In light of the imprisonment, torture and death of Kayla Mueller, who was a victim of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the ISIS terrorist who ended his life when faced with capture in a U.S. mission named for Kayla, the timing of an almost sacred, annual remembrance is almost painful.
This Sunday, the International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church gives Christians in the United States who will gather in churches all across the nation in relative security an opportunity to not be just hearers of the word but also doers when it comes to standing with heroes like Kayla who are suffering worldwide.
Sadly, this kind of observance has been part of our faith traditions for thousands of years. The writer of the book of Hebrews communicated to members of the early Christian church, Remember the prisoners as if chained with them those who are mistreated since you yourselves are in the body also (Hebrews 13:3).
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Paul, who many believe is the author of Hebrews, was very much aware of the persecution of Christians. Before his conversion to Christ, Paul dedicated his life to tracking down and imprisoning men and women who were followers of the Way. After his Damascus Road experience, the hunter became the hunted, putting his own life on the line many times until he died in Rome. He was beaten with rods at least three times, stoned (with actual stones) once, and imprisoned three times simply because he identified with Jesus Christ and proclaimed the gospel.
Today, according to Pew Research, Christians represent the largest segment of people around the world who are targeted and persecuted for their faith. Open Doors estimates that number to be 245 million Christians who are experiencing high levels of persecution for their choice to follow Christ.
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These 245 million people are not just numbers; they are men, women and children, moms, dads, sons and daughters who all have names and share in common the fact they are being arrested, tortured, imprisoned and even killed for one reason they follow Jesus.
One of these 245 million is a teenage girl named Leah Sharibu, who was abducted from a girls school in Dapchi, Yobe State, Nigeria, by Boko Haram terrorists in February of 2018, along with 109 other girls.
Five girls were killed in the abduction, and the following month, the other girls, except for Leah, were released. Leah remained a captive because she refused to comply with the demands of her Islamic captors that she renounce her faith in Christ and convert to Islam. After threatening to kill her, Boko Haram says they will keep Leah as a slave for life. Why? Because she is a member of the body of Christ.
All of us can hold firm by faith to the truth that our prayers make a difference.
Last week I joined Texas Sen. Ted Cruz on Capitol Hill for a private prayer gathering for Leah. At that meeting, I had the opportunity to pray with Leahs mother, Rebecca, who has traveled to the United States multiple times in search of help for her daughter. Unfortunately, her pleas for help from the Nigerian government, like the pleas of so many other Christians in that country, have fallen on indifferent ears.
As a father of five, I can certainly empathize with Rebecca and ponder what it would be like to walk in her shoes, but as the writer of Hebrews tells us, dont just walk in their shoes; feel their chains and their pain, and do something.
No matter our income, health or stage of life, all of us can pray for those who are suffering. Ephesians 6:18 reminds us, And pray in the Spiriton all occasionswith all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on prayingfor all the Lords people.
And all of us can hold firm by faith to the truth that our prayers make a difference. In James 5:16, we read, The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.
We also can call on our elected officials to be diligent in working for the freedom of those in captivity, reminding them through our letters, social media and meetings, in town halls and wherever possible, that we have not forgotten our brothers and sisters suffering today.
It is our duty and necessity to act in the face of evil. Consider the observation of Martin Niemoller, a German who urged his people to unite against the Nazis, with the plea:
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First they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out because I was not a socialist.Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out because I was not a trade unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me and there was no one left to speak for me.
Increasingly, in the world today, danger and darkness are lurking for many. We must shine the light brightly, bringing hope and help to those who are in chains for their faith. We must pray and act for them today because tomorrow it could be us.
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