“Remember them that are in bonds, as bound with them; and them which suffer adversity, as being yourselves also in the body.” – Hebrews 13:3
With no real benchmark for persecution in our personal lives, some Christians in the West believe they or others they know have suffered persecution. However, most Christians in the West have only really known mild inconvenience. I wonder if many of us, myself certainly included, have suffered more for the sports team we have chosen than the God who has chosen us.
Since arriving at Brimpton Baptist Church I have attempted to keep missions on people’s minds. In recent months, I have worked with one of the men in the church to emphasise not only world missions, but to raise awareness of the persecuted church in the world.
Initially, this simply meant putting up a poster provided by Open Doors and having monthly reports given on the needs of the persecuted church.
John Johnson, one of the men in the church, then brought to my attention some methods of emulating the conditions of some churches in the world who are under intense persecution. So, we planned a Sunday to put things into practice and prayed that our actions would lead us all to have a greater burden.
As the service began I asked several men in the church to close all the blinds. I then shared with the congregation what we had planned for that morning. The blinds were closed because we were cautious not to be discovered.
In certain countries and communities no printed material is available. So, we had no Scriptures available, apart from some verses that had been written out by hand and those we had committed to memory.
We had removed all the hymnbooks and so could only sing those hymns we could remember. The song leader was not in on the preparations, but I did let him know the night before that we would have no hymnals or projector. Apart from that, he was as surprised as everyone else. We had no instruments played and several noted later that the unaccompanied singing of hymns sung by memory was surprisingly powerful.
I encouraged the congregation to take note of who was not there. We usually assume it is because they are working, on holiday, or perhaps overslept. But what if their absence indicated they had been arrested? What if that car pulling in late to the car park was not a late arrival, but the authorities coming to break up the service?
I gave out verses written on tissue paper and challenged the children to see how long they could keep them safe and readable. During the message I did want people to follow along in the Scriptures, but I encouraged the families to share one Bible rather than each have their own one.
All of the changes gave an uneasy feel to service and helped make an impact.
I was cautious not to make the service feel like a gimmick, but sometimes in order to understand someone else’s situation we need to experience it.
The feedback after the service was positive and I must admit, I was surprised how deeply it impacted us all.
As we think about the heart of missions-spreading the Gospel and making disciples, planting churches and training leaders-let us also remember the needs of our persecuted brothers and sisters in Christ around the world. God help us to be as burdened for them as we would hope for them to be for us if the circumstances were reversed.