SESSION 1 | PERCEIVE
PART 1: WATCH THE VIDEO
To stand with our persecuted brothers and sisters, we need to know what they face for following Jesus. We need to see more clearly. We need to perceive. In this first session of the Ripple Effect Series, we’ll learn more about the big picture of persecution.
Before you start the discussion guide, watch the Session 1 video with Pastor J.D. Greear (above) and together, let’s start to look at what’s really happening to Christians all around the world today.
PART 2: AT A GLANCE
Ready for a pulse check? We’ll dive into these topics in more detail later, but go ahead and take a moment to have your group share their answers to these two questions:
- When you think of Christian persecution, what comes to mind?
- How prevalent do you think the persecution of Christians is today?
PART 3: GOING DEEPER
Abdul tensed as he heard the angry voices nearing his home in Central Asia. Suddenly, a group of young Muslims crashed through his door and began threatening him. “If you don’t renounce Christ, you’ll regret it!” they shouted. But Abdul refused. “I might be kicked out of the village, I could be beaten, but Jesus went through it all. If my Lord faced persecution, who am I not to expect the same treatment?” he said.
HIAN AND PHUNG
On a road in Vietnam, Hian and Phung glanced at each other as they placed the last of the hymnals on the back of their motorcycles—each knowing the risks if they were caught. They set out anyway, determined to transport hymnals to those in need. While en route, they came upon Vietnamese authorities. A quick search revealed the hidden cargo and brought their mission to an abrupt halt. Authorities seized the hymnals, along with their motorcycles, and sent Hian and Phung to a jail in Southern Laos.
LILY AND AVA
“Lily!” The young girl turned as she heard her mother call.
“I want to talk with you about what will happen to your dad and me,” Ava said, searching her daughter’s face for understanding. Although Lily was still in primary school, Ava knew she needed to begin preparing her daughter for what lay ahead.
“The day will come when they ring our doorbell and take Mom and Dad away to prison,” Ava explained. “When they come, don’t worry. The Bible tells us it is normal to be persecuted as believers. They will take us to prison, ask us some questions, and hit us. Then we will come back.”
It took several years, but the day did come. On a winter morning, while Lily was at school, authorities rang Ava’s doorbell and hauled her and her husband off to prison.
WHAT THEY CAN TEACH US
For millions of Christians around the world, these stories reflect their everyday reality. They live with the constant threat of persecution for their faith—the threat of intimidation, isolation, beatings, imprisonment and even death—and they choose to follow Jesus anyway.
It’s a humbling thought, knowing that our brothers and sisters in Christ are willing to suffer for their faith. It’s also a foreign concept for many of us. Persecution? That sounds so extreme. Does that stuff really happen anymore? The short answer: yes—to millions of believers all over the world.
According to the Pew Research Center, 75 percent of the world’s population lives in areas with severe religious restrictions—many of whom are Christians. The U.S. Department of State has identified 60 different countries where Christians face persecution from their neighbors or from their government—simply because they believe in Jesus Christ.
75 percent of the world’s population lives in areas with severe religious restrictions—many of whom are Christians.
Daily life for these Christians is a struggle. The hostility they experience as a result of their faith can take many forms. Some suffer verbal harassment and discrimination at work or school. Others endure more extreme persecution, including imprisonment, torture, rape and even death.
BREAKING IT DOWN
With over 215 million Christians facing persecution on a regular basis, it can be hard to wrap your mind around the realities of suffering.
- 255 Christians are killed for their faith.
- 100 churches and Christian properties are destroyed.
- 2,800 Christians are forced to leave their homes.
Eye-opening, right? Christian persecution is more prevalent today than at any other time in the modern era—and it’s getting worse. Each year, Open Doors releases its World Watch List, a ranking of the top 50 countries where Christians face the most severe persecution for their faith. (Visit OpenDoorsUSA.org/WWL to download the World Watch List Report.) In the last two years, not only has Christian persecution increased, but it has also expanded into areas where it was not present before.
According to the World Watch List, persecution is growing most rapidly in the Middle East, Africa, and Central Asia. Christians in those regions face an astonishing lack of religious freedom. For example, in Middle-Eastern Iran, ethnic Persians are by definition Muslim. To be an ethnic Persian who is also a Christian is a crime punishable by death. And Saudi Arabia is home to the world’s oldest church, but today public Christian worship is forbidden. In Nigeria, five churches are attacked every week—and yet, our brothers and sisters continue to lift high the name of Jesus, counting the cost and deeming it worth it to suffer for the cause of Christ.
VIOLENT VS. SYSTEMATIC
As we open our eyes to persecution, it’s easy to focus on the violent events that we see on the news. Violent persecution can take many forms, such as churches being torched or Christians being beaten. But, although thousands of incidents like these occur each year, that’s not the most common form of persecution.
More often, Christians experience social pressure and discrimination within their community. Social persecution could include being kicked out of your family or fired from your job because of your faith. Social persecution is often quieter than violent persecution and is less likely to make the news, but it can be extremely damaging to its victims.
A PROPER RESPONSE
Although the level of persecution around the world has been on the rise, persecution itself is not new. As long as there have been Christians, there has been persecution. In fact, Jesus told His followers to expect it, saying, “If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also,” (John 15:20) and “In this world, you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world,” (John 16:33).
It’s easy to hear about Christian persecution and feel afraid. But that shouldn’t be our response. Scripture says, “for God did not give us a spirit of fear,” (2 Timothy 1:7). Rather, hearing about our brothers and sisters in Christ who are suffering should motivate us.
Here’s where we need to take a breath.
When you hear about the millions of people who suffer, you might think, “How can we stop this from happening?” Naturally, persecuted Christians, of course, wish for persecution to stop. But the most common prayer request they pass on to Open Doors is this: “Please pray God will give me the strength to be a witness for Christ in the middle of these hardships.”
These Christians expect persecution, to some extent, as they remember the words of Jesus. “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me” (Matthew 16:24). For them, with so much on the line, there can be no halfway commitment to Jesus Christ.
These believers are all in.
It’s humbling to think of Jesus’ words in the context of persecuted Christians. All they have to do is remain silent about their faith or simply deny Christ to avoid punishment or suffering—and yet, daily, they choose to deny themselves instead. How much more should we be proclaiming Christ with the freedoms we have?
We invite you to stand with your fellow believers—empowering them, strengthening them and praying for them. (Visit OpenDoorsUSA.org/Take-Action to learn more about how you can stand with your persecuted brothers and sisters in Christ.)
PART 4: TIME TO REFLECT
You’ve just absorbed a lot of information about Christian persecution. Let’s take a few minutes to reflect on what you have learned and dig into some challenging questions.
Think back to your answers to those first two questions in this lesson. Have you learned something new about Christian persecution in this section? If you were asked those questions again, how might your answers be different?
When we hear about millions of Christians suffering, it’s easy to become numb to the overwhelming statistics. How can we resist becoming desensitized to the persecution of our brothers and sisters in Christ around the world?
Now that you are aware of the daily realities that Christians face throughout the world, how can you help others open their eyes to it, too? Think of three people who may not know about Christian persecution, and share what you have learned. Send them a link to the World Watch List to find out more about the 50 countries where it’s most difficult to follow Jesus. You can also visit OpenDoorsUSA.org/Stories and subscribe to the blog to receive stories about individuals facing persecution for their faith.
In the next session, we’ll look at what God’s Word has to say about persecution.