The Painful Reality of Sharing About the Persecuted Church

It is a privilege to be able to read through the raw field reports we regularly receive from closed countries. The stories are unpolished, often in distinctly non-native versions of English. They have many details about people’s situations, their suffering, and their victories – and they often have photos.

These photos say more than a thousand words. A child who has just lost his whole family in an earthquake. A small gathering of believers, kneeling in a remote field where they can worship without being detected. A mother who has to beg to keep her family alive, her face so thin and tired. A Christian sister forcibly married to an addict, her relatively young face looking sad and 20 years older than she is. A small gathering of new believers high in the mountains of their strictly Buddhist nation.

A child who had to flee, because his parents were about to be arrested by an extremist regime for their faith. Now at a new school, studying in a strange language, his expression is full of loss and pain. Other children who are likewise refugees for their faith look hopeful, even joyful, as they are further ahead on the road to building a new life. And a group of women around a table, praying together in a country where they could be sent to prison for meeting in this way.

Yes, it is a privilege to see these faces and hear their stories, but it is also a hard job, because the next thing I have to do is turn these reports into something we can share with supporters. I delete all particulars, dates, places, sometimes even countries. I remove personal parts of their stories that could identify them. I polish the language. I change or remove their names. I crop the photos., remove place identifiers, reflections in mirrors, and sometimes backgrounds. But the worst part comes last. I place black rectangles over their eyes and a part of their faces, as if they are criminals.

That is what persecution does. It criminalizes the innocent. Refugee children, new believers meeting in a field, orphans worshipping Jesus, women holding hands around a table. I take away their personhood. Now they are just ‘the persecuted’. You can no longer look them in the eye. I have to make them invisible. Not because I want to, but because they have to be protected against those who would criminalize them or their parents. As I cover their faces, I catch myself whispering “sorry,” and “I see you.”

Even though we cannot show their faces, we can make their voices heard. One way we do that is by writing down their stories and publishing them in books. We also have a conference coming up where we will hear directly from the persecuted church. Brothers and sisters will come to share with us what it is like to be made a criminal for their faith. Most have been in prison, often multiple times and suffered unimaginable hardship. They know what it is to share in the sufferings of Christ. Through them, we can look our other persecuted brothers and sisters in the eye again and begin to understand what it means to be one body. One persecuted Body of believers.

Come and join us at our ‘Voices of the Persecuted Church’ conference. Click below for more details:

Voices of the Persecuted Church Conference 2024

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