Persecution has existed since the dawn of Christianity and has persisted in various forms ever since. Stonings, burnings at the stake, imprisonment, family estrangement, the list goes on. History is stained with the blood of martyrs and is augmented by the testimony of those who’ve endured hardship on account of Christ. The Roman Emperor Nero set Rome on fire, and when criticized for it, blamed Christians. Peter and Paul were martyred under his reign.
More recently, Brother Yun, known as the “Heavenly Man,” was beaten and imprisoned for his faith in China. He famously said that a glass that is shattered travels farther than an intact one—meaning persecution spreads the gospel farther and faster.
The Trials We Face
Although 2016 seems like a modern-enough era, persecution continues in nuanced forms throughout the world. Here are four ways Christians experience hardship and four ways the global church can stand firm together.
Societal and Economic Pressure
Authorities in one Southeast Asian country sometimes use faith as an opportunity to manipulate. As a Southeast Asian believer says, the “government has harnessed the power of Buddhism.” The Communist government wants to use the unifying tenants of Buddhism to control communities. In remote villages, monks in local temples are often eyes and ears for the central government. Many villages in this nation are animistic, but animists are now forced to incorporate Buddhism into their religious sacrifices, and Christians are pressured to attend religious festivals.
In this same nation, the government tried to confiscate a Christian family’s land so they could lease it to a tea production company in a neighboring country. Many believe these Christians were targeted because of their faith. If they had lost their land, they could have lost their livelihood and would have been expected to participate in Buddhist festivals associated with business transactions.
Forcible Divorce and Prevention of Marriage
Samim,* a young man in Afghanistan, discovered a Facebook page designed by an Afghan who was sharing about Jesus. The two men met, and Samim chose to become a Christian. He began sharing his newfound faith, and soon more than twenty people believed and were baptized. News of this reached the governing authorities, and Samim was arrested and accused of telling people to follow Jesus. He was sent to prison where he was interrogated and brutalized for six months.
During this time, his wife’s new faith in Jesus was discovered by her extended family, and she was sent back to her village. After being released from prison, Samim learned his wife had been forcibly married to another man in the village and was pregnant.
“After being released from prison, Samim learned his wife had been forcibly married to another man in the village and was pregnant.”
Several years later, Samim and another believer planned to get married. Unfortunately, her father heard of the plans, and when he learned that Samim left Islam, he began doing everything he could to prevent their marriage.
Faith in Jesus sometimes results in believers losing their source of income. Ming An* is always on the verge of poverty. Her father died when she was young, and her mother was the sole breadwinner. They used to live in a filthy, one-room apartment with only one bed for three people.
After Ming and her mother became believers, Ming became a Communist Party member because that’s the only way poor people can succeed in this East Asian country. She was given a government job, most likely on account of her becoming a party member.
“Government officials are sometimes sent to church services to scan the congregation for party members and report on them.”
Ming goes to church with a friend but often hides during the service because she’s afraid of losing her party membership—and ultimately her job—if she’s seen. Government officials are sometimes sent to church services to scan the congregation for party members and report on them.
In Sub-Saharan Africa, claiming Christianity is acceptable, but choosing to obey only Jesus and forgo indigenous spiritual mores elicits rejection. One Christian was told to impregnate his dead brother’s wife—an expectation steeped in the traditional spirituality of the culture. When the believer refused, his family told him, “Then your God can take care of you because we won’t.” They kicked him out.
The Christian workers who knew this man were faced with a heartbreaking decision. To meet his financial needs would confirm his family’s assumptions that the church was a means to material benefit. “We had to be careful not to confirm this false gospel,” a worker said. “We prayed together, encouraged him, and helped in appropriate ways, but we had to watch our brother suffer.”
“We prayed together, encouraged him and helped in appropriate ways, but we had to watch our brother suffer.”
The Joy before Us
Persecuted or not, our joy as Christians is to keep our eyes on Jesus and make his name known. To that end, the global church can support believers who are subtly or overtly harassed for their faith. One way to do that is to continue planting healthy churches in all nations so those churches can:
- Disciple those in trouble.
Jesus says those who have no root will fall away “when trouble or persecution comes because of the word” (Matt. 13:21). If believers are firmly rooted in Scripture, they have the weapons they need to ward off the enemy.
- Take care of those in trouble.
When Paul was imprisoned, his friends took care of his needs instead of running in fear (Acts 24:23). Opportunities to help persecuted brothers and sisters often present themselves. The global church can be diligent to meet those needs.
- Forgive our enemies.
Instead of cursing our persecutors, the church can forgive them—following Stephen’s biblical example in asking that the Lord forgive his persecutors (Acts 7:59–60).
- Pray for our enemies.
Loving and praying for those who inflict pain is not an easy task, yet Jesus asks it of his followers (Matt. 5:44).