On Easter Sunday, April 21, 2019, six terrorist bombs ripped through churches and hotels in the city of Columbo, Sri Lanka, killing 290 and injuring 500. “The bombings were the deadliest attack on Christians in South Asia in recent memory and punctuated a rising trend of religious-based violence in the region” (Bastians, Gettleman, Schultz).
Persecution International reports that an April 14, 2019 attack on a Christian church in Akwanga County, Nasarawa State, Nigeria resulted in the deaths of seventeen people attending an infant dedication ceremony. The mother and baby were both killed in the attack, while the father is in critical condition.
Open Doors USA states that “According to The Pew Research Center, over 75% of the world’s population lives in areas with severe religious restrictions (and many of these people are Christians). Also, according to the United States Department of State, Christians in more than 60 countries face persecution from their governments or surrounding neighbors simply because of their belief in Jesus Christ.”
God’s Church on earth is composed not of individual buildings or denominations, but of individual people, who compose the Body of Christ. Jesus is the Head of the Body and the Chief Corner Stone upon which the Church of God is built.
Our body is all our physical parts: head, arms, legs, torso. A body can also be an organization or a group of people and a body can describe the main part of a building, like a church or a temple. As it is with our physical bodies, our spiritual body – the Body of Christ – although composed of many parts, operates as a whole organism and anything that affects one part of the Body affects the whole.
This can be true because the Body of Christ, unlike a simple organization of people, is created not through fiat but because as believers in the gospel of Christ we are baptized into one Spirit.
The Message translation says it this way: “You can easily enough see how this kind of thing works by looking no further than your own body. Your body has many parts—limbs, organs, cells—but no matter how many parts you can name, you’re still one body. It’s exactly the same with Christ. By means of his one Spirit, we all said good-bye to our partial and piecemeal lives. We each used to independently call our own shots, but then we entered into a large and integrated life in which he has the final say in everything. (This is what we proclaimed in word and action when we were baptized.) Each of us is now a part of his resurrection body, refreshed and sustained at one fountain—his Spirit—where we all come to drink. The old labels we once used to identify ourselves—labels like Jew or Greek, slave or free—are no longer useful. We need something larger, more comprehensive” (1 Corinthians 12:13).
This larger, more comprehensive approach to understanding the magnitude of the connection between all believers in the lordship of Christ is best begun by acknowledging that when one member of the Body suffers, the whole Church of God and the entire Body of Christ is affected. Paul wrote this to the church at Corinth exhorting them, “…that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together” (1 Corinthians 12:25-26 ESV).
Violent persecution of Christians and the desecration of church buildings is increasing worldwide (Open Doors USA). But what can we do as both members of the Body of Christ and as individual Christians to support our brothers and sisters who may be suffering in areas that we cannot reach, or whose persecutions are not being reported by the news media?
There are many organizations, such as Open Doors USA, Persecution International, Franklin Graham’s World Medical Mission and the American Center for Law and Justice who work tirelessly providing information to the public along with food, shelter, medical care and legal support to persecuted Christians (and others) worldwide. Each of them and so many other ministries would appreciate any financial help we can give them, and we will provide links to these organizations, below.
In addition to that, and even more importantly, as members of one Body, although it may be difficult for us to reach across oceans and continents to succor our brothers and sisters who are suffering in Sri Lanka or Nigeria, each of us has been granted full access to the throne of our Father in heaven through the Blood of Jesus Christ. When the distance we must travel to touch the lives of those who suffer exceeds our reach, there is no impediment to our reaching out to God in prayer. He is the One who fills all things, and nothing can exceed his grasp.
When Jesus’ followers asked him to teach them how to pray, he said,
“Pray then like this:
‘Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name.
Your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread,
and forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from evil’” (Matthew 6:9-13 ESV).
Jesus instructs us to pray not only for ourselves, but to “our” Father. When we pray for God’s will to prevail, for God to sustain us and equip us, for God to lead us and deliver us, we are praying for the entire Body of Christ and all the saints. Although Jesus said that we are to pray to our Father in secret (Matthew 6:6-7), he did not say that we are to pray for ourselves alone, but to “our” Father, for “our” needs. Jesus instructs us to pray for the whole Body of Christ.
Beyond that, and even before that, in Matthew 5:43-44, Jesus said “’You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you…’” (ESV).
When we pray for the Body of Christ, we must also pray for all those who are lost. When we pray for the persecuted, we must also pray for the persecutors. When we pray for the good, we must also pray for those who do not yet know the difference between what is good and what is evil.
“But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:44-48 ESV).
Jesus is the head of the Body of Christ. He has given instructions to his Body, the Church, on how to pray. This is the time when we must come together in Spirit and in Truth, as his Body, and pray to Almighty God, our Father, for protection and strength for all the saints and for his will to prevail for all people, on earth as it is in heaven.
Links to websites:
American Center for Law and Justice: https://www.aclj.org/
Graham, Franklin. Samaritan’s Purse, World Medical Mission: https://www.samaritanspurse.org/medical/serve-with-world-medical-mission/
Persecution International Christian Concern: https://www.persecution.org/category/news/
Bastians, Dharisha, Gettlemen, Jeffrey, and Schultz, Kai. “Sri Lanka Bomb Attacks Targeting Christians Kill Hundreds”. The New York Times. 21 April, 2019. Web.https://www.nytimes.com/2019/04/21/world/asia/sri-lanka-bombings.html . 22 April, 2019.
Open Doors. “WHERE DOES CHRISTIAN PERSECUTION OCCUR?”. Open Doors USA. n.d. Web. https://www.opendoorsusa.org/christian-persecution/where-does-christian-persecution-occur/ . 22 April, 2019.
Persecution International. “17 Christians Massacred During Celebration in Nigeria”. Persecution International. 21 April, 2019. Web. https://www.persecution.org/2019/04/21/17-christians-massacred-celebration-nigeria/ . 22 April, 2019.