"Persecution isn’t something that’s just ‘over there’ somewhere. It’s possible here too. And Jesus told us to expect it."
Persecution is more than uncomfortable or inconvenient: it hurts. Emotionally and socially, it’s demoralizing. Physically, it’s painful; damaging, even to the point of death.
My friends, “Thomas and Wendy” (yes, those are pseudonyms for their continued protection), experienced great persecution in their homeland. Ultimately, moving from house to house, from apartment to apartment, and even from one city to another wasn’t enough. They had to flee the country. They came to Canada. Even today, years later, returning to their homeland is difficult, dangerous and done with extreme planning.
Why did they have to flee? Due to persecution, yes. But that was the consequence, not the cause. There was a deeper reason: they were—and still are—faithful, effective witnesses to Jesus Christ. They were targeted because they were used mightily of God to lead their former co-religionists to faith in Christ.
Our Uncomfortable Truths
This thought makes us squirm a bit, even if only psychologically. Here is our uncomfortable truth: Jesus said we’d experience persecution. And not just once, but repeatedly (cf. Matthew 5:11; 10:22; 24:9).
Though they still have some scars on their bodies, Thomas and Wendy don’t wear their persecution on their sleeves. They don’t talk about it readily. It’s a fact, yet not something borne openly with pride. Rather, with humility they are honoured that they were counted worthy of persecution for Jesus’ name.
What can we learn from our brothers and sisters in Christ who are living and worshipping with us here in Canada about being prepared and found faithful through persecution? This question actually brings something home to our hearts and minds: persecution isn’t something that’s just “over there” somewhere. It’s possible here too. And Jesus told us to expect it.
Paul told us to expect it too, just as he told his disciple, Timothy: “In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, while evildoers and impostors will go from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived” (2 Timothy 3:12-13). Here is another uncomfortable truth: if we’re not experiencing some level of resistance from others right here in our Canadian neighbourhood, on our campus or in our workplace, we should ask ourselves if we are, in fact, living the full godly life in Christ Jesus. Are we simply so disengaged from those who don’t know Jesus that we’re actually not following Jesus as He walks through the marketplace, highways and byways, encountering people daily who need Him?
Learning from Persecution in Canada
We can learn from our brothers and sisters in Christ right here in our own local church bodies, neighbouring congregations, and social circles who have experienced persecution in their birth countries. Facing our fears will actually dispel many of them while our friends, newfound or established, share their experiences of fear and suffering for their faith in Jesus at the hands of governments, family members, and society at large. Facing our fears together helps both us and them, with the goal of glorifying Jesus.
How does this give glory to God? Our friends get to testify again of God’s grace, strength and restorative power in their lives. And we learn in the process, edifying our brothers and sisters, honouring their sacrifices, and glorifying God, both in the moment of learning and in preparation for what may indeed come to our lives.
As we remember, pray for and support the persecuted church worldwide this November, here is an idea for a gathering you may wish to consider. This model embraces both the local and the global, and is both personal and international:
- If you don’t know believers who have experienced persecution directly, ask your pastor to point you to those in your congregation who have. You could also inquire of local cultural language churches in your area. Contact them and share your concern, interest, and this idea for a gathering.
- Host a home-based gathering. The home is the best safe and nurturing environment for this gathering—far better than a church hall.
- Every good gathering needs something to eat! Celebrate each other’s cultures with food and music. Build relationships with your fellow brothers and sisters in the Lord as you experience different types of food while asking questions about their birth country and culture. Share stories!
- Read the passages mentioned above or others the Spirit may lead you to in Scripture. Let God speak.
- Ask your guests in advance if they would be comfortable sharing their persecution experience when you are together. Let them know you will also be sharing from Scripture.
- Pray for each other. Have your friends pray for you, and you pray for them, giving thanks for God’s faithfulness to them and theirs to Him as well. Pray that God would open doors here in Canada for those who needed to flee, that they would make connections with unbelievers and have opportunities to share their faith freely and openly. Pray that the message of God’s love would take root in others as they share their stories of coming to faith in Jesus.
- Pray for their family and friends and for the church they left behind. Separation can be hard. Encourage your new friends to share what the current situation is like back in their homeland. They often know details far more intimately than those we can find in the news, online, etc.
- Pray together for our PAOC family: our leaders and pastors, our Mission Canada and global workers around the globe, and for every person in our churches and in the larger body of Christ. Ask God to help us take hold of every opportunity to share His life-transforming power, even at the risk of being persecuted.
A relational gathering of this nature will cause your prayer for the persecuted church to go from being something that’s theoretical to something that becomes real and relational. You’ll be amazed at the transformation the Holy Spirit will make in both you yourselves and your new friends as you share your hearts, your stories, and a genuine time of prayer.
Charles Hermelink serves as the co-ordinator for Mission Canada’s Cultural Language Group, the diverse international aspect of PAOC ministries within Canada. This group brings together leadership from across the nation to collaborate and resource one another, working together to see a strengthening of the local church as it reaches into its community, and synergy among leaders and congregations of all ethnolinguistic backgrounds.
This article appeared in the November/December issue of testimony, a bimonthly publication of The Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada. ©2016 The Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada.