This Chaplain’s letter is written by the Rev. Grant Crowe, Amersfoort chaplain.
The focus for this chaplain’s letter I’d like to make, is upon the Persecuted Christians in our One Holy Catholic Apostolic Church. As Lent draws to a close in the days of Holy Week, we hear Jesus say to his followers, on the Mount of Olives. ‘’…you will be handed over to be persecuted and put to death.’’ (Matthew 24:9). The persecution of his followers would be closely linked to his own experience. The one who will ‘’be betrayed into the hands of men. They will kill him and after three days he will rise.’’ (Mark 9:31), on what we call Maundy Thursday, said: ‘’This is my command: love each other. If the world hates you, keep in mind it hated me first. … Remember the words I spoke to you:‘No servant is greater than his master. If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also.’’ (John 15:17-18, 20). One of the roles of Lent, is that we are preparing for Holy Week – yet as we remember our Suffering Servant King, he says, as he was treated so will his followers be treated. Lent becomes a time therefore not only to remember the Suffering Lord, but His Suffering Church. A Church he is deeply connected to. As he says to Saul / Paul on the Road to Damascus, ‘’Saul, Saul why do you persecute me?’’ (Acts 9: 4). Yet Jesus is ascended, Saul cannot touch him in all his persecutions of the Christian church. Yet. Such is the link – Jesus the Head, we the Body – that to persecute the followers of Jesus, is to persecute the Lord.
Part of what we seek to encourage at All Saints Amersfoort – since its early foundation – has been a growing heart for our persecuted brothers and sisters in Christ. And there is such a need. Currently, 1 in 10 Christians face high levels of persecution; 1 in 6 Christians in Africa, 1 in 3 in Asia. That is around 260 million people. The Christian organisation Open Doors, working across the globe, gathers information each year, and publishes the World Watch List. In the UK, usually there are over 100 MPs attending this launch event in Parliament in January. 2019’s research showed: Every day 8 Christians worldwide are killed because of their faith; every week, 182 churches or Christian buildings are attacked; And every month, 309 Christians are imprisoned unjustly. Shocking statistics when you pause to consider them. The World Watch List is a list of the top 50 countries where it is hardest to live out the Christian faith. You can go to www.opendoorsuk.org or www.opendoors.nl to learn more about the conditions in each country.
This year, at All Saints, a number of us, each week, are praying each week for a different country in his top 50 list. And in our Sunday worship, we include intercession for persecuted believers. Why? Again, for as we focus upon our crucified Lord, we recall, he shares as he was treated, believers will be, and in fact are at this time you read this, being treated like our Lord was… And, as many of us are aware, in our congregations, or across the Anglican Church in the Netherlands, we have members of our communities who have relatives, or have come from countries or regions, where persecution takes place. The persecuted church is coming and has come to the Anglican Church in the Netherlands. This matters deeply to some of our members. And we can learn much from our persecuted brothers and sisters. Paul reminds us in ‘everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.’ (2 Tim 3:12). Persecution comes. Lent reminds us. We can learn from those who are, or have been persecuted to prepare us for the times we will experience it.
Last year I had the great privilege to spend some days with persecuted believers and pastors. I cannot say where and the names I use have been changed, to protect those I met. I wanted to share briefly a few lessons I have learned or I am still learning. One of my meetings, was with a group of believers, in a service station on a road. It was too unsafe to visit them in their homes as it would be possible the police would be informed. One question I asked was which were their favourite bible verses. I expected it to be things like Psalm 23 and the like.
They shared an amazing set. John 3:16, Matthew 28:18-20 (Great Commission); Romans 8:1-12, the Book of Ecclesiastes (there is a time for everything…).
Another one of their favourite verses was the one I mentioned above – Matthew 24:9. It encouraged them, they said, because Jesus promised persecution and it was happening. They – and no others we met – ever asked to be delivered from persecution, pray for a change of laws or government. They asked prayers for strength – spiritual, physical, emotional – and to be able to take the opportunities the Lord was placing before them to disciple and to communicate the Christian faith. The Lord promised persecution would come. Yet their perspective was not to hang in there for a change of policy or for the Lord’s return. Their approach –‘we want to be faithful in all he calls us to do’. We have such freedom. What do we do with it? What are we praying for?
Pressure cooker. The Christians I met were expected to be part of a government registered church. If they were, they were safe from police raids and could be public in what they did. Yet the government to grant registration, wanted to know who was in the church. On the other hand, if you did not register, then if the police discovered you were meeting – in a large group or even a small group – you would be arrested. So one church met in a cellar, soundproofed so no sound could be heard outside the door or walls. Other churches. To arrive and leave, you did so in small groups, or ones or twos, not to draw attention in the area. We, here in the Netherlands, can meet when we want, how we want, the government show interest not that we meet, but for other reasons such as taxes etc. Can you imagine meeting as a home group, knowing, maybe in the back of your mind, the police could be coming. Or you need to speak quietly – like one home I was in – in case the neighbours would hear?
Loved. Jesus on Maundy Thursday said,‘ this is my command, love each
other.’ (John 15:15). In all my visits, the kindness and love shown to me and others with me, was moving. We visited some homes, had meals, and even though you could not communicate except by translator, you knew, I knew, I was loved by these believers who I have never met before and may well never meet ever again. I will always remember one of the believers, call him Dimitri, who in his eyes, and the ways he communicated, radiated the love of Jesus for us and for Him, and when he said he would pray for me, I believe he would. There was love because we visited. We did not bring any money. We did not preach or teach. We visited. We spent time. We drank and ate. We listened. We were present. We were loved because we were fellow believers who came to visit them, listen, pray with and to be prayed for by them. Maybe this is a glimpse of what Jesus had in mind. ‘Love each other’ them for they are your brothers and sisters. What does it mean for me, when Jesus says on Maundy Thursday, ‘love each other’?
Inspiration and Honesty. I heard some inspiring ways of how faith was shared or how God changed lives. One man told a story of how he was seriously ill. He was sent home from hospital. They could do nothing for him. He prayed to Jesus asking him to heal him, and if he did, he would go where no one else wanted to go. Over the following weeks, he was healed. On the television one day, he heard about another country where a war was taking place. On the television the journalist said, that this place, was ‘where no one wants to go.’ And he left his country to go there to serve the Lord Jesus bringing the gospel. Another was a business man, Bruno. When he and his parents became Christian. The local community, the village rejected them, cut off all social links. Years later. Bruno was a successful businessman. He was asked to speak at a conference. At that conference some people from his old village were attending. Later he met them and talked. They said, when Bruno and his parents became Christian, they felt God had cursed them. Yet now, years later, seeing how well Bruno had done, they saw, that his faith in Jesus did not mean God had cursed him. God had blessed they saw/ And they wanted to know more about Christian faith and Bruno was able to pray with them. But I remember one Christian telling me, please not to believe they were amazing, never anxious or worried. They said, they were often afraid, not knowing what to say when in difficult situations. One lady shared how she would tell the Lord – ‘I don’t know what to say to the police, or these people, I am afraid.’ But she would remember the Lord’s promise that they were not to worry about what to say but he would give them the words (Matthew 10:18-20). And they experienced that time and time again. So wonderful testimonies I heard of God at work by his Spirit. He kept his promises. Yet also. Honesty about how they were doing with me – as a visitor – as well as honesty with the Lord, honest about their fears and anxieties.
So. Persecuted Christians. Praying for strength and for them to seize the opportunities they have before them. Prayers to cope in the pressure cooker environment many find themselves in. Prayer for healing from the effects of being arrested or interrogated by police. Thankful for their example of loving other believers whom they have just met. Inspiring testimonies from what God is doing and the challenge to be honest. It is hard being in a place of persecution. Yet as we in Lent, focus upon our Lord, as he experienced persecution, suffering, we remember and learn from those who walk in his footsteps.