Prayer and the Persecuted Church: An International Plea
By Carl Stagner
The first Sunday of November is annually regarded by Christians globally as the International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church. Also known as the International Day of Prayer for Persecuted Christians, IDOP 2022 comes once again as a collective reminder to believers everywhere that persecution for faith in Christ is real—but also that the practice of prayer is a real, potent, and necessary response. Church of God congregations and individuals are among those poised to pray not only on November 6, but also throughout each passing year on behalf of those to whom persecution is a relentless reality.
So, why does it matter that the Church of God in the Western world keep the international persecuted church in prayer? What’s so valuable about such specific intercession? Don Armstrong, regional coordinator for Global Strategy to Asia and the Pacific, stresses that “those who are persecuted generally have never chosen to live such a life” and that “many are born in a situation that gives them very few choices.” Don reflects, “What is remarkable is that many could easily walk away from the church and escape the persecution, but they don’t. They hold on even stronger and embrace the Christian faith with both hands.”
John Johnson, who serves alongside his wife Gwen as regional coordinator for Africa, considers persecution in the Bible. “The book of Acts is one continuous story about the persecuted church,” he explains. “Persecution, in various forms, is present almost from the moment the Spirit falls on the church at Pentecost. It moves from snide and caustic comments to unjust imprisonment and murder. And, through it all, the prayer of the church is for boldness. The church does not bail or balk at persecution but, rather faithfully and boldly stands in the midst of it. In death or in life, the early church is witness to the validity and power of the resurrection. They are witnesses.”
John notes that the word witness has its roots in the word martyr. Perhaps not considered much in countries where the degree of persecution is not comparably severe, the connection seems to underscore the seriousness of the call to faith. John doesn’t dismiss the challenges Christians in the West face, but it is important to put them in proper perspective.
“Racism, sexism, ageism, minority exclusion, even political targeting, are sadly real within Western cultures and contexts,” he concedes. “However, the church is allowed to exist. People can share their faith. They are not made to be second- or third-class citizens because of their public commitments to, and confession of, Christ. We need to take notice of our brothers and sisters who are undergoing persecution. We need to ask about them, listen to their stories, learn from their faithful and costly modeling, ask questions about them, seek for their justice, and pray for their faithfulness, boldness, and quiet confidence in the face of persecution. In their wholeness, we will find our wholeness. In their vindication, we will find our vindication. In their commitment to Christ in the midst of persecution, we will learn better about what our commitment to Christ must look like. In their stories, we will learn to be more faithful as we live out our stories.”
Then how best can we pray? Don Armstrong says, “Pray that we can continue to encourage these brothers and sisters, and truly understand their situation. We need to understand how people in these persecuted churches came to be in the situation they are in. What is holding them together as a community? [We need to ask God] how we can help without being condescending.”
Don recommends two books, The Insanity of God and The Insanity of Obedience, for anyone interested in developing a better understanding of persecution and those who are persecuted for their faith.
John’s prayer point, summarizing the strategic focus, is as follows: “Pray, therefore, that the church undergoing persecution in much of the world would be bold and faithful witnesses to the gospel of Jesus Christ, no matter the cost.”
For several years, Church of God Ministries has also encouraged intercessors to learn more through resources provided by Voice of the Martyrs. In observance of the 2022 effort, they write, “The earnest prayers of the global body of believers testify to the unity found only in Christ. May God inspire us as we enter into fellowship with our persecuted Christian family.”
Learn more about the International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church, and discover a plethora of practical resources, at www.vom.org/idop. Learn more about the international reach of the Church of God movement at www.chogglobal.org.
Feature (top) photo by Sebbi Strauch on Unsplash.