Standing with the Persecuted Church – Dr Peter Ng

Revelations 2:8 – And to the angel of the church in Smyrna write: ‘The words of the first and the last, who died and came to life. 9 “‘I know your tribulation and your poverty (but you are rich) and the slander of those who say that they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan. 10 Do not fear what you are about to suffer. Behold, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested, and for ten days you will have tribulation. Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life. 11 He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. The one who conquers will not be hurt by the second death.’

In the book of Revelations Jesus speaks to the 7 churches of Asia Minor with mainly admonishments for all with the exception of two, the church of Philadelphia and the church of Smyrna. The Smyrna believers were excluded from the mainstay of economic activities as most commerce especially the trade guilds operated out of temples and religious rituals were part and parcel of normal business. If one declined to offer the sacrifices, one would be locked out of any deals or transactions. Aside from that was the exclusion from the synagogues where believers used to shelter from Roman persecution because the Jews were the only religion allowed to operate unmolested by the authorities. Taken off the synagogue roles they faced direct persecution.

Not much has changed 2000 years later. In the World Watch List’s top 50 alone, 260 million Christians face a level of persecution measured as extreme, very high, or high.

Open Doors International, which creates the annual list, estimates there are at least a further 50 million Christians facing high levels of persecution among the 23 countries that did not rank high enough to qualify for the top 50.

Altogether, that is 1 in 8 Christians worldwide who face persecution measured as extreme, very high, or high. In some parts of the world  persecution is “near genocidal levels” in a report ordered by UK foreign Minister Jeremy Hunt. In the May 3rd 2019 report the BBC stated that Christians in Palestine represent less than 1.5% of the population, while in Iraq they had fallen from 1.5 million before 2003 to less than 120,000.

Aside from direct imprisonment and threat to life and limb there are forced conversions, restriction from access to educations and like the Smyrna believers many are locked out of jobs and trade and hence languish in poverty.

Then there are the enforced disappearances, chief of which in our own backyard is the abduction of Pastor Koh on 13th of February in 2017. Until this day, the authorities have not tracked down the perpetrators of this heinous act despite a very public outcry from the church.

The words of our Lord bring comfort and hope to our brethren, like the Smyrna believers Jesus acknowledges that there will be a period of tribulations but there is a crown of life which He promises for all who endure and remain faithful.

Our Lord protects His own and in Revelations 7 in the midst of tribulation, the hand of the avenging angels are restrained until the believers are sealed.  Revelations 7:3 saying, “Do not harm the earth or the sea or the trees, until we have sealed the servants of our God on their foreheads.”

The sealing is symbolic of God’s personal protection. We do not know where Pastor Koh is, we do not  know what’s happening to the thousands more of our brethren disappeared all over the world but wherever they are Jesus says they are sealed. They do not escape His notice. His Name remains on their foreheads and God never ever forgets.

If our God does not forget, neither will we, His church. For if one suffers then all suffers as Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 12:26, “If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together.”

Hence this Missions Sunday we need to remember the Persecuted Church all over the world

  • Pray for advocacy efforts for imprisoned Christians in places like Iran in Covid infested prisons.
  • Pray for vulnerable Christians converts who cannot depend on family for support when they find themselves without income due to quarantine or isolation.
  • Pray for the success of the use of digital tools in places like the Middle East by Open Doors by church ministries.
  •  Pray that persecuted Christians will be strengthen by the Spirit to stand firm in their witness.
  • Pray for wisdom for all governments will response to the pandemic in ways that do not oppress religious minorities.
  • Pray that the perpetrators of Pastor Koh’s abduction will be brought to justice and continued religious freedom in our own nation.

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