Written by the staff of The Outreach Foundation.
There is much in the news about the vulnerability of the Church around the world, where it finds itself persecuted and oppressed in the midst of war and other enormous challenges. It is inspiring and convicting to see how the Body of Christ witnesses to the Good News despite their circumstances. This is the Church of which Paul wrote, “We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed.” (2 Cor. 4:8-9)
The Outreach Foundation is grateful to The Layman in opening space for us to share stories from our partners showing how God is at work through the vulnerable Church. In each article, we will share stories of hope from different parts of the world — stories showing how God, through his people, is at work bringing the Good News of the Gospel to those in need of his saving grace. We hope they will encourage you to join in that work.
Suffering is Not New
Suffering in God’s name is nothing new. It’s been happening for 2,000 years. Our Lord Jesus, even before he went to the cross for the ultimate in suffering, warned us of persecution. In the Beatitudes, he says, “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for my sake.” He repeated his warning later in the book of John (15:20+), “… If they persecuted me, they will persecute you … But they will do all these things to you on account of my name, because they do not know him who sent me.” The Apostle Paul speaks many times of persecution and how we will not only endure it but will benefit by it.
The Church was vulnerable then and continues to be vulnerable today. We can learn much about what it means to live for Jesus from the vulnerable church. But first, a few words about what’s meant by the vulnerable church.
Most commonly, it means any hostility experienced from the world as a result of identifying oneself as a Christian. It also means anywhere Christians are not free to worship as they please. It ranges from discrimination and pressure to full-fledged persecution where people are jailed, beaten and even executed for their belief in Jesus Christ. Many organizations and ministries track this and regularly report statistics:
- The Pew Research Center reports that 75 percent of the world’s population lives in areas with severe religious restrictions (and many are Christian)
- The U.S. Department of State reported that Christians in more than 60 countries face persecution from their own government or their neighbors simply for their beliefs in Jesus Christ
- Open Doors reported that last year 322 Christians were killed per month and 214 churches/church properties are destroyed each month
There is, indeed, suffering in Jesus’ name, just as he told us there would be.
Lessons from the Vulnerable Church
Most of us have never experienced the pressure and persecution that some Christian brothers and sisters face in the world today. As we hear their stories and receive their testimonies, we learn valuable lessons:
Suffering for Christ is a profound witness to others.
In Acts 5, John and Peter are on trial before the Sanhedrin for evangelizing and testifying for Jesus. They’re brought into the Council and beaten. They are forbidden to speak in Jesus’ name. Yet what happened? They affirmed that even if it was wrong in the eyes of the Sanhedrin, they could not help but tell of what they had seen and heard. They left rejoicing at being worthy to suffer in Jesus’ name and continued to evangelize. We are reminded of their commitment today by Presbyterians in Iraq who continue to share his love, in the face of threats and violence, with others who do not know him. What a profound witness they bear for Jesus.
Suffering brings us closer to him.
There is something about hardship that allows us to know God more deeply. When times get tough, we can no longer rely upon ourselves and often discover more about who God is and how he works. Paul wrote to the Romans, “I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us.” (Romans 8:18) We can learn from the witness of the vulnerable church which sees God at work through adversity that “all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.” (Rom. 8:28) Today, this depth of faith and closeness to God enables believers in Syria to reach out and share God’s love even at significant risk of their lives.
In Christ there always is hope.
Paul wrote in Romans chapter 5, “We rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance, perseverance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint …” Indeed we hear this from our partners who face pressure and even persecution. Where Christ is present there always is hope, no matter the threat or the violence. It is what compels Christians in Iran, where the Church has been driven underground, to continue bearing witness to Jesus.
Stories of Hope
In the months to come, we will share stories from the vulnerable church around the world. We do so humbly, having stood with partners on what can only be described as holy ground, knowing that through these partners’ faith and faithfulness, God is shaping our lives. The vulnerable church has much to teach us here in the West. They are living out stories that need to be told and retold, stories of hope in Jesus Christ.
The Outreach Foundation engages Presbyterians and global partners in proclaiming the good news of Jesus Christ. Because our ministry is Kingdom work, not denominational work, we work with PCUSA, EPC, ECO, Fellowship Community congregations and others. We help congregations build long-term partnerships with the global church that are mutually transformational. Every person, project and partnership we support is directly involved in sharing the Gospel in word and deed.
Our work depends entirely upon the involvement and financial support of mission minded individuals, congregations and organizations. We receive gifts in our office and disburse them directly to partners around the world. Established in 1979, The Outreach Foundation is independently governed by Board of Trustees, all of whom are pastors or officers in their respective congregations.