First Words of the Ascended Lord:
Have you ever read the first recorded words of Jesus after He ascended to the Father in Heaven? His words were not to the Church or to His Disciples. Nor was it a message which the Church would mostly focus on today – such as worship, faith, the truth, blessings, or evangelism.
Acts 9 records the first words spoken by the Ascended Lord from Heaven and it was about Persecution and a question to a Persecutor!
“Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?” And he said, “Who are You, Lord?” Then the Lord said, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting”.” (Acts 9:4-6)
Identifying with the Persecuted.
Jesus identified himself as “I am” and as one who is being persecuted!
Just take a moment to pause and think of this statement!
This highlights the importance of focusing and praying for the Persecuted Christians which is a priority of Jesus in heaven.
No other spoken words of the Ascended Lord are recorded except the time of Stephen’s stoning, where He stood up to welcome the persecuted martyr home.
The modern-day Church has overlooked Jesus’ involvement and concern for the Persecuted Christians and has made every effort to keep the Church ‘persecution-proof.’
The recent events in Afghanistan with Taliban take-over created a heightened concern for persecution and even martyrdom of Christians there. However, this surfaced only a fraction of the reality of persecution Christians face worldwide, as there are more Christians suffering for their faith than at any other time in history:
In the last year alone,
· Over 340 million Christians living in places where they experience high levels of persecution and discrimination
· 4,761 Christians killed for their faith
· 4,488 churches and other Christian buildings attacked
· 4,277 believers detained without trial, arrested, sentenced, or imprisoned
· 1 in 8: Christians worldwide experience high levels of persecution
|STORIES OF PERSECUTION
Persecution in Eritrea.
Eritrea, a country bordering the Red Sea in northeastern Africa, is ruled by a totalitarian dictatorship that suppresses Christians. According to NGO reports, they have imprisoned 345 church leaders without charge or trial and jailed another 1,000 laypeople. The following Pentecostal leaders have been in prison for more than 17 years! Pastor Haile Nayzgi, a top leader of the Full Gospel Church of Eritrea was detained in May 2004. His wife and 4 children were in danger and fled Eritrea. Pastor Kuflu Gebre Meskel, the leader of the Full Gospel Church of Eritrea. He is a Doctor of Mathematics and worked as director of the faculty at Asmara University before starting as a full-time pastor in the FGCE. He too was detained at the same time but his wife and 4 children have not been allowed to visit him. Pastor Kidane Weldou. He disappeared in March 2005 and is assumed to be detained by the authorities and his whereabouts are unknown. He is also a GFCE Pastor and worked also in the international Gideon organization.
Persecution in Iran
Christians in Prison in Iran.
I receive regular prayer requests for Christians who are regularly arrested and imprisoned – sometimes up to 5 years – simply for being believers in Christ.
Here are some excerpts:· ‘Nasser’ is a Christian convert serving a 10-year prison sentence was arrested in June 2016 at a private gathering in Tehran and was sentenced after being held in solitary confinement in Evin Prison for two months, enduring intense interrogation.·
Pray for three Christian converts AK, MG, and AM who have each received five-year prison sentences for “propaganda that educates in a deviant way contrary to the holy religion of Islam”·
Pray for ‘Reza’ was arrested in November 2020, by plainclothes security agents was blindfolded, handcuffed, and interrogated for four hours, then held in a detention center belonging to Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps and later was sentenced to 18 months prison for “propaganda against the Islamic Republic by promoting evangelical Christianity.”·
An Iranian pastor, who was himself imprisoned in Karaj Central Prison for several years, requests prayer for Reza, saying that especially during the first days of imprisonment there is significant mental pressure.·
Pray for four Christian converts in Rasht who have been given heavy prison sentences for ‘actions against national security, for ‘attending home churches’ and ‘spreading Zionist Christianity.’· In August last year R H was sentenced to five years imprisonment and HR was given four years on the same charges. R’s wife S received two-year sentences.·
Pray for H and wife Sara was arrested for being in House Church leadership. H who suffers from advanced Parkinson’s disease was sentenced to 2 years and Sara was held for 67 days, 33 in solitary confinement, and subjected to severe psychological abuse and she was sentenced to 11 years’ prison! Will you identify with the suffering of those faithful to Christ and remember these prisoners regularly in prayer? The Bible urges us to: “Remember the prisoners as if chained with them–those who are mistreated–since you yourselves are in the body also” Hebrews 13:5
Jihadists have “hacked to death” no fewer than 3,462 Christians in Nigeria during the past 200 days.
Church of England Bishops has condemned violence in Nigeria which has seen more than 3,400 Christians killed since the beginning of the year. The figures are based on research and eyewitness accounts from InterSociety which has been monitoring and investigating religious persecution and other forms of religious violence by state and non-state sectors across Nigeria since 2010. It found that the number of churches threatened or attacked and closed or destroyed or burnt since January 2021 is also estimated to be around 300, with at least ten priests or pastors abducted or killed by the jihadists.
Yemen is listed in 7th position in the World Watch report 2021 by Open Doors for Christian persecution where most Christian believers are first-generation and few believers that remain, most have converted from Islam. If discovered, they are often banished from their tribe or brutally murdered. Evangelism is against the law and those who do so risk death.
Other Nations: North Korea is one of the worst nations reported with Christians being persecuted and other nations such as China, India, Somalia, Libya, and Pakistan are listed as having persecution.
Persecution in Europe.
A report from Finland notes:
Lutheran bishops worldwide have issued a statement condemning the criminal prosecution of Paivi Rasanen, a Christian politician who is facing 6 years in prison for sharing her biblical beliefs on sexuality and marriage, and Finnish Bishop-elect Juhana Pohjola, who distributed a pamphlet written by Rasanen. “The actions of the Finnish State in prosecuting Christians for holding to the clear teaching of Jesus regarding marriage and sex (Matthew 19:4-6) are egregious,” says the statement.
Rasanen, a member of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland, could face up to 6 years in prison after being charged with 3 counts of ethnic agitation related to statements she made expressing her beliefs about sexuality and marriage.
The above-mentioned stories are only a fraction of thousands of cases of persecution, but we trust that God will inspire you to pray earnestly for them.
Let us Pray for the Persecuted
Father in Heaven, we pray for the persecuted Christians around the World,
1. For strength and courage to go through difficult and challenging times.
“without being frightened in any way by those who oppose you. This is a sign to them that they will be destroyed, but that you will be saved—and that by God. 29 For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for him, (Philippians 1:28,29)
2. We pray for physical and emotional strength to face oppression and opposition.
“ For to this you were called, because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that you should follow His steps: 22 “Who committed no sin, nor was deceit found in His mouth” (1 Peter 2:21)
3. We pray that they will not feel abandoned or isolated and that they know there are others who suffer with them.
“Beloved, do not think it strange concerning the fiery trial, which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened to you;13 but rejoice to the extent that you partake of Christ’s sufferings, that when His glory is revealed, you may also be glad with exceeding joy. (1 Peter 4:12-13)
4. We pray for the Spirit of Glory to rest upon them which is specially reserved for those who suffer for Christ.
14 If you are reproached for the name of Christ, blessed are you, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you.
5. We pray for grace and strength for the families of those imprisoned, especially for their children.
6. We pray for the widows and children of martyrs for strength and courage to go forward, and for provision and protection.
“Pure and undefiled religion before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their trouble and to keep oneself unspotted from the world. (James 1:27)
7. We pray for those who are deprived of basic provision of food and shelter because of persecution.
But recall the former days in which, after you were illuminated, you endured a great struggle with sufferings:33 partly while you were made a spectacle both by reproaches and tribulations, and partly while you became companions of those who were so treated;34 for you had compassion on me in my chains, and joyfully accepted the plundering of your goods, knowing that you have a better and an enduring possession for yourselves in heaven. (Hebrews 10:32-34)
8. We pray that the persecutors will see Christ through them and will come to know the Lord.
“ having a good conscience, that when they defame you as evildoers, those who revile your good conduct in Christ may be ashamed.17 For it is better, if it is the will of God, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil.” (1 Peter 3:16-17)
Thank you for praying.
Prayer Network Coordinator.
Next Month: How to Pray for Persecutors!
· Open Doors
· WIN Prayer
· Rauli Lehtonen –
· Picture Credit: Relevant Magazine.