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  • Writer's pictureKnox Thames

Remembering the persecuted during Lent

During Lent, will we remember those persecuted for their faith?

Lent is a time of reflection. A time to prepare ourselves to remember the ultimate sacrifice Jesus Christ made for humanity on the cross. And then to celebrate his resurrection and promise of new life.

Based on the suffering of Christ, Lent also provides an opportunity to remember modern day martyrs who are hurting right now because of their faith. Persecuted Christians face repression around the world, both at the hands of governments and terrorists. We must remember our suffering brothers and sisters. Yet we are called to more, to pray for all who suffer for their beliefs.

As Lent begins, we are excited to announce a new effort to build a network of believers who are doing just that — Christians Against All Persecution. We want to equip Christians to go a step further — to pray for anyone facing religious persecution, both believers and non-believers.

When thinking about persecution, we need to understand its true meaning. Persecution is violent. It is torture. Beatings. Jailing. Rape. Death and destruction. Biblical kind of persecution.

We know that Christians regularly bear the brunt of religious persecution, especially when a religious minority. Open Doors has highlighted the worst places to be a Christ-follower, saying, "Millions of believers live in places where they are oppressed, imprisoned, discriminated against, and even violently attacked — all because they believe in Jesus." As one friend said to me, the most dangerous five words in the world may be "I believe in Jesus Christ."

Christians face persecution for a variety of reasons. Terrorists like ISIS want to kill out of a hatred for our faith. Some authoritarians fear the church’s prophet voice for justice, like in Nicaragua. Elsewhere, dictators fear Christ-follower’s allegiance to a higher power, like in China. And we even see extremists using mob violence to silence and intimidate the Church, like in Pakistan.

Yet while Christians of all denominations suffer from repression, persecuted Christians are rarely alone — oppressors also target persons of different faiths and no faith. The Pew Research Center reported that religious restrictions impact almost two-thirds of the global community. 

For instance, Communist China commits genocide against Uighur Muslims while crushing Tibetan Buddhism, all while bulldozing churches in other regions. In India, Muslims must fear lynching while churches are shuttered. Iran's ruthless persecution of the Baha'i faith knows no limits, while they also jail evangelical pastors.

So, while we remember persecuted Christians, we are called to pray and advocate for others too. Christians are part of a community of suffering.

Jesus made clear his views in Luke 10, when a lawyer asks what it takes to inherit eternal life. Jesus told the Parable of the Good Samaritan. Everyone remembers the story of a traveler attacked on a lonely road. Two members of the religious establishment "passed by on the other side," leaving him for dead. The hero was the Samaritan, who stopped, risked his own security, aided the victim, took him to safety, and paid for his needs by spending two days' wages.

Placing a Samaritan as the hero was a huge twist for first-century Palestine. Jews considered Samaritans religiously and ethnically different. So great was the animosity between the two groups that people would walk for miles out of their way to avoid going through Samaria. Samaritans were the ultimate "other."

For Jesus, the Samaritan was an object lesson in helping those different from ourselves. The Good Samaritan asked no questions about the victim's beliefs, party affiliation, or favorite sports team. The hero ignored social barriers to help another suffering human being.

Jesus concluded the parable by saying, "Go and do likewise." It is a call for Christians to fight for human rights and assist the suffering, to help the least of these.

But in addition to following Christ’s command, there is a practical side to an inclusive approach to religious freedom advocacy and prayer, as it helps minority Christians. When we advocate for all, we ensure the ability of Christian minorities to live alongside their non-Christian neighbors. We demonstrate how we care for the physical needs of everyone in a community.

But missionally, as Christ calls us to help others, he also calls us to invite others into a relationship with him. We are to live out the Great Commandment and the Great Commission. We needn’t choose. With the Great Commission, we are called to invite people to learn about Jesus, believe in him, and obey his words. Not passively, but actively. Relationally. We want to share with our non-Christian friends the life-changing nature of following Christ, that we have gained forgiveness, meaning, purpose, and direction.

But if our non-Christian friends decide not to join our fellowship, that’s their God-given right. But we are still to live out the Great Commandment, caring for their well-being and welfare. Why? Because we are called to love our non-Christian neighbors. The body of Christ should be known for our concern for all, both Christian and not. Otherwise, how can we expect non-Christians to become curious if his representatives on earth don't seem to care about their suffering?

Paul in Corinthians emphasizes love. He says if we do not have a love for others, then we're nothing more than a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. We risk becoming a distraction to the message of Jesus. We need to love our neighbors, which includes our own fellow believers who suffer. However, our neighbors are also Muslims, Hindus, atheists, and whomever else we may know. Be their friend in their time of need, even if they never join our communion. 

To follow the Bible's teachings on love of neighbor, we should expansively pray for all who suffer violent persecution, Christian and non-Christian alike. Pray they will experience the presence of Christ and pray for their perseverance, strength, basic needs, and their deliverance.

Christians Against All Persecution has materials and information to help you understand the challenge, lead you in prayer, and take action with our country prayer guidesBible study, and resources. The CAAP Network is bringing together Christians committed to lead the charge in helping everyone. We will hope to build a movement.

As we begin with Lent, let us remember our persecuted brothers and sisters. And let us remember their neighbors. If Christians became vocal advocates for their own and all others, it would open doors to demonstrate God's love to a hurting world in their moment of need. Any individual persecuted for their beliefs is a tragedy worthy of prayer and advocacy.

Knox Thames is the founder of the CAAP Network and is a Senior Fellow at Pepperdine University. 

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