The Fires of Faith

Now brother will deliver up brother to death, and a father his child; and children will rise up against parents and cause them to be put to death.  And you will be hated by all for My name’s sake. But he who endures to the end will be saved” (Matthew 10:21, 22).

 

They meet in secret at night.  They don’t meet in the same place too often.  They don’t tell their families about these meetings.  They draw the curtains to keep the world out. They speak in whispers. Every day they meet, it is a gamble.  At any moment, they could be discovered.  The risk is great.  They live in fear of being arrested, tortured or killed.  Is it worth it?  To the members of the underground churches, it is.  They risk everything for their belief.

 

Life for Christians is terrible in places like North Korea, Nigeria, Kenya, Tanzania, India, Egypt, Iraq and Syria.  It is ironic that it was to Egypt that Joseph fled with Mary and Jesus to escape Herod’s murderous rampage yet today, Christians are under great pressure.  Secret believers like In Syria, Christians had to flee their homes.

 

Those of us who are living in the West, we can worship openly in church buildings.  We don’t have to speak in whispers.  We can sing and pray out loud. We enjoy religious liberty.  Some of us may face opposition from our families.  Jesus warned us of this.  “Do not think that I came to bring peace on earth.  I did not come to bring peace but a sword.  For I have come to ‘set a man against his father, a daughter against her mother and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law’; and a ‘man’s enemies will be those of his own household’” (Matthew 10:34-36).

 

Just recently, I read a story of a father who forbad his daughter from going to church.  Her family was from an Orthodox background so they had a problem with her wanting to attend a Protestant church.  She resorted to sneaking off and going to church.  There are other stories of men and women persecuted, beaten, ostracized and even murdered by family members because of their faith.

 

It’s hard to believe that Christians persecute other Christians.  However, this is prevalent in Ethiopia.  Christians from the Orthodox churches who leave to find more vibrant churches are pressured to return.  In the days prior to the Reformation, many believers were forced to hide.  Such groups were the Waldensians who were forced underground because they were declared heretics by the Roman Catholic Church.  They rejected the teachings of the church and what they believed to be the idolatry of the church and considered the Papacy as the Antichrist of Rome.

 

Many were driven from their homes and into the mountains when in January 1655, the Duke of Savoy commanded them to attend Mass or sell their lands and go to the upper valleys of their homeland.  It was in the middle of winter.  The Duke didn’t expect them to choose to leave their homes and lands in the lower valleys.  Yet, they did and it was written that the old men, women and the sick “waded through the icy waters, climbed the frozen peaks and at length reached the homes for their impoverished brethren of the Upper Valleys where they were warmly received”  Sadly, the horrors of persecution were about to be unleashed.

 

 

When the Duke realized that his efforts to get the people to conform to Catholicism, he tried another approach.  Under the guise of false reports of uprisings, he sent the troops to the people. It was a ruse to gain them easy access.  Then, on April 24, 1655 at 4am when the people would have been sleeping, the troops were given the command to go and massacre them.  They didn’t just slaughter the people but they looted, raped, tortured and murdered.  Peter Liegé reported the following:

 

 

Little children were torn from the arms of their mothers, clasped by their tiny feet, and their heads dashed against the rocks; or were held between two soldiers and their quivering limbs torn up by main force. Their mangled bodies were then thrown on the highways or fields, to be devoured by beasts. The sick and the aged were burned alive in their dwellings. Some had their hands and arms and legs lopped off, and fire applied to the severed parts to staunch the bleeding and prolong their suffering. Some were flayed alive, some were roasted alive, some disemboweled; or tied to trees in their own orchards, and their hearts cut out. Some were horribly mutilated, and of others the brains were boiled and eaten by these cannibals. Some were fastened down into the furrows of their own fields, and ploughed into the soil as men plough manure into it. Others were buried alive. Fathers were marched to death with the heads of their sons suspended round their necks. Parents were compelled to look on while their children were first outraged [raped], then massacred, before being themselves permitted to die (Wikipedia).

 

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Print illustrating the 1655 massacre in La Torre, from Samuel Moreland’s “History of the Evangelical Churches of the Valleys of Piemont” published in London in 1658.

 

 

The Piedmont massacre happened during Easter.  In fact, it became known as the Piedmont Easter and it was estimated that about 1,700 Waldensians were slaughtered.  Its brutality aroused the indignation of the European nations and sanctuary was offered to the remaining Waldensians.

 

 

Today, many Christians face the same kind of brutality for their faith.  Women have been attacked, beaten or murdered because they converted to Christianity.  Girls have been brutally raped for their faith or their parents’ faith. According to a report in the New York Times:  “Christians in areas of Egypt that are largely dominated by Muslim militants continue to suffer from violence and humiliation. These believers are under constant threat of their houses and other properties being burned down, or possibly being mugged while walking along the streets. Even church buildings are not spared as they are desecrated and marred with hate graffiti written on the walls.”  Christians are living in fear.  Some of them are secret believers like Femi* and Alim*

 

November 6 is the International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church.  I encourage you to watch the moving video, Pray With Them from Open Doors and try to imagine what it would be like to live in a country where you have to go underground in order to worship or face prison, persecution, torture or death.

 

Keep the fires of faith burning.  Do not let anyone or anything extinguish them.  Hold fast until our blessed Lord Jesus Christ comes and you receive your crown.

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Pray for the Persecuted

Answer:   In the same way pizza is very common in the United States, persecution is very common in other parts of the world.

Imagine that you live in a country where being a Christian is dangerous.  Imagine your neighbors, friends or family members turning against you because you have accepted Jesus as your Lord.  This happened to a college student in Kyrgyzstan She was brutally beaten by her brothers and sister.  They had invited her over for a visit with the intention of forcing her to renounce her faith.

Jesus said that believers would be persecuted just as He was but what would you do in the face of persecution?  Would you be able to stand strong, no matter what the cost?  Would you be steadfast like Daniel and his three friends or would you be discouraged like the prophet Jeremiah?  What about the families of those who are persecuted and martyred for their faith?  Just recently I read an article of an Ugandan woman who was killed for her faith.  Her attackers had gone to the house looking for her husband and when they saw that he wasn’t there, they seized her.  She and her husband had eight children.  A month ago, her husband’s brother was murdered for his faith.  Her 13 year old daughter witnessed her mother screaming and crying for help as she was dragged out of the house.  She was hacked to death by her Muslim attackers because she had converted to Christianity.  Before they seized her, they said, “Your husband has followed the religion of his brother, and we had warned you people to stop these activities, but our message has landed on deaf ears.”

Can you imagine seeing your mother being brutally attacked and your father coming home to find her lying in a pool of blood?  How hard it must be for the families of those who are killed for their faith.  This woman’s husband remains steadfast in his faith, trusting God to protect him and his children.  His prayer is, “May God give me the courage to continue sharing the love of Christ to those who are lost, as Jesus said we should love our enemies.”  Let us pray for this father who will not let anything or anyone hinder him from sharing the Gospel to the lost.  May we ask God to put a hedge around him and his children.

Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in this matter – 1 Peter 4:16

In North America Christians are still free to worship and share their faith.  People can freely approach us and ask us questions and we can talk them, give them literature to read and not have to worry about being thrown into jail, on charges that we are evangelizing people or drawing them away from their faith.  It has been two years since Pastor Saeed Abedini was imprisoned for his Christian faith and for charges levelled against him for evangelizing and attempting to sway Iranian youth away from Islam. We can accept or raise funds for church ministry without fear of being imprisoned unlike Pastor Tandin Wangyal.

Many persecuted Christians often feel isolated and alone, since they are unable to fellowship with other believers. However, prayers from Christians half a world away have brought the same amount of encouragement that fellowship would have for these persecuted Christians. Prayer is vital—not only as a direct line to God, but as a way to encourage our persecuted brothers and sisters around the world – Open Doors

Jesus warns us that we will face persecution, imprisonment, tribulation and even death for His sake.  When we take up the cross and follow Him, we can expect to go through hardship and suffering but there is a crown laid up for us.  And we have this promise, “These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).

On November 1 and 8 or on any Sunday in November, join Christians across the nation in lifting up our brothers and sisters in Christ who are persecuted for their faith.  Stand with them.  Let them know that they are not alone.  Prayer is a powerful tool.  Prayer works!  I was encouraged when I read how prayers for Yana (not her real name) of South Asia.  She was detained by police on false accusations of not repaying her debt to her relative.  Last month, Open Doors sent out a prayer request for Yana’s release.  God heard and answered the prayers.  On October 11, Yana was released.  Continue to pray for Yana who wants to start a business near her children’s dormitory.  Pray that she continues to remain steadfast in her faith and to trust in the God who is faithful.

There is nothing more encouraging for Christians than knowing that their brethren are praying for them.  Gospel for Asia has provided a prayer request list.  As you pray over this list, remember that “The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective” (James 5:16, Complete Jewish Bible).

  • Perseverance and boldness for our fellow believers around the world
  • For the persecutors’ hearts to be softened by Christ’s love
  • For the Western Church to actively intercede on behalf of the persecuted church

 

 

 

O You who hear prayer, To You all flesh will come – Psalm 65:2

Sources:  Gospel for Asia; IDOP; Christian Headlines