Persecution: What is it, and what can we do about the fact that it’s growing?

International (MNN) – Recently, we talked about how ISIS continues to be a threat even after getting kicked out of Iraq and Syria. This is because the ideology and trained ISIS fighters are on the move.

Todd Nettleton of the Voice of the Martyrs USA says leaders in Iran, European nations, and beyond are asking these questions:

“Where do we go from there? How do we keep these people out of our countries? If we let them back in, is there a way to rehabilitate them? To reprogram them and make them useful members of the wider society?

“As government leaders, that is something that is keeping people awake at night.”

While these are valid questions, Nettleton says Christians should approach the topic differently.

“As Christians, you know, we have the eternal assurance that Christ is going to win in the end. But it is a challenging time.”

Over the last few years, ISIS has been a major perpetrator of religious persecution, particularly against Christians. And yet, they are just one contributor to the rates of persecution against Christians that seem to grow and grow each year. Persecution can also come from the government, society, or other religious groups.
What is persecution?
Since persecution comes in so many shapes and sizes at varying degrees, it’s helpful to begin with the basics when we consider these trends.

“What is persecution? I think it is different in different places, it’s different for different people. The bottom line is, it’s when someone makes you pay a price for being a follower of Jesus Christ.

Persecution doesn’t only stem from governments, but also from extremist groups. (Photo and header photo courtesy of Voice of the Martyrs).

“The price that some people pay may be people laughing at them or people sort of shunning them in their workplace or in their school. Is that persecution? Yes. But it’s not the same as having someone put a gun to your head and saying, ‘Hey, are you a Muslim or a Christian? And by the way, if you don’t say Muslim, I’m going to kill you.’ That’s sort of a different level of persecution.”

In fact, he says that many times what we might call persecution here in the United States is better defined as discrimination. Typically, Christians do not face serious repercussions for their faith in countries with religious freedom like the United States.

The Voice of the Martyrs USA is deeply involved with supporting the Persecuted Church through a variety of struggles overseas. When someone mentions persecution, Nettleton says, “I think of people who are putting their lives on the line, people who are giving up their livelihood in order to share the Gospel, in order to be a lighthouse in their community.”

But just because we don’t face that kind of persecution doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be paying attention to it.
How can the global Church respond?
We can learn a lot from the Persecuted Church, including how to respond in situations where our faith may put us out of favor with someone else.

“I hope that the stories of our brothers and sisters who literally are putting their lives on the line inspires us in that moment to stand strongly for Christ and not to back down, but to boldly move forward and to continue to be a lighthouse and to share the Gospel and to pray for the people who the world would say are our enemies,” Nettleton says.

He brings the mind Matthew 5:11 which says, “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me.” (NIV)

This is an extremely difficult passage to process, especially if you haven’t faced extreme trials because of your faith. This is what makes the stories of the Persecuted Church so important to share.

“What I hope happens is we say ‘Wow, what would I do?’ and that forces us to wrestle in our spirit. It forces us to wrestle in the Scripture and wrestle in prayer, ‘What would I do?’ and get to the point that we understand the earth is not our home, America is not our home. Heaven is our home. We’re supposed to build our value system based on heaven and on eternity. And thinking about persecution, I think, helps put some things in perspective and helps us think about our real, eternal home.”

Furthermore, learning their stories can help you prepare for the unknowns in your future. Finally, keeping up to date with the struggles believers around the world are facing helps you know how to stand with them.

“There are going to be some places where you go and make disciples and it’s going to cost you something. And you might even be killed for going and making disciples in that context. And so, as the wider Body of Christ, we need to say, ‘If you go and are persecuted for making disciples, we will stand with you.’”

So when we hear “what if” stories or about the movement of groups like ISIS, Nettleton says he hopes that instead of dwelling on the unknown in fear, we will would be driven to pray.

“We need to think about our brothers and sisters in Northern Nigeria—our brothers and sisters in other parts of the world where it’s not just the possibility of an attack, it’s the probability of an attack.”

Voice of the Martyrs was founded to connect the Church in the west with Christians facing trials all over the world. Voice of the Martyrs helps to meet whatever needs the Persecuted Church has. This could be taking care of families financially while parents are imprisoned for their faith. It could mean providing an education for children who don’t really have opportunity because of their faith. It could be providing medication. If you’d like to support the work of the Voice of the Martyrs USA, click here.