Thursday, August 2, 2012

Do persecuted Christians need our help ... or do we need theirs?

The director of Seoul USA, VOM’s sister mission that works with persecuted North Korean believers, recently wrote an excellent piece on whether it is the persecuted Church – or the Church in the West – that really needs help. Below are excerpts.
Teaching the discipleship practices of the North Korean church (and other underground churches throughout history) to Christians in the rest of the world is central to our calling at Seoul USA.  So anytime someone asks me, “How can we help North Korean Christians?” my response is always, “Help them? How about letting them help us?” This always puzzles inquirers quite a bit.
That’s because our tendency is to see Christians in persecuting countries as desperately needing the help of Christians in free countries. For example, Western Christians, when learning of oppression like in North Korea, naturally turn towards petitioning God to release North Koreans from their persecution. “Grant them the freedom to worship you openly,” we might ask. And even though we rarely pray it, our minds complete the sentence, “…just like us.”
But as is so often the case, when we are commanded to remember those who are suffering or in prison as if we were suffering or in prison also (see Hebrews 13:3), Scripture turns our concepts completely upside down – or right side up, depending on how you look at it.
A careful reading of Hebrews 13:3 reveals a call for us to imitate, rather than pity, Christians who are suffering for the sake of the Name. The idea is that they are the seniors and we the juniors in the call to imitate Christ. Our junior status and our need to learn from someone other than ourselves becomes increasingly clear these days given that:
  • church attendance in many of the “free” countries of the West is now between two and five per cent, and still slipping. 
So it is with no disrespect at all to the churches in countries with freedom of religion that we recognize the importance of thinking deeply about which way the “help” arrow should be turned as we contemplate our relationship to Christians in countries without freedom of religion.
But just as we should not lament the life of North Korean Christians, neither should we lionize them. If we lionize them, we will be tempted not to learn from them. We will find ourselves saying things like, “I could never survive persecution like that…”
And it would be a mistake to let the matter rest there, since the Apostle Paul promises that “everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.” 
When someone comes up to me after I speak at a conference and says, “Oh, I’m so thankful I don’t have to endure persecution,” I always ask, “When was the last time you proclaimed the gospel at work or to your neighbour?” And inevitably they respond, “Oh, I haven’t done that.” 
So persecution is not a possible future for [North] American Christians; it is the present reality for Christians in every country throughout history who are seeking to live a godly life in Christ Jesus. 
What do you think? What help can we provide the persecuted Church? What help can they provide us? Do you believe persecution is a present reality in your country? Why or why not?

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