February 23, 2015, 21 Coptic Christians lost their lives for Jesus Christ. They were beheaded by ISIS on a beach in Lybia for refusing to convert to Islam. Those men, steadfast in their faith until the very end, became a symbol of the persecuted church in Africa and the Middle East.
However, shortly after their deaths, ISIS descended on Syria’s Hasakah province and kidnapped more than 200 Assyrian Christians. Not knowing whether or not they were going to face the same fate as their brothers in Lybia, the church prayed and pleaded for their release.
This year, shortly after the one-year anniversary of our brothers losing their lives, the majority of our Assyrian brothers and sisters were freed from ISIS captivity. Out of the hundreds captured, three were apparently beheaded. Five people are still missing. While ISIS has released hostages throughout the year in small groups, they threatened to kill the remaining victims earlier this month if a ransom of $100,000 dollars was not paid for each kidnapee.
According to the AP, a bank account was created so that people could donate funds to aid payment of the ransom to ISIS. The ransom amount varied between $18 and $25 million. The group did not pay that much for the release – in fact, they paid less than half. Those released were mostly women and children.
As war continues to rage across much of Africa and the Middle East, and as persecution intensifies in these areas and in Asia, it can be difficult to know what to do. But as Paul reminded the Corinthian church, when one member of the Body of Christ suffers, we all suffer and we are called to show care for each member of the church.
In that vein, we must see these precious men, women, and children as the same as us. They are our family and because we are in Jesus together, that family bond is above our cultures or the borders of any country. We are first children together in the kingdom of God & citizens of this world second.
So how can we pray for and support Christians around the world in a time of intense and deadly persecution?
- Pray that they can endure in the faith. (Matthew 10:23)
- Pray that our brothers and sisters will be strengthened by the Holy Spirit. (Ephesians 3:16)
- Pray for their continued boldness to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ in their countries. (Acts 4:29
- Pray that Christians can get continued access to Bibles.
- Pray for specific countries. The Voice of the Martyrs has a public prayer map where you can click on different countries and see the hostilities they face. You’ll learn the percentages of Christians in those countries and the major political factions ruling currently. You’ll also get personal stories from Christians and missionaries in that country, giving you specifics to pray for.
- Pray that men and women who have lost everything for their faith will find community and love in the body of Jesus.
- Pray for them because they are persecuted for the sake of Jesus (Matthew 5:10-11)
- Pray for the persecutors, that they would come to know Jesus and be saved (Matthew 5:43-48)
Hundreds of thousands of our brothers and sisters are at risk for persecution and dying for their faith around the world. We must be diligent in prayer, faithful in our support and seek to be spiritually unified with them in the person of Jesus and His word. We cannot be separate from them.