It was the summer of 2003 and I felt like I was stepping back in time as I rounded the corner at the end of the street during my run. Even though there were cars whizzing by, blowing their horns, a red light, and paved streets, my imagination took me to the times of chain gangs in America as I watched the sun-darkened, yellow skinned men raise and lower their picks and shovels to dig the small trench alongside the road. In the heat of the mid-day sun, these workers were listlessly doing the work that we in America often see effortlessly completed by machine.
Although they did not wear shackles around their hands and feet, these men and young boys were serving a master. They served the master of survival. Many came as migrants into the city looking for work so that they can send money home to their families. Others came from the city, but found this type of job their only means of income. Their days were long and hard offering little hope of rest or a better life.
I noticed as I ran that very few of the men had anything to drink. So, I returned home grabbed some money, went to the store, bought two cases of water, and returned to the street. Every man in the “chain gang” received a bottle of water that afternoon, some reluctantly others willingly, and I received the joy of knowing that I was able to serve them in such a small way. AND, on top of that I had the opportunity to talk with several of the men, including the boss, and share His name and love….
Many of you reading this may know me. You may know me as the Discipleship Director or maybe because I run a lot. But, you may not know that I spent a few years of my life living in and traveling to developing Asian nations. Nations that are closed and occasionally hostile to Christians, the Gospel, and especially any type of evangelism. I don’t talk a lot about my time overseas, but my passion for people who have never had a chance to hear the name of Jesus runs deep.
I’ve spent more than an hour trying to share the Word on a train with a man in the PLA only to have him continue to tell me he had no idea what I was saying. It took a while for me to figure out why he couldn’t understand me when I knew my language was good enough. I finally realized that the Holy Spirit might have been confusing or muffling my words to protect my ignorance of sharing so boldly and openly. I’ve also been briefly detained by a cop upon coming home one evening. He stopped me as I entered my apartment ground floor and demanded to see my residence papers. A little unnerving to say the least…
In spite of these brief and mostly insignificant events, I was never truly afraid for myself. I knew, or at least ignorantly assumed, that if I got caught or in trouble the worst the would happen to me is that I would get sent back to the U.S. But, for most Christians outside of the U.S. getting kicked out isn’t an option. They are risking their lives just for choosing to follow Jesus and many are considering the risk to share Jesus worth it.
The horrific attacks by ISIS have raised awareness of Christian persecution to a new level, but their brutality is only a small percentage of the world wide persecution of Christians. Eighty percent of religious persecution across the globe is committed against Christians. More than 100 million Christians face persecution each year Every month 772 forms of violence (including beatings, abductions, rapes, arrests, and forced marriages) are committed against Christians, 214 churches and Christian properties are destroyed, and 322 Christians are killed for their faith. 322 killed EVERY MONTH. And these are just the documented ones.
The writer of Hebrews exhorts us, 13:3- “Continue to remember those in prison as if you were together with them in prison, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering.” As this year’s Week of Prayer for the Persecuted Church is coming to an end, may each of us be challenged to find ways to stand with our brothers and sisters who are suffering because of their faith in Jesus.
*Statistics from World Evangelical Alliance and Open Doors USA.