Editor’s note: This story is part of a series on global persecution, leading churches to pray for the persecuted church. Other articles on the persecuted church can be found at imb.org/persecuted.
During the height of their civil war, persecution was rampant and ruthless where IMB worker Edwin Hayes* serves.
While visiting a local pastor/church planter to see how he could help, Hayes heard the story of a pastor and his wife. He left humbled, wondering what he could possibly do to help a couple with such tested faith.
The husband had scars over his entire face and most of his body.
“I’d never seen an individual survive burns that bad,” Hayes said. “The amount of scar tissue was crazy.”
His wife had a scarred-over gash across half her face, and her left eye was missing.
Because of their scars, though, they both expressed that it was love at first sight.
The group in control of their war-torn country at the time was intolerant of Christianity or any opposing religion. When extremists found the husband walking down a road, they poured diesel on him and lit him on fire. They left him to die, but God had other plans.
The wife’s story is similar. Extremists found her on the road. Knowing she was a Christian, they told her to recant. She refused, and they slashed the left side of her face with a machete. Again, God’s plans for her life superseded her persecutors, and she survived.
Hayes explains that this overt type of persecution subsided after the war. But these people are far from free to openly practice Christianity. Now persecution comes from conservative religious community leaders and families. Persecution is so common, national believers have come to expect it.
Recently, a national church planter faced a hard choice. He’d moved to a community to work with believers there. He’d been in this area for three and a half years.
“Your daughter is old enough now. We’re going to rape her if you don’t leave,” local leaders promised. Hayes is sure that they would have followed through on that. The church planter relocated. The team is looking for someone within a bus ride away to continue the work there.
In a rural community, a young boy’s family found him convulsing and muttering cryptic speech. Then he began leaping, scaling walls and wailing. When the local “holy man” and other faith leaders arrived, he collapsed again, lifeless. After performing a ritual, the holy man declared the boy would be dead within three months.
A Christian couple approached his parents as they sat by the body of their son in the hospital. They asked if they and their pastor could pray for the boy. His parents welcomed the pastor out of desperation. He advised them to remove the idols and ritualistic items from their property. Then he prayed for the boy and his family.
When the family returned to the hospital after obeying the pastor’s orders, the boy had improved.
“They immediately called everyone to let them know. They eagerly wanted to meet with their Christian friends and the pastor again,” Hayes shared. “His family began attending church and learning more about God. They were immersed in a new sense of love, life and gratitude for God healing their son.”
This divine intervention was not acceptable to the holy man, though, who felt his authority had been undermined. Hayes isn’t sure what the leaders told the mother, but the family allowed them to perform another ritual on the boy days after he’d returned home healthy.
The boy passed away after obviously being poisoned. The leaders had fulfilled their own prophecy.
IMB workers and local believers haven’t given up on pushing back the darkness in that boy’s village.
“We can grit our teeth. We can be angry. We’ve cried. We’ve been disillusioned, but we still want to see [the local leaders] come to Christ. We want to see the whole place transformed. And we still think it’s possible,” Hayes shared.
Hayes is aware that this will only happen through the “strength and resolve” of the national believers in these hard places.
Although stories like this boy’s have no happy ending, others are reminders of the supernatural power of God to triumph over evil.
One woman who formerly led chants at her temple came to faith in Christ. She boldly shared her newfound faith with her family.
While walking down the road one day, she saw her brothers coming toward her with buckets. She knew they contained acid, and she knew what they intended to do.
Burying her face in her hands, she braced herself for the pain.
She heard the liquid slosh to the ground, and her brothers drop the buckets and run away screaming. She looked up and there was a circle of acid surrounding her, but she was unscathed.
Later, she confronted the one brother who would still talk to her and asked what happened.
“We threw acid at you,” he said. “But it parted and went around you.” That brother gave his life to the Lord soon after.
“There’s persecution but you see divine intervention at times inside of that,” Hayes shared. “In either case, God is going to be glorified. God is going to be doing work and amazing things in and through those people.”
For more resources on how to pray for the persecuted church, visit imb.org/persecuted.
Ways to pray for the church in this area:
- Pray that believers will have boldness to share their faith at great personal risk.
- Pray that those who are sharing their faith will have wisdom as they share.
- Pray that the church in this area will have the strength to endure as the political climate turns more hostile to the gospel.
*Name changed for security