A trip to the Middle East is not needed to learn that untold numbers of people are suffering in these ancient lands. Multiple media outlets are sharing the unimaginable stories that are riddled with pain and affliction. Followers of Jesus Christ, once known as the ‘sect of the Nazarene,’ are being relentlessly pursued by radical Islamic factions. They are being kidnapped, tortured, raped, and forced to flee their homes and the birthplace of Christianity. A genocidal fire fueled by fierce evil is scorching the Middle East, and leaving in its wake death and destruction.
From the comforts of my home I watch and listen to numerous reports being shared with the world today. At the same time, I have the option of stepping away from the stories when I find my senses overwhelmed by the suffering depicted. I have the ability to turn off my computer, or avoid a particular website. I can turn off television, radio, or step away from written material. I have the ‘ freedom’ to choose the frequency, and volume, in which I will allow the pain of others to touch me. This is not so for Christians in places like Iraq, Libya, Syria, or Egypt – this luxury is not an option. Rather the raw pain and anguish of persecution is being vividly lived out in their lives daily.
Perhaps this is what a Middle Eastern brother meant recently when he said to me “I think freedom in your country, and freedom in my country, mean two different things.”
As troubling, as I find the atrocities being committed against followers of Jesus Christ today – I find the silence from what is termed the ‘free’ world, more disheartening. The shedding of innocent blood dates as far back as the first book of the Bible. In the book of Genesis chapter 4 we are told of the slaying of Abel at the hands of his brother Cain. Only the blood of Abel could not be silent. The cries of his blood traveled from the ground to the ears of God. Not unlike the days of Cain and Abel, the blood of innocent men, women, and children continue to cry out to God. Even now, the martyr’s blood is heard crying from the deserts of Egypt, the mountains of Iraq, the streets of Libya, and the desolate places of Syria. It echoes off of prison walls, underground meetings, and public squares. Sometimes heard as the voice of one, other times it is heard in harmony with the voices of many.
9 Then the Lord said to Cain, “Where is Abel your brother?” He said, “I do not know; am I my brother’s keeper?” 10 And the Lord said, “What have you done? The voice of your brother’s blood is crying to me from the ground. Genesis 4:9 – 10
Today the martyrs blood continues to cry and a remnant of God’s people acknowledge they are their brother’s keeper.
I recently met a young Middle Eastern girl whose simple devotion to Jesus spoke volumes to me. It was not long after meeting her that I sensed a beautiful story lay beneath her gentle brown eyes. I recognized the aroma of Christ she wore – it was the same scent I have seen on those who have suffered greatly for their faith. It is a fragrance that carries with it a high price, yet cannot be bought. A Nazarene King paid the price with His own blood long ago. It is now freely given in exchange for sacrifice and surrender.
I later learned that she had been nearly beaten to death at the hands of her fellow students in primary school. This young Christian girl was found drawing a picture of a church building during a break from her studies. This sight outraged her Muslim classmates who began to beat her mercilessly – without interference from the teachers in her school. Her mother tells the story of being called to the hospital to find her daughter close to death. I could hear the tangible pain in her voice as she described this time in their lives. I wish I could say this was an isolated case of persecution for this family. But, it is not. They like many Middle Eastern families are well acquainted with the price one pays for being of the ‘Sect of the Nazarene.’
This attack did not harden the hearts of this family. To the contrary – today they passionately reach out to their Muslim neighbors with love and respect. Whether it is standing to offer their seats to other Muslim women who enter the train, or taking the hand of a frightened Muslim mother with her baby in her arms, needing assistance down a long flight of stairs. This love is lived out when she routinely travels long distances to serve Muslim people in need. Out of their hardships they have been given hearts that have a capacity to love even greater.
Yes, we are our brother’s keeper. Being our brother’s keeper means giving voice to their stories. It is standing in solidarity with our persecuted family. It is praying for them – and with them. It is following their example, and learning from them. It is assisting them with both spiritual and practical assistance. It is standing arm, in arm, as we embrace the cross of Jesus Christ together.
One way we can stand with our suffering family is on the International Day of Prayer for The Persecuted Church. This coming November 2nd is this day, where believers from all over the world will join in pray for those who suffer for their faith.
For additional information on The International Day of Prayer for the persecuted Church please see – http://www.persecution.com/idop.
They called out in a loud voice, “How long, Sovereign Lord, holy and true, until you judge the inhabitants of the earth and avenge our blood?”- Revelation 6:10