With hair to my waist and needle tracks still showing on my arm, I was an oddity in the small Christian bookstore. The balding, gray-haired clerk was small in stature but big in heart, walking right up to me and sharing the Gospel. “I just gave my life to Jesus,” I explained, “and was baptized at the beach. I am just looking around, trying to figure all this Jesus stuff out.”
Most weeks I stopped by and he often gave me books, saying, “You can pay me later, Jay.” One of those books was Brother Andrew’s God’s Smuggler. I was blown away at the adventure of his story, but mostly inspired by such intense courage, something I had never known in a man during my short lifetime. It changed my life, along with other reading and the Scriptures, and before long this hippie was preaching in the cowboy town of Immokalee and the Everglades, really anywhere I was allowed.
Just 15 years later, I took my family to China, stuffing the pockets and linings of my 8 and 10 year-old girls’ coats with Bibles. It was illegal to do so, and looking back, very risky for my kids, but to this day, they haven’t forgotten bringing the Good News to that gloomy culture.
But even then, I could not have imagined what I see on a daily basis now. Benjamin Hegeman called persecution the “new normal” in his Journal of Theology article: “WSJ, Reuters, AP, BBC, Fox News, and CNN, among others, reported that Christians now rank as the most persecuted believers, the world’s largest minority faith, and a religion in danger of becoming extinct in the Middle East. Minority persecution has become the ‘new normal’ of the globalized world.”
Indeed, Christian persecution in the world is reaching new levels of violence. Kidnapping, enslaving, raping, and the execution of Christians is on the rise throughout the Middle East and Sub Sahara nations, and Islamist fanatics have made life hell for religious minorities. Some of us may be tempted to hold our spiritual breath and hope things will get better in the ebb and flow of culture, but both history and current events confirm that such thoughts are pure fantasy.
Today, I wear the Open Doors bracelet almost 24/7 as a reminder of what my brothers and sisters in the world are facing. Just a touch of the rubber “barbed wire” is enough to remind me to pray, to give, and to do my part in solidarity.
All of us can remember moments in history when the church and her people suffered. Whether we go back to the days of Nero when Christianity was punishable by cruel, horrific death, or even to the Pilgrims’ treacherous trip across the sea in search of religious freedom, we see a church that has risen again and again in victory.
But it is today’s headlines that have us shaken. A gunman in the peaceful state of Oregon asks, “Are you a Christian?” and then shoots a student in the head. And while we applaud the first of those martyrs, it was the second, third, and on to the last that have us wondering if we would say, “yes” after watching only the “no’s” be kept alive.
The 10-year-old Coptic Christian girl in Egypt never had the chance to answer. She was gunned down coming home from Bible study. According to various media reports, hundreds of kidnapped Arab Christians have been ransomed, tortured, beheaded and killed over the past year, including a priest who was chopped into pieces, in attempts to raise funds for radical Islamic terror groups and to strike fear into the hearts of Christians throughout the world. “Christians have become a form of currency in this tragedy,” John Newton told The Christian Post.
A firm conviction has been planted in my heart as I read or hear these reports, and that is that all of us have a sacred obligation to our persecuted brothers and sisters – the body of Christ – to take this suffering on as our own. Next week, in the second part of this post, I want to introduce you to one of our partners and some practical ways you can support the persecuted church around the world.