NEW BOOKLET: Remembering the Persecuted Church and Why We Need to Pray by Susan Moore is our newest Lighthouse Trails Booklet. The Booklet is 18 pages long and sells for $1.95 for single copies. Quantity discounts are as much as 50% off retail. Our Booklets are designed to give away to others or for your own personal use. Below is the content of the booklet. This booklet contains photos. To order copies of Remembering the Persecuted Church and Why We Need to Pray, click here.
per-se-cute (transitive verb): to oppress people; to systematically subject a race or group of people to cruel or unfair treatment, e.g. because of their ethnic origin or religious beliefs.1
My family and I had been burdened and praying for the Soviet Union for many years. Then, in 1994, our dream came true—a door opened for us to serve as missionaries in Moscow, where we were able to encourage the saints and help disciple the harvest of new believers that the end of the Cold War had afforded. In 1996, we were asked to travel to Rybinsk, a rural town ten hours (by train) north of Moscow on the Volga River. We were to deliver children’s Bibles and other Christian literature to the House of Prayers Evangelical Christian Baptist Church. During our three day visit, we stayed in the guest room of Pastor Kravtsov and his family. In this single-story wooden house with a large vegetable garden, the pastor and his wife raised five children and held secret worship services every Sunday for the better part of twenty-five years.
I asked Pastor Kravtsov if I might ask him a few personal questions. The translator interpreted, and it took no encouragement for him to nod his approval. “Tell us when you started your walk with God,” I asked. His eyes sparkled as he began to reflect.
“I have carried my cross since childhood,” he said, “from the first years of my life. My father was arrested for preaching about Christ. Most of what I know of him has been told to me. He was killed in 1933. I was only 3 years old at the time.
“But I do remember my grandfather. Because of him everything [the spread of the Gospel] started in our village. During the First World War, he was captured by the Austrians. A few years later, he came back as a believer—not an Orthodox believer, but a Christian Baptist. For that time, 1917, that was something new. People in our village somehow felt the presence of the truth, and they started coming to his house. And his house became a house of prayer. I can hardly imagine that in this little wooden house every Sunday for twenty-five years from different parts of town, believers would come to worship in spite of the high risk of persecution.”
I asked my brother, “What has been the most difficult time in your life as a pastor?”
“This was the time of the greatest persecution of the church—the ’50s, ’60s, and ’70s,” he told me. “I would not live a day without someone from the KGB harassing me or tempting me to compromise my faith. In 1965, a brother from the United Baptist Organization came from Moscow and asked me to be the recognized pastor here. At that time, I was preaching and leading the people but was not called pastor. My wife and I stayed awake the whole night discussing the difficulties of this decision. The KGB already knew about the offer, for the following day they came and informed me that if I decided to be the pastor, they would take me straight to prison. My wife said to me, ‘Leonid, to be a pastor is a calling from God. You need to make up your mind if you will follow. God knows. He will take care of your family if they put you in prison.’ God did protect me, and I did not go to prison for some time.”
On the last day of our visit to Rybinsk, I stood near the back of the narrow church hall of the House of Prayers. There were about 300 other saints standing with me: Women in dark-colored dresses, scarves covering the hair of the married ones; men in white shirts, buttoned to the top. All were solemn, yet somehow the sense of joyous awe was palpable. This was the close of the more than two-hour church service we had just shared together. Sixty-two-year-old Pastor Leonid Kravtsov was serving Communion from a stoneware chalice—personally, individually—to all 300 members of his Baptist congregation. As I waited for him to reach our pew, I reverently surveyed my surroundings, noticing the wall of honor covered with the faded images of church members who had served prison time for their faith in Jesus Christ during the harsh years of Communist repression. A poster depicting this mural had hung on the kitchen wall of our California apartment in years gone by. We had used it as a family reminder to pray for the health and safety of these believers as they languished in prison and labor camps. At that moment, I found it difficult to believe I was actually standing there sharing in the oneness of the communion of saints with such courageous believers.
We Should Pray Because God Answers Prayer
We should pray for persecuted Christians because God answers prayer. I have first-hand evidence of this. In 1978, we started praying for Lida Vashchenko and her six relatives who sought asylum in the United States Embassy in Moscow. Known as “the Siberian Seven,” for five years, they feared for their lives if they stepped foot outside the sanctuary that the embassy provided. Due to political pressure from the West and God’s intervention in answer to prayer, they were allowed to emigrate in 1983 and settled in Washington State.
In that same year Christian musician Valeri Barinov was institutionalized in an insane asylum for his “crazy” insistence that Jesus Christ was alive and a personal friend of his. A prayer campaign was launched on his behalf, and today he is living free in England.
God’s answer to prayer results in captives being released. He also answers prayer by bringing spiritual and physical comfort to those who are suffering as a result of their faithfulness to Christ. Soviet prisoner Mikhail Khorev, at a time of deep despair and suffering, had even thought about praying for his own death. Then one morning, everything changed. He was summoned by the authorities from his dank and cold cell and allowed to shower and change into fresh clothes. What was the cause of this sudden kind treatment? He had no idea. But later he discovered the secret.
I did not know about the international attention to my case. The letters that had been printed in Vestnik Istiny had attracted a lot of attention. Many believers all over the world were praying for me and the other Christians in Russian prisons. Pressure was put on the governments to do something about our situation. That was the reason for my reprieve. But God orchestrated all of it, I am sure. His perfect will was being done.2
In August 2016, Russian president Vladimir Putin resurrected an old law which prohibits the free preaching and sharing of the Gospel. Those in violation of this new law will be issued severe fines. In the 1960s and 1970s, Georgi Vins, a young Baptist pastor in the Soviet Union, was in a similar situation. By the time it was over, he had spent eight years (starting at the age of 32) in Soviet prisons. Vins, a leader in the underground church in the Soviet Union until he was imprisoned, recounts one prison experience in his book The Gospel in Bonds. After being classified as a “Red Stripe” prisoner (one who was at risk of escaping the labor camp), Vins was subjected to the cruel treatment that this designation entailed. Even though he assured his captors that as a Christian he was compelled to obey any rules they inflicted which were not directly contrary to the Word of God, the Christian prisoner was awakened every two hours throughout each night, this after the usual ten-hour day of back-breaking hard labor. The additional undeserved harsh treatment nearly broke his spirit. He wrote:
Never had I felt so forlorn, so abandoned in that strange prisoner world. It was as though nothing existed except the desolate camp, nothing but prisoners and guards, pressure and slavery.3
Then one day without explanation, the red stripe was removed, and he was allowed to resume the routine of a “normal” prisoner. Vins sang hymns of praise to the Lord, his Deliverer.
Life was easier without that red stripe. I felt as though I were already halfway to freedom! Years later, I learned that Christians in my country and around the world had prayed for me and petitioned the Soviet government on my behalf. How thankful I am that they remembered the prisoners, including me.4
We Should Pray Because the Bible Tells Us To
Jesus warned His disciples that those who follow Him will face persecution. The Book of Acts records the beginning of the fulfillment of this prediction. Some of the apostles were arrested and beaten. Stephen was stoned to death. James, the brother of John, was executed by sword. John Foxe recounts the martyrdom of James:
No sooner had Herod Agrippa been appointed governor of Judea, than . . . he raised a sharp persecution against the Christians and determined to make an effectual blow by striking at their leaders. . . . when James was led to the place of martyrdom, his accuser was brought to repent of his conduct by the apostle’s extraordinary courage. His accuser fell down at the feet of James requesting his pardon, professing himself a Christian, and resolving that James should not receive the crown of martyrdom alone. Hence they were both beheaded at the same time.5
Shortly after this, King Herod put Peter in jail, chained between two guards with additional guards posted outside the cell door:
Peter therefore was kept in prison: but prayer was made without ceasing of the church unto God for him. (Acts 12:5)
I don’t know about you, but I have always found the account of what happens next in this story to be somewhat amusing. A bright light shone in the prison, an angel appeared, and Peter’s shackles fell off. But the angel had to poke Peter to wake him up. Peter must have still been half asleep for we read the angel’s sharp commands as though Peter couldn’t figure these things out for himself. “Get up! Now get dressed! Put your shoes on! Now your coat. Come on, follow me!” And the angel led him out of prison and into the city and then left him.
Peter then made his way to a home where he must have known the believers would be gathered. But the very saints who had been praying for Peter could not believe it was him knocking on their door. Much confusion ensued before they opened the door and let him in. The Scripture says, “They were astonished.”
I think I am a bit like that too. I pray for the persecuted church, for captives to be delivered. God hears. God answers! And then I am astonished.
The writers of the New Testament epistles understood our reluctance to pray such lofty prayers, so they left us exhortations to “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) because when “one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; or one member be honoured, all the members rejoice with it” (1 Corinthians 12:26). There are others:
Finally, brethren, pray for us, that the word of the Lord may have free course, and be glorified, even as it is with you: And that we may be delivered from unreasonable and wicked men: for all men have not faith. (2 Thessalonians 3:1-2)
For we would not, brethren, have you ignorant of our trouble which came to us in Asia, that we were pressed out of measure, above strength, insomuch that we despaired even of life: But we had the sentence of death in ourselves, that we should not trust in ourselves, but in God which raiseth the dead: Who delivered us from so great a death, and doth deliver: in whom we trust that he will yet deliver us; Ye also helping together by prayer for us. (2 Corinthians 1:8-11)
Put on the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places. . . . Praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, and watching thereunto with all perseverance and supplication for all saints. (Ephesians 6:11-12, 18)
We Should Pray Because Persecution Continues
We should pray for the persecuted church because the need is greater today than ever before. In fact, reports from organizations whose mission is to keep track of persecutions committed against Christians worldwide reveal that more than twice as many Christians were killed for their faith in 2015 than in the previous year—which makes 2015 “the deadliest year for Christians worldwide.”6
When the statistics are broken down, the numbers are staggering. Whether by firing squad, stoning, beheading, being burned alive, or some other horrific means, it is documented that thousands of Christians suffer some form of violence because of their faith (including beatings, rape, or destruction of property) every year worldwide.7
According to a 2016 report from a persecution watch-dog group, North Korea ranks number one in countries that persecute Christians:
For the 14th consecutive year, North Korea was listed at No. 1 on the World Watch List, again making it the greatest persecutor of Christians in the world with a persecution rating of 92 out of 100. As the Kim regime continues its intolerance toward religion, between 50,000 to 70,000 Christians are suffering in regime labor camps.8
A 2013 news article titled, “North Korea Executed 80 People for Watching TV and Owning Bibles” reports on religious persecution in the Communist country:
The North Korean leadership forces its citizens to embrace the Juche ideology “which mixes Marxism with worship of the late ‘Great Leader’ Kim II Sung and his family . . . Practicing the Christian faith is illegal in North Korea, where merely owning a Bible is considered criminal. . . . any person caught with one is sent—along with three generations of his or her family—to prison.9
Sadly, some North Korean believers choose to keep their faith a secret. Still others courageously flee their homeland in an attempt to find safety in neighboring China. There, they not only find themselves unwelcome refugees, but they are placing kind-hearted Chinese Christians at risk as well. In 2016, Chinese Pastor Han from the city of Changbai was hacked to death. Authorities said his murder was to warn Chinese Christians not to assist North Korean Christian refugees.10
In fact, China has stepped up its efforts to quell the rapid spread of Christianity. A recent tactic of razing churches under the guise of “zoning conflicts” resulted in Chinese Christian Ding Cuimai being buried alive as she attempted to block the bulldozing of the church she attended.11
One article revealed that persecution in China against Christians has exploded:
China’s sentencing of Christians exploded more than 10,000 percent from 2013 to 2014, according to a new report from China Aid Association, an organization that exposes religious freedom and human rights abuses.12
According to this article, the persecution has intensified due to the growth of Christianity in China:
In response to the growth of Christianity in China, the Chinese government has instituted various campaigns to persecute both house churches and government-sanctioned TSPM churches throughout China by harassing, abusing, arresting, and, in many cases, sentencing pastors and church members to prison.13
Because we have all seen the ghastly images on the news, it comes as no surprise that nations in the Middle East and Africa—such as Iraq, Iran, Syria, Sudan, and Nigeria—are leaders in nations where Christian martyrdom most often occurs.
One report states that Islamic extremism is the main source of persecution in 41 of the top 50 countries—that is, 82 percent of the world’s persecution of Christians is being committed by Muslims. As for the top ten worst countries persecuting Christians, nine of them are Muslim-majority—that is, 90 percent of nations where Christians experience “extreme persecution” are Muslim.14
In the regions of Iraq where ISIS has gained a stronghold, Christian families are aware of the life or death choices they may be forced to make. As the Koran instructs, all non-Muslims must choose one of three choices: convert to Islam, pay a tribute fee (which is most often their home, business, and all possessions), or be put to death. Along with this, their daughters may be forced to marry ISIS fighters, and their sons may be compelled to join the fight. Faced with such unimaginable decisions, most choose to join the growing flood of refugees fleeing their homeland.
Needless to say, I could give pages and pages of examples of persecution against Christians. Satan and his minions have waged war against the saints down through the ages using governments, ideologies, and false religions as their earthly instruments. A quick read through the table of contents of Foxe’s Book of Martyrs will bear this out. Christians face danger and difficulties for worshipping as they desire in a large portion of the world. Islamic ideology is spreading throughout the globe, seeking to eradicate or neutralize those perceived to be a threat to the progression of their religion; it is clear to see that Satan’s methods have not changed down through the centuries; he has merely chosen Islam as his newest tool.
And I heard a loud voice saying in heaven, Now is come salvation, and strength, and the kingdom of our God, and the power of his Christ: for the accuser of our brethren is cast down, which accused them before our God day and night. And they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb, and by the word of their testimony; and they loved not their lives unto the death. (Revelation 12:10-11)
We Should Pray for Those Who Persecute
Let us not forget to pray for those who persecute. Unless such wretched souls repent and turn truly to the Lord, they will spend eternity in Hell. The Bible says, “Bless them which persecute you: bless, and curse not” (Romans 12:14). And Jesus said:
But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you. (Matthew 5:44)
This poem by Georgi Vins is a good reminder for us to pray for the persecutors as well as the persecuted:
To My Persecutors
My persecutors, I do not curse you,
And at this hour under the burden of the cross
I pray for you and bless you
With the simple humanity of Christ.
I am pure before you: by word and deeds
I have called you to good and to light.
I have so much wished that your hearts
Would be possessed by the lofty ideal of love.
But rejecting this kind summons
You answered with rabid enmity.
My persecutors, I do not curse you,
But I am saddened by your fate.
The immortal examples of history
Speak of the futility of persecution—
The fires of love and abundant faith
Burn enthusiastically through the whole land!
My persecutors, I do not curse you,
And at this hour under the burden of the cross
I pray for you and bless you
With the simple humanity of Christ.15
—Georgi P. Vins
Anyusha Prison Camp, 1968
What Can We Do?
What can we do in the face of such overwhelming evil as persecution for our faith?
First, we can remember that God is on His throne, and in the end, He will make things right.
And when he had opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of them that were slain for the word of God, and for the testimony which they held: And they cried with a loud voice, saying, How long, O Lord, holy and true, dost thou not judge and avenge our blood on them that dwell on the earth? And white robes were given unto every one of them; and it was said unto them, that they should rest yet for a little season, until their fellowservants also and their brethren, that should be killed as they were, should be fulfilled. (Revelation 6:9-11)
We can identify with those who are suffering, as the Bible instructs us. It helps to remember that each number in the statistics represents a real person. Stay informed and learn the names, faces, and stories behind the numbers; though many of them will never be known by you and me, God knows each and every one.
We can remember that the battle the persecuted church is facing is a spiritual battle. And the weapons of our warfare on their behalf are spiritual as well.
The weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strong holds. (2 Corinthians 10:4)
And therefore, we must pray without ceasing.
Persecution—Will We Be Ready?
At the 2015 Parliament of the World’s Religions held in Salt Lake City, where speakers such as Brian McLaren, the Dalai Lama, and Marianne Williamson spoke to over fourteen thousand attendees, eye witnesses reported that in the midst of this interfaith event, there was an overstated hostile sentiment regarding Bible-believing Christians. One eye-witness stated:
The Christian view of “salvation” has the inclusion/exclusion message of “we are in—they are not.” The interfaith movement cites this as an evil. In other words, to say salvation is by Christ alone, and there is a Hell and there is a Heaven is not accepting of other faiths. It is exclusive, unaccepting of other religions, especially because they believe “God accepts all, God is in all.” The Christian orthodox view of Heaven and Hell will no longer be tolerated as they says it divides humanity.16
Christians in the Western world should realize that persecution and martyrdom have been the norm for countless believers in the past centuries of Christianity and now in much of today’s non-Western world. The question we have hanging over our heads is, will Western Christians have what it takes to stand for their faith and even die for their faith? With all the comforts and freedom Western believers have enjoyed, will this ease of being a Christian believer help or hinder our ability to live (or die) for our faith. Suppose a government threatens to take away our homes, our jobs, and our comforts if we refuse to stop standing for the truth of the Gospel and sharing it with others—would we be willing to lose all for the sake of Christ? It’s a question every Christian needs to ask himself. In the meantime, let us remember the persecuted church, and let us continually pray for those believers who make up this important and suffering segment of the body of Christ.
Yea doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ. (Philippians 3:8)
Many are my persecutors and mine enemies; yet do I not decline from thy testimonies. . . . Princes have persecuted me without a cause: but my heart standeth in awe of thy word. (Psalm 119: 157, 161)
To order copies of Remembering the Persecuted Church and Why We Need to Pray, click here.
(Susan Moore is a free-lance writer and researcher who has done editing, formatting, and researching for Lighthouse Trails and other discernment ministries, such as The Berean Call and Understand the Times, for many years.)
1. Encarta Dictionary
2. Harvey Yoder, A Small Price to Pay (Berlin, OH: TGS International, 2006), p. 226.
3. Georgi Vins, The Gospel in Bonds (Eureka, MT: Lighthouse Trails Publishing, 2014), p. 43.
4. Ibid., p. 46.
5. John Foxe, Foxe’s Book of Martyrs (Eureka, MT: Lighthouse Trails, 4th printing 2014), p. 22.
6. Samuel Smith, “2015 Deadliest Year for Christians Worldwide, Open Doors’ World Watch List Finds” (Christian Post, January 13, 2016, http://www.christianpost.com/news/open-doors-world-watch-list-2015-deadliest-year-christians-killed-for-faith-jesus-christ-154875/#LkRkiwVfOjTUWLw6.99).
9. Sharona Schwartz, “North Korea Executed 80 People for Watching TV and Owning Bibles” (The Blaze, November 12, 2013, http://www.theblaze.com/stories/2013/11/12/reports-north-korea-executed-80-people-for-watching-tv-and-owning-bibles).
10. Bob Unruh, “North Korea suspected in fatal attack on Chinese pastor” (WND, 5/7/2016, http://www.wnd.com/2016/05/north-korea-suspected-in-fatal-attack-on-chinese-pastor/#x21TjPoZ2Ybroa7g.99).
11. Brynne Lawrence, “Church Leader’s Wife Dead After Buried Alive During Church Demolition (China Aid, April 16, 2016, http://www.chinaaid.org/2016/04/church-leaders-wife-dead-after-buried.html).
12. Bob Unruh, “Sentencing of Christians explodes 10,000% in China” (WND, April 25, 2015, http://www.wnd.com/2015/04/sentencing-of-christians-explodes-10000-in-china/).
14. Raymond Ibrahim, “Muslims Claim Lion’s Share of Christian Victims” (WorldMag, March 7, 2016, http://www.frontpagemag.com/fpm/262036/muslims-responsible-worst-year-modern-history-raymond-ibrahim).
15. Georgi, Vins, The Gospel in Bonds, op. cit., p. 13.
16. Lynette Irwin, “Eye Witness Account at Parliament of the World’s Religions 2015 Reveals Growing Animosity Toward Biblical Christians” (Lighthouse Trails Research blog, October 21, 2015, http://www.lighthousetrailsresearch.com/blog/?p=18411).
To order copies of Remembering the Persecuted Church and Why We Need to Pray, click here.