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December 31, 2000: Saturday Night at The River

November 26, 2000: College athletes minstry emphasizes Holy Spirit

November 19, 2000: Bad weather doesn't dampen spirits of thousands at Detroit's Convoy of Hope

November 12, 2000: International Day of Prayer for Persecuted Church

October 29, 2000: Frontiersman way of life draws men, boys closer to Christ

September 17, 2000: Loving the unloved

September 10, 2000: Changing lives in a big way

August 13, 2000: Church planting fuels growth

July 30, 2000: Full Gospel New York Church targets 500,000 Koreans

July 16, 2000: Running the good race

July 9, 2000: Hispanic church thrives in border town

June 25, 2000: The hand of God

June 18, 2000: HonorBound: Raising an army of godly men

June 11, 2000: Illinois Christian radio stations deliver message of Christ to thousands

May 14, 2000: A/G foster families minister to children

April 30, 2000: Prison revival reaches beyond the fence

April 23, 2000: Harvest Sunday draws hundreds for water baptism

April 16, 2000: Chain reaction

April 9, 2000: One pastor's burden: reaching the 'white slums'

March 26, 2000: Cowboy church rounds up believers

March 19, 2000: Motorsports ministry: Winning souls at the track

March 12, 2000: A dream blooms in the desert

February 20, 2000: Romanian church prospers for 20 years

February 13, 2000: Ministry at a strategic academic crossroads

January 23, 2000: God's Navy

International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church

(November 12, 2000)

Today the Assemblies of God is joining with other Christian fellowships to mark the International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church, an annual event in which more than 300,000 churches in 130 countries are expected to participate.

But for the Assemblies of God, persecution is an issue faced more than just once a year.

"It’s important that Christians everywhere pray on a daily basis for those who are being persecuted for their faith," says Jerry Parsley, Eurasia regional director. "I don’t see anywhere in the Word of God where we are to pray that the Church would not be persecuted. We are to pray for those going through persecution that they will have boldness and strength to endure."

Persecution of Christians has existed since Jesus died and rose again. These days, persecution is often tied to politics, economics, ethnicity or religious extremism. The Church is being persecuted as never before, Parsley says, both in sheer volume of victims and in the intensity of the oppression.

"Persecution is a fact of the Christian life," says Doug Clark, area director. "God’s Word promises us that ‘all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution’ (2 Timothy 3:12) — not just inconvenience, annoyance or hardship, but real, grinding, soul-wrenching and sometimes life-threatening persecution."

The reasons are manifold. Sometimes authorities look the other way as the Church is being persecuted in order to gain political strength. Or a government gives tacit approval to groups burning the churches of minority ethnic Christians in the name of nationalism. Such has been the case in the past year in several places.

"The methods in many countries have changed from torture of individual believers to mass hysteria and riot against the Christian community in general," Clark says.

Often the persecution takes the form of social and cultural pressure not directly related to government activity. Don Corbin, Africa regional director, notes that many who convert to Christianity in several African countries are ostracized and sometimes disinherited by the rest of their families. Those who become Christians in certain places are subject to having their names published in newspapers, which could incite people to reject them.

At its most severe, persecution involves church burnings and martyrdom. But in more subtle forms, those who profess Christianity may face employment and housing discrimination. Christians may be prohibited from attending college or from using the community well for water.

"There are times when authorities will point to a minority community when things like the economy have not gone well and they will make the Christians scapegoats," Parsley says. "Other times the threat is because Christians are known for their love and compassion and reaching out to the underprivileged. That underscores failure of authorities to respond."

Persecution can vary greatly from region to region in large countries. In some cases, a local government official, in an effort to establish his power base, will discriminate against or persecute Christians, even though such a policy is not sanctioned by the federal government.

As happened in the early New Testament church, persecution does not wipe out Christianity.

"I’ve never seen anywhere where persecution even slowed the growth of the church," Parsley says. "Just the opposite is the case. Persecution is like pouring gasoline on a fire. As we read Acts 4, we see a great boldness. You see an awakening. There will be those who will fall by the wayside, but there will be others who are strong in their faith."

In one country where Christians are persecuted, a pastor’s wife has evangelized 25,000 individuals by witnessing to them on streets and in the marketplace. "She didn’t have this drive before the church started being persecuted," Parsley says. "But when the persecution came, it seemed like there was a great boldness that came over her and many others. This is often the case. People who would be willing to put their lives on the line." Indeed, Corbin says some southern Sudanese who have been forced into camps in the northern part of the country are rejoicing that they finally have access to non-Christians they could not reach before.

"When students cross a border to study at one of our Bible colleges, they know they will spend years in jail when they get back home," Clark says. "When a Sudanese follower of Christ is lashed to a metal tank, driven out into the desert to fry to death and then survives to continue serving Christ, he knows it could happen all over again."

The Assemblies of God combats persecution in a number of ways. In some countries where the Christian community is small, the Fellowship has sent relief supplies and equipment, channeling it through the local church with the government’s approval.

"That has helped, especially in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union," Parsley says. "When the minority Christian community is able to show compassion in conjunction with the government it has often enhanced their positions with the authorities."

Persistence may even win over a formerly hostile government, such as in Ukraine, which recently donated land for a seminary. "The authorities finally said, ‘We realize that you are good citizens and that you do love your country,’ " Parsley says. Likewise, in Hungary the government, which previously prohibited the training of national church leaders, has provided remuneration for Bible school instruction.

The U.S. church also assists in practical ways. For instance, in countries where pastors have been imprisoned, Assemblies of God Foreign Missions has established a fund to help support their wives and children.

At times — and when it won’t worsen the situation — it is appropriate for Christians to raise awareness of the problem. For example, recently in a Central Asia country authorities planted drugs on some innocent pastors. Pressure from Christians in other countries, human rights organizations and other governments resulted in the pastors being released.

Such action must be taken with caution, for sometimes a clamoring from the outside will provoke martyrdom. Missionaries especially must remain apolitical.

"We are guests in the country, so we have to weigh the consequences of speaking out," Parsley says.

Clark advises Christians to make sure that reports are reliable before lodging a protest, especially if the source is on the Internet.

"Don’t be gullible," he says. "The Christian world is full of organizations whose meal ticket is the latest red-hot story out of a country known for persecution."

Corbin notes that persecution is likely to intensify. "As the Assemblies of God grows and the broader evangelical church grows, there will be more reaction against it."

Most important, Christians in the United States can pray. "We need to become an army of intercessors," Corbin says. "Persecution, like any wall of spiritual resistance, is an impediment to the gospel."

— John W. Kennedy

 

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