance to Jesus. It is in these circumstances that we can offer practical help, through financial giving. As some Christians practice Lent at Easter in remembrance of Jesus’ sacrifice for all, why not consider making a personal sacrifice as a gift to persecuted believers?
We can learn from the example of the early church in Acts who were “of one heart and soul, and no one said that any of the things that belonged to him was his own, but they had everything in common” (Acts 4:32).
Using the material abundance that God has given us, we can share with our brothers and sisters who are in difficult circumstances. Although they may never meet us in this life, they will know that God met their needs through the generosity of believers on the other side of the world. What an encouragement that would be for them—to know that their brothers and sisters in Christ have not forgotten them, but are standing united with them through their painful trial.
Hearing personal stories of severe persecution is confronting, but important. Although it may be upsetting to learn of the suffering of others, it teaches us that God is faithful in all circumstances—and crucially it reminds us that Jesus is worth it. Sharing these stories in the setting of your church congregation or Bible study group can be a great way to challenge us in our own faith, and also to spur us on to support our suffering brothers and sisters in prayer and giving. As we enjoy the fellowship that we are privileged to experience in our freedom, let us not forget to extend this communion to those who are persecuted. We cannot ignore or neglect any part of the body of Christ.