While we mourn the devastating and senseless loss of lives in Sri Lanka, we should also remember that this is Holy Week for the Orthodox Church, who celebrate Easter later than we do. Daily services in most Orthodox churches will last throughout this week, in remembrance of the events leading up to Christ’s death and resurrection.
Though orthodox believers are a minority among US Christians, the opposite can be said if we’re talking about an entire region of the world where Christians are most persecuted. These are our brothers and sisters in the Middle East. These are some of the oldest Christian bodies in the world. And the Apostle Paul tells us they are part of our own body (1 Corinthians 12:12-27). We have a responsibility to lift their lives up to God while they worship this week.
We, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. – Romans 12:5
Just 100 years ago, Christians made up 20-30 percent of the population in the Middle East. But because of persecution, that number has dwindled to about five percent. The largest Christian group in the region is the Egyptian Copts, who refuse to stop going to church, despite serious threat of danger, including Easter bombings in their churches two years ago, militant attacks on three buses of pilgrims last year, and laws that make it difficult for them to establish churches and publicly live their faith.
According to Open Doors’ World Watch List, many of those most persecuted for their faith live in Yemen, Iran, Syria, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Egypt, Jordan, Qatar, Kuwait, Oman, United Arab Emirates (UAE), and the Palestinian territories. You can find more information about the Christians who live in these areas at Open Doors, Release International, Voice of the Martyrs, Lumenlife News, and other sites that support the persecuted church.
And while we’re praying for our brothers and sisters celebrating Easter, we should also remember those Christians who celebrated the resurrection last Sunday (though in many of these places, they would have, of necessity, done so in hiding), in North Korea, Afghanistan, Somalia, Sudan, Pakistan, Eritrea, Nigeria, Libya, Vietnam, Laos, and more.
Persecution in Asia is the worst it’s been in more than a decade, as India enters Open Doors’ World Watch List for the first time, at number 10, and China increases nationalist persecution of churches. North Korean believers (who represented 20 percent of the population just over 50 years ago) are the most persecuted Christians in the world, sharing the gospel with family and friends only under threat of death.
As they prayed, the building shook, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and continued to speak the word of God with boldness! – Acts 4:31
What can we pray?
In Acts 4, the apostles, and the infant church, were facing increasing persecution. Peter and John were arrested, but released. Afterwards, they went straight to the church to share with the believers what had happened, and together they prayed. But what they prayed for might come as a surprise. They didn’t pray their persecution would end, not even that they wouldn’t suffer harm. They recognized that, as far back as King David, it had been understood that there would always be people who would rise up against God:
Why do the Gentiles rage and the peoples plot in vain? The kings of earth set themselves, and the rulers were gathered together, against the Lord and his Anointed … – Acts 4:25-26
So they prayed:
Lord, look upon their threats and grant to your servants to continue to speak your word with all boldness, while you stretch out your hand to heal, and signs and wonders are performed through the name of your holy servant Jesus. – Acts 4:29-30
As they prayed, the building shook, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and continued to speak the word of God with boldness!
It’s not wrong for us to ask that our brothers and sisters be protected from harm, but let us also ask that God grant them opportunities to proclaim his Word with boldness, and that he would fill them with the Holy Spirit and provide whatever is necessary to make them light that penetrates these darkest parts of the world.