Last week while millions of Americans crammed into theaters to see Alice in Wonderland in 3-D, many Christians in other parts of the world were attacked, raped or killed for the cause of the gospel.
This past weekend I received an urgent message from my friend Christopher Alam, a U.S.-based evangelist, who was writing from Southeast Asia to inform me of a terrible atrocity in Myanmar.
|"As long as our brothers and sisters are dying for Christ in other nations, we cannot take off our armor or live in a fantasy world of prosperity and instant blessing."""|
He told me that a Burmese husband and wife who have been planting churches in rural areas were brutally assaulted by local military forces. The wife was raped by a gang of Buddhist men who were upset because locals had converted to Christianity and destroyed their Buddhist idols.
Said Alam: "Monks at the local Buddhist monastery reported the Christians to the local military authorities. The military and some Buddhist thugs then attacked the Christians, beat them up, destroyed their property and threw them out of the town. These believers were forced to flee to the jungles, where they are right now." About 100 people from 20 families are now without shelter.
The tragedy in Myanmar occurred just days before Muslims in northern Nigeria went on a rampage on March 7 and killed an estimated 500 Christians with machetes and other crude weapons. Christian leaders in the area told The New York Times that the militants were chanting "Allah is great" as they broke into houses, sliced up women and children with knives and burned down houses.
The newspaper said Nigerian police in the city of Jos had arrested 200 people in connection with the killings, and they confiscated 14 machetes, 26 bows, arrows, 3 axes, 4 spears and 44 guns. They also reported that at least one of the attackers admitted being a member of the al-Qaida terrorist network.
Just four days after the Nigerian massacre, six Pakistanis who worked for the World Vision organization in Pakistan were shot and killed by Islamic militants in the city of Oghi, north of Islamabad. A spokesman for the charity said about 15 gunmen arrived at the Oghi office on March 10. They dragged the aid workers, four men and two women, one-by-one into a room and shot them at point-blank range.
What should our response be to grim reports like these? Typically we feel helpless. After all, Myanmar, Nigeria and Pakistan are on the other side of the world. It seems easier to just forget the pain since we are so far away.
But actually God calls us to stand in spiritual solidarity with our persecuted brethren. When the children of Israel were about to enter the Promised Land, Joshua gave a clear directive to the tribes of Gad, Reuben and Mannaseh who were already settled on the east side of the Jordan. These people had their territory; they could have just excused themselves from the battles ahead.
But Joshua told them: "You shall cross before your brothers in battle array, all you valiant warriors, and shall help them until the Lord gives your brothers rest, as He gives you, and they also possess the land which the Lord your God is giving them" (Joshua 1:14-15, NASB). The people of Gad, Reuben and Manasseh were not allowed to enjoy their peace and freedom until their brothers had possessed their territories.
In the same way, we do not have permission to kick back and relax just because it's easy to be a Christian in the United States. As long as our brothers and sisters are dying for Christ in other nations, we cannot take off our armor or live in a fantasy world of prosperity and instant blessing. We have these practical obligations:
1. Pray for the persecuted church. I encourage American believers to adopt at least one country in prayer. You may sense a particular burden for a nation where Christians suffer. (The Lord has placed Iran on my heart and I gather information and news reports about it so I can intercede intelligently.)
2. Give to persecuted believers. Many missionary organizations are working today in sensitive countries to plant churches, provide literature and train leaders. Ask the Lord which ministries you should support. Open Doors (opendoorsusa.org) and Voice of the Martyrs (persecution.com) are two excellent organizations that serve the suffering church. Visit their Web sites to sign up for updates and to fund strategic projects.
3. Visit your suffering brethren. Brother Andrew, founder of Open Doors, told me that the most important thing he could do for persecuted believers is to spend time with them and encourage them. They need to know we care. While travel into sensitive areas is not always advisable (and you should seek plenty of pastoral counsel before going), it is possible for us to visit many of the places where the church is under attack.
We live in a time when God is shattering our American fantasy world and jolting us back into reality. Let's stay sober. Please don't turn a deaf ear to the cries of our brothers and sisters who are on the front lines.
J. Lee Grady was editor of Charisma for 11 years and is now serving as contributing editor. You can find him on Twitter at leegrady. His latest book, The Holy Spirit Is Not for Sale, is now in stores.