The Church of the Lord Jesus Christ is under attack. Around the world, in dozens of countries, believers are being relentlessly oppressed, beaten and even martyred for their Christian faith. The World Evangelical Alliance estimates that more than 200 million believers suffer some form of ongoing persecution.
At the forefront of the persecution is the rise and rapid spread of militant Islam–what President Bush has termed “Islamic fascism”–across the Middle East, Asia, Europe and Africa. In communist nations, Christians are routinely harassed, and the Church is still forced to worship covertly for fear of retaliation.
Here are just a few recent reports on the vicious assault of the Body of Christ:
In Ethiopia, 10 Christians were killed just weeks ago in an outbreak of violence by rampaging Muslims. More than 1,000 Christians are without homes after 350 houses were burned to the ground. Several churches were also torched, and two churches were converted to mosques. Many people have been living in the bush since the attack.
In India, one of our World Television Program (My Hope) coordinators was shot and beaten by Hindu radicals. He had been discussing the program with a local pastor before being attacked.
In Egypt, a 78-year-old believer at a church was attacked and killed by knife-wielding Muslims shouting, “Death to infidels!”
In Indonesia, three Sunday school teachers were tried in an Islamic court and convicted of the “Christianization” of Muslim children who had attended the Bible lessons with the permission of their parents. Mobs called for their deaths outside the courtroom.
Of course, we know that followers of our Lord Jesus Christ should expect opposition. Jesus said: “‘No servant is greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also” (John 15:20, NIV). Whether the source of persecution is false religions, godless societies or hostile cultures, the Church has long been the target of vilification and violence.
Yet our response to such assault is completely counter cultural. Jesus said, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matthew 5:44, NIV). The Apostle Paul told the Roman believers who lived under constant oppression, “Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse” (Romans 12:14, NIV).
This is why I want to encourage you to join with millions of other Christians around the world to pray for suffering believers on Nov. 12, which has been designated the International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church. Pray for courage for believers to stand firm in the faith. Pray for the families who suffer financial and physical hardships. Pray for the conversion of the oppressors as they witness the love of Christ in response to their aggression.
And remember that even in great adversity and hardship, followers of Christ may be “hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed” (2 Corinthians 4:8-9, NIV).