Around the world millions of Christians are unable to worship freely and openly. Instead, they have to remain hidden. They meet in small numbers and in secret places. They rise early, or gather together late at night. They meet in fear, just because they fell in love with the one who died on the cross for them.
In over 150 countries it really costs to follow Christ and when they are asked what we can do to help them so often the answer that comes back is ‘Please pray for us’.
Churches around the world usually remember our suffering brothers and sisters in the Persecuted church and the Secret Church on the first two Sundays in November, and as we did that here my thoughts went to the residents of the predominantly Christian town of Gwoza in northern Nigeria when they were attacked on the 6th August by Boko Haram. Christians were brutally shot and slashed to death, more than 100 killed, their homes looted and houses burned.
The survivors are now hiding traumatised in nearby hills, surviving on wild fruits and at risk of starvation. Just because they loved Jesus.
We then thought of the barbarous attacks on Christians in what was the cradle of Christianity, the Middle East. Can you get your head around this – hundreds of thousands of Iraqi Christians have been displaced from their homes by the Islamist group ISIS. They were told to convert, pay the subjugation tax, flee or die and were then robbed of all their possessions. Left with nothing but the clothes on their backs, these Christians are homeless, helpless and starving, because they would not deny the cross.
Similarly thousands of Christians in Syria have been targeted in violent attacks since 2011 and faced with the same four options:Convert, submit, flee or die.Again thousands could not bring themselves to deny Christ.
If ever its time to pray for our brothers and sisters its now. God ALWAYS responds to prayer, its what brings heaven into action on earth, and often in surprising ways beyond our wildest imaginings, as Patrick Sookhdeo of the Barnabas Fund discovered in July when he was in Damascus.
He tells of having the great privilege of meeting the senior Muslim leader, Dr Ahmad Badr Al-Din Hassoun, the Grand Mufti of Syria. He says:
‘He is a man of peace who pleads repeatedly for equal and harmonious relations between Muslims, Christians and followers of all religions as members of one human family. Because of this stance, he has endured great abuse and criticism from some of his fellow Muslims and was targeted for assassination by the Saudis. Knowing that he would have good security and protection, the group of Islamist hit-men were instructed that, if they could not kill the Grand Mufti himself, they should kill one of his sons instead. In due course they murdered his teenage son.
After some months, two of the perpetrators were caught and imprisoned. The Grand Mufti asked to see them and they were brought to him blindfolded. He instructed their blindfolds to be removed, and the two young men, discovering themselves face to face with the head of Sunni Islam in Syria and the father of their victim, shook with fear. But, to their astonishment, the Grand Mufti gently reached out his hands to them and told them not to be afraid. He said that he did not want their mothers to weep as his own bereaved wife had wept for her son, and therefore he forgave them’.
This act of forgiveness has sent shock waves round the Muslim world, causing moderate Muslims to start to speak out against ISIS. What else might God do as we knock on heaven’s door for our brothers and sisters going through the fire, and not just in the Middle East but also in some places in India?
To pray intelligently for the Secret Church and the Persecuted church check out these web sites,and encourage your church to remember them in prayer this month.