It’s because persecution is not just about the persecuted and the persecutors – it’s about us. Jesus said in John: 15:20: “A servant is not greater than his master. If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also.”
It’s just that some of us at the moment are protected from it. For some of us, christening our children is ‘a nice thing to do’, while for others it’s a death sentence. Recently, Reverend Andrew White, Bishop of Baghdad, spoke about a child he had baptised, who, at 5 years old, was murdered by the Islamic State.
As horrific as this is, it reinforces the paradox of Church: the body of Christ is both free and imprisoned; both thriving and being wiped out. I write this from the security of my home with very little fear of mine or family’s life being at risk. But in many places around the world right now there are Christians meeting in secret, with no voice, running for their lives, being sold into slavery, watching loved ones be killed while under constant fear that the same awaits them.
Persecution may not feel real to me. But it is real for too many. That’s why we are marking IDOP as a youth group, for the Church.
On Sunday, 9 November, we remembered those lives that were given in the name of freedom. As a youth worker I find it hard getting the young people to remember to bring consent forms. The idea that they should remember people they’ve never met, who died in a fight against a threat they’ve never felt, is something else. And if we’re honest, it’s not just our young people who forget things that matter. We all do. As Doctor Who said: “It’s a human super power, forgetting. If you remembered how things felt, you’d have stopped having wars … and stopped having babies.”
As Youth Workers we need to create space for young people to step into the lives of the persecuted, even if only for a moment, to see the world they live in. One way we’ve done this is by creating a ‘prayer cave’. It was set up in church for Remembrance Sunday and now has a permanent home in our youth space. In the ‘cave’ we have plastered the walls with stories and set up interactive prayer stations, using resources from Barnabus Trust and Open Doors Youth to help us pray into the reality of persecuted church.
One of the favourite stations is a ‘heart of nails’ that you can thread prayers through. It’s symbolism is that as we pray, we are weaving our prayers around the issues that matter to God. In the Bible, we read how Jesus taught his followers to pray – asking for God to reveal to him His cares. Here, we are making space to pray for the things our God cares for: His love for compassion and anger at injustice.
Changed people can change the world; we can be part of the solution. Will we really see all persecuted people freed? One day; Isaiah believed it, Jesus proclaimed it. As we concentrate on these concerns that concern God, we see that we must act to see these concerns solved.
As a youth group we are developing a culture of: “If you are passionate about it, do something.” We are giving the young people a platform to inform others, engage with petitions, fundraise for appeals – actively making our prayers a foundation of our actions. Starting by praying on our knees, and then our standing to our feet, we are challenging our governments and petition for those who are not heard, to provide relief for those in the midst of persecution through charities right there on the front line. So are praying as one body for the persecuted; but we also act, we give and we love, showing our persecuted family they’re not forgotten, that we are with them in prayer and action.