Why should we care about the persecuted church?

Lee Proudlove writes: Deborah Samuel, a Christian teenager in Sokoto state in north western Nigeria, was brutally killed last week. Following a discussion on WhatsApp, Deborah was accused of blasphemy; she was dragged into the midst of a mob, stoned, and then her body was set on fire. The Guardian, reporting Deborah’s death, commented that in Nigeria ‘incidents such as this are very rare’. Sadly that is not the case: of the 5,898 Christians who were killed for their faith in 2021, 4,650 of those were in Nigeria. Worldwide 360 million Christians suffer persecution and discrimination because of their faith.

Persecution takes many forms, from insults and discrimination through to abuse and violence. We can think of it in terms of ‘squeeze’ and ‘smash’.

The squeeze is the stifling restrictions many Christians face in their daily life. Some will be refused a job because they are a believer; others will have the hope of further education denied to their children because they follow Christ. In China church attendance is rigorously monitored and, in some regions, surveillance cameras are now in all state-approved religious venues. Where China leads others follow: Malaysia, Myanmar and Sri Lanka are increasingly squeezing the life of the church.

Whereas the squeeze of persecution is often insidious, the smash is clear to see. Churches bombed, children abducted, young women forced into marriage, pastors and those they lead kidnapped and killed. 

After being in ordained ministry for 20 years. including 14 as a parish priest in Nottingham, I’ve stepped away to work for Open Doors. For those not familiar with us we are a Christian charity serving the persecuted church around the world. The Open Doors World Watch List is a comprehensive account of persecution in the 50 countries where it is hardest to follow Jesus. Both the squeeze and the smash are described so that we can pray for our brothers and sisters knowledgeably and be informed to best advocate on their behalf. This year, for the first time, Afghanistan tops the list. To be discovered with a Bible in Afghanistan is to receive a death sentence. If followers of Jesus are discovered, they have to flee the country or be killed. The capture of Kabul by the Taliban has emboldened jihadist groups around the world: Islamic militancy is growing in sub-Saharan Africa, northern Nigeria, Mozambique and Cameroon among other countries—attacks on Christians in these areas are growing in frequency and intensity.

Why should this matter to us as Christians in the UK?

China is a long way away and few of us will ever visit Afghanistan. What does this have to do with us? We might sympathise with the situation of our brothers and sisters facing persecution and yet feel there is little that we can do to help. We may feel that we would like to support the church where it is being squeezed and smashed but feel that our resources as individuals and churches are already stretched too thin. As a former church leader, I know well the ever-increasing and competing demands upon our time and our attention in the local church—why focus on the persecuted church overseas?

These are a few reasons why the persecuted church matters to the church in the UK that I’ve been reflecting upon since changing role.

Firstly, it’s our brothers and sisters who are suffering. 

For some of us, the language of ‘brother’ and ‘sister’ in church rolls off the tongue; for others, it can feels uncomfortable. But the truth is, any and all who belong to Christ are members of the same family. We share a familial relationship not just a fraternal one, and this matters. When a believer in Eritrea is arrested, it is a member of our family who is wrongly imprisoned. When Pastor Koh was abducted in Malaysia, it was our sister Susanna who was left alone and grieving. And when churches in parts of India were excluded from Covid protections, it was our family who were suffering. We have a familial responsibility for our persecuted brothers and sisters given to us by Christ: “Love one another as I have loved you” (John 13:34).

Secondly, to persecute the church is to persecute the Lord of the church

We follow Christ crucified, risen and glorified. He entrusted his message and mission to his disciples, and promised them and us who walk in their steps that he would be with us to the very end of the age. Not only is Christ with us in the sense that he is ‘for us’, he is with us in the sense that he is ‘close to us’ and ‘identifies with us’—to the extent that judgement will fall on those who reject Christ through rejecting his followers (Matthew 25:41-46) (see Ian’s exploration of this passage here).  This close identification of Christ with the church, and particularly the church that suffers, is seen in the Scriptures in the martyrdom of Stephen and the conversion of his persecutor-in-chief Saul. Stephen is given a vision of Christ that sustains him at the hour of his death (Acts 7:56), and it is to Jesus that he commits his spirit.

When Saul the arch-persecutor of the church is confronted on the road to Damascus, Jesus addresses him with the words:

“Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” “Who are you, Lord?” Saul asked. “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting,” he replied. “Now get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.” (Acts 9:4-6).

The meaning is clear but is often lost when we think about the persecuted church today. To persecute the church is to persecute Christ, and attack on the church is an attack on the Lord of the church. We cannot, or should not, be unmoved by that.

Thirdly, the persecuted church reminds us of the cost of discipleship

I once asked someone who has experience of ministering alongside the persecuted church for many years how the church in the West is viewed by them. He thought for a moment before replying: “I think our faith must seem shallow to them.” It is hard to escape the same conclusion. Jesus frequently referred to the cost of discipleship, and there are a plethora of courses, books and conferences on the topic at the moment. We know that to follow Jesus means that we must ‘take up our cross’, and yet there is little confidence or consensus as to what that looks like.

In the UK, we still live in the shadow of Christendom; in England, the Church of England is still the established church, and for many being a Christian is synonymous with being ‘a good person’. In this context the persecuted church is both an example and a provocation to us. For them there can be no cosy accommodation with the culture at large. To be a Christian is to identify as a citizen of heaven, to be adopted into another family, to follow another king, and the cost of doing that can be incredibly high. The story of the persecuted church is the story of Christians meeting together despite the risk of imprisonment. Of Christians sharing their faith knowing that they could be charged with blasphemy. It is the story of believers being baptised, knowing their families could disown them. 

These stories are stories we need to hear to challenge our often comfortable and convenient discipleship.

Finally, the persecuted church matters to us because they are a gift to us.

One of the challenges of local church leadership ministry over the last couple of years has been the challenge of sustaining and resourcing others when our own emotional, physical and spiritual resources are under great strain. Church leaders are feeling frayed. A recent survey by Barna revealed that the number of Christian pastors in the US who are seriously considering leaving the ministry is 42%, up from 29% just a year ago. There is little reason to think that the figures for the UK will be much different.

Church leaders and those they shepherd are in serious need of hope and encouragement – and I’ve found both of these in the stories of the persecuted church.

Stories of resilience like that of Pastor Andrew. In 2021, at least 4,650 Christians in Nigeria were murdered because of their faith. Boko Haram and Fulani militants frequently attack Christian villages. One of those villages attacked last year was Pastor Andrew’s. Boko Haram attacked at night, and the villagers fled to the hills and watched the militants go house to house looting what they could, setting fire to what they could not carry off. Several members of Pastor Andrew’s church were killed. He said “The persecution was so much that I never imagined we would come together again to worship in the church… we lost everything.” 

Pastor Andrew and his church may have lost everything materially, but they held onto Christ and one another. Pastor Andrew has rebuilt his church, worship has been restored, and he has now moved on to another village in the region to pioneer a new church and lead them in their witness to Christ in the midst of their enemies.

We need stories of hope like that of Dhea. Dhea is a young woman in a country in South East Asia—I can’t share the country, or Dhea’s real name, for security reasons. She grew up in a devout Muslim family and by the age of 12 had memorised the Quran entirely. Her suffering began when she was raped by a well-respected man in her community. Despite being the victim, Dhea was convicted by an Islamic court and sentenced to 100 lashes and imprisonment. Whilst in prison, Dhea contracted malaria and was transferred to a hospital. There she met someone whom she later discovered was a Christian. He arranged for a Bible to be smuggled to her in prison. Initially fearful of being found with this, Dhea began to read it and encountered Christ.

For the next nine months, I read the book every day (says Dhea). I read things I had never heard before—about a God who was loving and forgiving. I read about the life of the Lord Jesus. All the things I read were new and, although there was nobody to explain anything to me, the Spirit was there and I understood that the Lord Jesus is my Saviour, my God.

When Dhea was released from prison she returned to her family, and now lives in a nearby country where she witnesses to the hope she has found in Christ through a ministry of hospitality, “Most of the visitors are strangers. I open my house for them and provide free food. They all know that I am a follower of Jesus.”

We need to learn from the persecuted church, they are a gift to us, and their stories are especially resonant at this time when many in church life are feeling fatigued and weary. 

The death of Deborah Samuel reminds us again of the importance of freedom of religion, and this is a topic that will increasingly be discussed in the public square in the coming months. On 5–6 July, Britain will host the Freedom of Religion and Belief Ministerial. It’s a global summit of government ministers, advisors and others from 33 countries who will be addressing the need for all people to be free to follow their faith without the fear of the squeeze or smash of persecution. Open Doors and others will be advocating on behalf of the 1 in 7 Christians worldwide who suffer persecution.

To learn more about the persecuted church, to discover stories to encourage you and resources to help you pray, visit the Open Doors website, where you’ll also find more information on the work of Open Doors, the forthcoming Ministerial conference, and how churches can invite a speaker to visit.

Previously a vicar in Nottingham, Lee Proudlove is now a Church Relations Manager for Open Doors.

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28 thoughts on “Why should we care about the persecuted church?”

  1. May God give our persecuted brothers and sisters persevering grace. May they be given a courage and peace that is supernatural. May they receive our support. May they know relief through more just governments. May God’s kingdom come.

  2. Thanks for sharing this Lee. I feel bad that I read it all quite fast. I’ll take time to re-read it, share it, and pray too ..

  3. Such a good article. At present, I’m working with another church leader and two Christian barristers to seek a Judicial Review of our Afghan Resettlement Scheme which makes Afghan Christians in hiding from the Taliban wait till Spring next year to even apply to come to the UK.
    Could I get one Bishop to support the application? No.?
    Could I get one Persecuted Church charity you be a named applicant? No.
    And now with the Ukrainian ear, it’s very hard to get any press coverage and even the Church has by snd large, moved on from Afghanistan.
    So thx for this. And please pray for protection for our 206 Christians we’re trying to help. Was 208, but two were found and beaten to death for being a Christian having converted from Islam.

  4. Can barely imangine it, in the cocoon of the established church. It is indeed a matter of life and death, and we are thankful to God for their lives, lives lived unlike so many of us, the way of the cross. And their persevering to support and encourage one another in meeting together as we zoom out. LORD have mercy.
    Our church has missionary members in Kosovo. Our midweek group were asked directly for prayer for encouragement, whereas another church supported family working as Bible translators ( with the assistance of Muslim translators) have been greatly encouraged in the work and in a local fellowship, invited into eldership and preaching and teaching.
    May their reward be great.
    How puny and self absorbed is my life.

  5. This article, on the issues of life and death has attracted four posts.

    Where are the liberals expressing class solidarity; proclaiming the hypothesis of ‘intersectionality’; opening their wallets; emptying their purses; demanding direct debit forms; condemning Communist, Fascist and Muslim dictatorships; and pledging the sharing of their arms and homes?

    Could it be that the persecuted proclaim Christ first and insist that Caesar is subordinate to God?

    • “Where are the liberals expressing class solidarity; proclaiming the hypothesis of ‘intersectionality’; opening their wallets; emptying their purses; demanding direct debit forms; condemning Communist, Fascist and Muslim dictatorships; and pledging the sharing of their arms and homes?”

      You may be waiting a long time..

      • Chris Bishop

        Had Proudlove mentioned sex – I am certain that the Progressives would have depressed the accelerator pedal.

        Even an incident of rape has failed to incite the Sisterhood.

        How well Malcolm Muggeridge described their condition all those years ago:

        ‘So the final conclusion would surely be that whereas other civilizations have been brought down by attacks of barbarians from without, ours had the unique distinction of training its own destroyers at its own educational institutions, and then providing them with facilities for propagating their destructive ideology far and wide, all at the public expense. Thus did Western Man decide to abolish himself, creating his own boredom out of his own affluence, his own vulnerability out of his own strength, his own impotence out of his own erotomania, himself blowing the trumpet that brought the walls of his own city tumbling down, and having convinced himself that he was too numerous, labored with pill and scalpel and syringe to make himself fewer. Until at last, having educated himself into imbecility, and polluted and drugged himself into stupefaction, he keeled over–a weary, battered old brontosaurus–and became extinct.’

    • Oh come on now. 😉 I think the reasons a post like this doesn’t get many comments is because it’s fundamentally agreeable, irrespective of the outlook of the people who read it. There is nothing in this article that our progressive commentators wouldn’t also support, at least, I don’t think there is.

      People comment on what challenges/provokes them, not on what they agree with.

      As Ian has pointed out before, some, if not most of the most popular articles on this blog are not about sexuality at all, though the most-commented are. Quantity of comment tells you essentially nothing about the perceived value or benefit of the article. A good deal of the time the comments section is/are a digression anyway.


      • Mat, I do not think that D Singh was specifically alluding to the number of posts in this blog, but rather his observation is that the persecution of christian minorities gets proportionally less attention and coverage in the liberal dominated MSM as compared with other persecuted minorities, religious or otherwise.

        • I would agree with you that most people here are fundamentally in agreement with the OP which may explain the lack of accelerated posting but is there not a distinct air of disinterest among secular news outlets which raises wider questions as to how de rigueur christian belief is perceived.

        • Ah, perhaps I misread these things. If the comment was aimed at an absence of coverage rather than an absence of comment then I am likewise inclined to agree with D Singh.

          • It’s both/and, not either/or. The Muggeridge quotation draws no comment as it is made on this specifically Christian site, to an article by a Christian concerning outrageous, hideous, persecutions of brothers and sisters in Christ, specifically, soley and exclusively because of their faith in him.
            It surely isn’t the place for spontaneous or thoughtful equanimity or disengagement.

      • Mat

        ‘There is nothing in this article that our progressive commentators wouldn’t also support, at least, I don’t think there is.’

        From the ‘liberal’ point of view – they are primitive Bible believing hate filled Christians who oppose the global pansexual agenda.

        If they refuse to compromise their faith before the mob or execution squad – what dangers might they pose, to the House of Bishops, if they were granted refugee status here?

        Better to leave them there. Out of sight, out of mind.

  6. To label these commentators as ‘progressive’ is to paint them as they would wish. “Heretical’ or ‘apostate’ commentators would be more accurate. Regarding their preset absence, don’t quite share your sanguinity Mat.

    • You invite the retort that heresy is often in the eye of the beholder…

      But I’m inclined to agree with you, so I wont make a point of disagreeing too much. 😉 I suppose my point was really that one should be charitable to one’s opponents. I can believe them apostates and heretics if I wish (and often do!), and also be combative when required, but I would rather have them engaged and in conversation than have them simply shouted or mocked into silence, or assume their opinion based on silence.

      • Mat,
        Are silent commentators, really opponents in this matter? Is it not one where there would
        be vocal unity and support? If not, why not?

      • I largely agree Mat. Believe it or not I’m very slow to be harshly critical. I would rather engage with issues hopefully in a gracious manner, However, in an earlier post I decided, rightly or wrongly, it was time to be frank. It is a judgement call and to be sure it is not an appealing feature if it is a default position.

  7. “We need to learn from the persecuted church, they are a gift to us, and their stories are especially resonant at this time when many in church life are feeling fatigued and weary.”

    Apologies all, I did not wish to distract with semantics from an important and excellent article. This challenge and encouragement is nessecary, and we all could do with a better perspective, looking beyond our own walls to see what God is doing elsewhere in the world. I think Geoff’s first comment is a good place to start.

    “How puny and self absorbed is my life.”

  8. A fascinating – and very important – piece. But (with reference to some of the comments above) I’m not commenting here, basically because I feel out of my depth.

    • Jock,
      Could it be suggested that that might be the place to be, if not remain, in grief and lament.
      One of our midweek group who leads an organisation for outreach in Morocco, and lived there for many years, and now part of our church middle – eastern ministries group, has said what they highly value is prayer. To raise up pray -ers not just pay-ers. God is where we are not, does what we cannot, knows where we know not.

      • I think this is a really important point, and why organisations like Open Doors, working to provide information and help, are invaluable. In places where bad things are done to Christians, what the oppressor wants is to blot out the Christian’s influence (or simply presence) and hide what they’re doing to the Christians.

        Being informed about these evil actions helps us know people and situations to pray for. The burden of prayer can be a heavy responsibility, and one thing I’ve found is if a group of Christians create a rota to spread that responsibility, with individuals committing to pray on a specific day each week, or each month. I think that lightens the burden and also motivates because you know you have committed to a group of you, all committing together to carry out this prayer vigil.

        Of course, God may prompt us to pray at any time of day or night, as well as within a disciplined structure. It does seem to me that God has a special heart and care for prisoners, and may call on us to pray at times, and the Spirit may help us in those prayers.

  9. In a similar way to our relationship with the people of Ukraine, I think many of us – living here in the UK – witness the attacks on Christians in other countries with horror and dismay. They are people on a frontline (like Ukrainian people) but they defend and stand up for what they believe in. Over 42 years as a Christian I have often felt dismay – both over the ‘squeeze’ mentioned, and sometimes the ‘smash’.

    I do think one way God sometimes intervenes is to come to us about a particular prisoner and give us a sort of compulsion to pray. I have known that on a number of occasions, where I suddenly knew I had to engage in intercession and spiritual warfare, accompanied by tongues, for a prisoner. Now I can have no idea exactly what God was doing in that, but I think prisoners sometimes have particular times of crisis in captivity (speaking as a former prison governor myself, which may be part of why I get prompted about prisoners – I don’t know).

    Anyway, while we should be open to taking practical action as well, and full admiration for Lee, the least we may do is pray (and that is no small thing to be dismissed).

    While some persecution is driven by religious fundamentalism (for example in the north of Nigeria) it’s important to recognise that a lot of persecution is because of a country/leader’s political agenda, and desire to eliminate political voices of opposition. Therefore I think it’s also important for Christians to stand up for democratic principles, including the right to express opinions freely, and to oppose censorship.

  10. Could it be suggested, Susannah that it is not, at its depth, a question of democracy, but a one of sqeeze and smash of Biblical Christianity within and without the church in democracIes and other national governances.
    Where the very idea of Wesley’s, And Can It Be, is anathema.

    • Well I do agree that Christians can be persecuted in democracies too, Geoff. I simply think that democracy is usually a better starting place than autocracy, even if not always perfect. There seem to be more accountabilities against persecution, than under autocrats who can do what they want, and if someone complains then their life may be in danger. I’m opposed to autocracy in principle.

      But I agree that many of the worst persecutions are happening for social, cultural, or religious reasons, rather than political.

  11. Why should this matter as Christians in the UK?
    There is another reason: Before long Christians in the UK will experience similar persecution and need to ensure they have oil in their lamps.

    The six seals of the Apocalypse chart the birth pangs leading up to the kingdom. The opening of the fourth brings on the Second World War, the sixth brings on the wrath of God. Today we are somewhere between the fourth and the sixth. What is the most momentous thing that will happen between those two milestones? According to the fifth seal, intensified persecution.

    Matt 24:7-14 is exactly parallel to Rev 6. After the multinational wars Christians will be delivered up to tribulation and be put to death; more than now. They will be hated by all nations and many will fall away and betray one another and hate one another. And then the end will come.

    More on this in When the Towers Fall: A prophecy of what must happen soon. When the first trumpet blows, a small number of Christians anointed as at Pentecost will explain to the world and the Church the significance of the coronal mass ejection brought on by the angel. They will proclaim the truth of Rev 4:11 and exhort, “Repent; be saved from this crooked generation.”

    The governments will regard this message as a threat to social order, condemn is as religious terrorism, and do all they can to suppress it. As we have seen during the so-called pandemic, most churches will comply. Churchgoers will obey man rather than God. They will lose their reward in heaven.

    ‘But you are not in darkness, brothers, for that day to surprise you like a thief.’

  12. Stories like these fill me with fear and horror and protest.
    And guilt that I am safe. And fear for my grandchildren.
    It is hard to understand why these things happen between nations, groups, people, and even children?
    I thank God for organizations like Open Doors and the brave people who work for it.
    I thank God for teaching like that on the “End of the World”, and on AntiSemitism.


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