Yesterday, Paula wrapped up her series from the Beatitudes by focusing in on persecution. If you missed that post, be sure to check it out here.
I loved the post, but can I be honest? Persecution is a reality that gives me the willies. I don’t like to think about the persecution the disciples faced after Jesus’ death (like the fact that they were stoned, imprisoned, and eventually killed!). I squirm when I consider Jesus’ words that persecution is a blessing, because to be honest it’s hard for me to see it that way. Safety feels like a blessing. Freedom of religion feels like a blessing. But persecution? That seems much more like a curse.
And so sometimes I try to convince myself that persecution is a thing of the past. Maybe Jesus was simply talking to the members of the early church when He uttered "blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you." It’s a warm and fuzzy theory, but the reality is that Christians are being persecuted right now. I’ve gathered a few of their stories. Let me encourage you to read them, pray for them, and ask God to give you wisdom to see how God is working in the midst of the persecution they face.
The Deadliest Place To Be a Christian
I was struck by this article when it came across my Twitter feed several weeks ago. It details the horrible conditions faced by Christians in Nigeria. Nigeria is a small country located on the west coast of Africa. Christians there face extreme danger, and many have been killed.
Here are some fast facts:
- Last year, Nigerians alone accounted for almost 70 percent of Christians killed globally, making Nigeria the deadliest place to be a Christian.
- In 2012 more than 900 Nigerian Christians were killed because of their faith.
- The destruction and burning of churches, Christian homes, and businesses is common practice in Nigeria.
- Christian neighborhoods are denied basic services such as roads and sewers.
An American Pastor Imprisoned In Iran
Pastor Saeed Abedini is an American citizen. His wife and two small children live in Idaho, and yet, right this moment, Saeed is sitting in a prison around the globe in Tehran, Iran.
Officially Saeed’s crime was "threatening national security" by leading house churches in Iran several years ago. He has been sentenced to eight years in prison for his role in pastoring home churches. He has been tortured during his imprisonment.
Despite all that he faces, reports indicate that Saeed is experiencing the blessing that Jesus promised concerning persecution.
"Despite his suffering, Pastor Saeed’s faith continues to keep him alive," his attorneys say. "Other prisoners reportedly told Saeed’s family that when Pastor Saeed was released from solitary confinement, ‘he was glowing,’ and that miraculously he ‘was filled with more joy and peace after solitary’ than he was before solitary."
You can write Pastor Saeed a letter or sign the petition for his release here.
Texas Cheerleaders Fight To Show Their Faith
Much closer to home a squad of Texas cheerleaders had to fight hard this year in order to showcase their faith. Cheerleaders at Kountze High School in Kountze, TX, were forbidden from putting religious slogans such as "If God is for us, who can be against us" on banners for games. They fought the ruling, went to court, and were eventually granted the right to place slogans and Bible verses on the banners again.
While it’s true these girls didn’t face angry mobs intent on burning down their churches, murdering them for their faith, or throwing them in prison, they did face opposition because of their faith. They were told to be silent about their beliefs in God and ordered to keep the Bible out of their everyday activities in their public high school. They are a great example of the fact that Christians should expect persecution, even if they live in an all-American town in Texas. Standing up for their faith against school officials and in the midst of what eventually became a full-blown lawsuit likely wasn’t easy, but they did it. Would you have the guts to do the same?
These are just snapshots of a reality in all four corners of the globe. Jesus meant what He said when He predicted "and you will be hated by all for my name’s sake" (Matt. 10:22), and we have the choice to see persecution as the blessing Jesus does or to avoid it at all costs.
With that in mind, here are a few questions to consider:
- What can you do to be a blessing to those who are being persecuted for their faith right now?
- Have you faced persecution in your own life? How did you respond?
- Do you see persecution as a blessing?