SESSION 3: ACKNOWLEDGE
PART 1: WATCH THE VIDEO
In our last session, we took a closer look at the Bible to see what God says about persecution—focusing specifically on the stories of Joseph and Stephen. In this session, we’ll ask the question what does Christian persecution have to do with me?
Before you start the discussion guide, watch the Session 3 video with Pastor J.D. Greear (above).
PART 2: AT A GLANCE
Let’s start by sharing the first thoughts that come to mind when you hear these questions below:
- Before you started this study, would you say you were aware of Christian persecution happening around the world? Why or why not?
- Has your awareness grown after going through the first two sessions?
- You’ve heard about a lot of suffering—do you wonder whether you can make a difference at all for the persecuted Church?
PART 3: GOING DEEPER
Batima became a Christian as a college student in Central Asia. Not long after, her family invited her home for a visit. She was looking forward to time with her family and could never have guessed what would happen next. When she arrived home, her brothers and sister brutally beat her—determined to make her renounce her new faith in Jesus. But Batima refused. Her siblings beat her so badly, she suffered a concussion and eventually lost consciousness. That’s when they tied her up and took her phone and personal documents.
Somehow, Batima managed to escape. Amazingly, she does not harbor anger toward her siblings—asking instead for prayer that they would come to know Christ.
In the“Recognize” section, we began to talk about why we should care for the persecuted Church. We’re going to start there again in this portion of the study—not because we think you didn’t hear it the first time, but because it’s so easy to slip back into a thought pattern that goes a bit like this: “I realize persecuted Christians like Batima are hurting. But I’ve never met them and probably never will—they are on the other side of the globe—not part of my daily world here at home. Am I really supposed to care for them? I wouldn’t even know where to start anyway.”
Pretty soon, that thought pattern is playing on “repeat” in your mind, and you’ve all but convinced yourself that Christian persecution was just something you read about once and might think about every now and again—if someone mentions it.
Our goal is to help you guard against that slow slide back to the status quo. Batima and others mentioned in the Ripple Effect series are real people walking through real suffering—here’s why we should care:
There aren’t two churches—a persecuted Church and a free Church. There is one Church, with Christ as the head. That means when you talk about the body of believers, you and your persecuted brothers and sisters are one and the same. We are them. They are us. One Church.
There aren’t two churches—a persecuted Church and a free Church. There is one Church, with Christ as the head.
God’s Word is full of scriptures that drive this point home. Galatians 6:10 says, “So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith.” The writer of the Book of Acts tells believers to, “Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood” (Acts 20:28).
CALLED TO STAND WITH THE PERSECUTED
We realize that it’s hard to think of things that aren’t part of your daily world. But the simple truth is, God has called us to stand with and support our brothers and sisters.
Remember the words of Psalm 82:3: “Stand up for those who are weak and for those whose fathers have died. See to it that those who are poor and those who are beaten down are treated fairly.”
JOINING GOD ON MISSION
If we are thinking in terms of lives reached for Christ, persecuted Christians are most effective at spreading the gospel in their own communities. They have counted the cost and chosen to join God on mission every day, denying themselves and taking up their crosses to follow Jesus. This is irresistible faith, drawing in their family, friends and neighbors as they wonder who or what is worth such devotion.
LEARNING FROM THE PERSECUTED CHURCH
A tentmaker missionary in Morocco was struggling with the realization that sharing about Jesus with the Muslims there was basically asking them to sign a death wish. He came to terms with that reality, sharing, “If Christ isn’t worth dying for, He is not worth living for.” Not many, if any, of us have had to think about our faith in those terms.
The free Church has so much to learn from our persecuted brothers and sisters. For the persecuted, trusting in Jesus could mean losing a job, family, friends or even life itself. And they follow Him anyway, echoing the apostle Paul’s words in Philippians 1:21, “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” They understand what it means to rely on God, asking Him to sustain them and help them stand strong in the midst of suffering.
A NEW PERSPECTIVE
While it’s true that much of the persecuted Church is half a world away, hearing their stories can change the way you live here in the U.S. Seeing and learning about those who are suffering take all-in risks to follow Jesus can bolster your own faith as you follow Him. Realizing that millions of believers count themselves blessed to be found worthy to suffer for the cause of Christ might make you take risks you wouldn’t have before. Maybe it’s stepping out in faith and sharing about Jesus with your neighbors.Perhaps it’s choosing to reflect the joy of the Lord in the midst of challenging circumstances. Whatever the situation, God can use these powerful stories about your brothers and sisters to draw you closer to Him and help you shine His light in your own community.
CAN I REALLY MAKE A DIFFERENCE?
When we’re confronted with a challenge as large as Christian persecution, it’s easy to become overwhelmed and feel defeated before you’ve even begun to respond. After all, you’re just one person and there are millions of believers suffering.
Let’s reframe the challenge of persecution:
- 215 million Christians in more than 60 countries face persecution for their faith.
- 125 million American Christians claim to attend church on a weekly basis.
What would it look like if each of these Americans stood with two persecuted Christians through prayer, encouragement and support?
Think about the impact that could have on God’s worldwide Church. The truth is, you can make a difference in the lives of persecuted believers. You just have to act.
The good news? Many Christians are already doing exactly that, working with Open Doors to reach out to those who are suffering for their faith.
THE NUMBER ONE REQUEST
What do you think the number one request from persecuted Christians is? You might be surprised to hear it’s not financial support, or even Christian materials—it’s prayer. The persecuted Church understands the power of prayer, and they desperately need us to stand with them in this way.
Alexander was on his first research trip to Cuba for Open Doors. He asked a Cuban pastor what his needs were, expecting the pastor to list the many material needs the churches in Cuba obviously lacked.
Without skipping a beat, the Cuban pastor replied, “The first thing we need is your prayers. We need to know the Body of Christ is with us.”
Will you stand with them?
MAKING A DIFFERENCE
How are people just like you partnering with Open Doors to see lives changed around the world? Making a difference for persecuted Christians sounds great, but what does it look like, practically speaking?
It looks like individuals committing to pray for those who are persecuted for their faith. Many have subscribed to weekly prayer alerts at OpenDoorsUSA.org/Pray so they know how to pray for their brothers and sisters in Christ.
In addition to prayer, making a difference looks like people advocating, volunteering and donating to support Open Doors. Open Doors then partners with persecuted Christians on the ground to distribute Bibles, rebuild communities, serve refugees and shelter believers in danger—and lots more.
Remember Batima at the start of this section? Her siblings beat her in an effort to make her renounce her faith. After she escaped, she was able to get connected with Open Doors staff, who provided medical care and a safe house as she healed from her ordeal. That’s what making a difference looks like.
Another example is Amir in Iraq. He and his family weren’t sure if they would survive. ISIS militants forced them from their village and they fled, hoping to make it to the nearest refugee camp. They arrived alive, but with no home, no job and no money. Open Doors staff members were able to connect with Amir and provide him with microloans he could use to open a shop in the refugee camp. A source of income for his family, the shop also provided stability for the countless others forced from their homes. That’s what making a difference looks like.
It looks like families fed, clothed and sheltered; communities restored; churches and homes repaired; medical care for those who are injured; the Good News of Jesus Christ shared. And all this because individuals trusted that they could have an impact—that God could use them to make a difference in the lives of persecuted Christians around the world.
PART 4: TIME TO REFLECT
- Think about the things that are part of your daily life. Maybe it’s going to work, taking the kids to baseball practice or writing papers and cramming for exams. Persecution is likely not even on your radar day in and day out. How can you broaden your daily world to include your brothers and sisters who are suffering for Christ?
Helen Berhane was arrested for sharing her faith in her home country of Eritrea. She spent almost three years in prison, much of this time in a metal shipping container. Because she would not deny her faith or stop sharing her faith, she was beaten so severely she could not walk. After her release, she wrote this in her memoirs, “Sometimes I cannot believe that this is my life—these four metal walls, all of us corralled like cattle, the pain, the hunger, the fear. All because of my belief in a God who is risen, who charges me to share my faith with those who do not yet know Him. A God who I am forbidden to worship. I think back to a question I have been asked many times over my months in prison: ‘Is your faith worth this, Helen?’ As the guards continue on their rounds, I whisper the answer: ‘Yes.’”
- Does Helen’s example of all-in faith inspire you?
- How might it prompt you to live differently each day?
- Ask yourself, “What does Christian persecution have to do with me?” Can you answer that question?
PART 5: PRAY
Lord, it’s one thing to learn about Christian persecution happening halfway around the world, but it’s another thing entirely to turn the focus back on me, asking how I should respond to this suffering. If I’m honest, it’s often too easy to stick with my daily routines and keep my head in the sand when it comes to the persecuted Church. But I know that’s not how You would have me respond. Your Word shows me that You care for those who are hurting and that You have called the Body of Christ to stand together, supporting and praying for one another. Help me to stand with my brothers and sisters in Christ. Give me Your eyes for their suffering and Your heart to help them. And when I ask, “What does Christian persecution have to do with me?” remind me—it has everything to do with me because I’m a follower of Jesus. Amen.
In the final session of The Ripple Effect, we will quiet our hearts and ask for God’s direction.