Saturday, August 27, 2011

Friday Focus: Remember the Prisoners

Remember the prisoners, as though in prison with them, and those who are ill-treated, since you yourselves are also in the body.  (Hebrews 13:3, NASB)

I still remember a day in January of 1995 when I was standing on the little balcony of the apartment where I was staying in Donetsk, Ukraine.  It was one of the rare moments that week when sunshine broke through the grey clouds.  In the distance to the left, was a veritable forest of those large, ugly apartment blocks built in the soviet era which would depress even the sunniest of personalities.  Ahead and to the right was a forest of deciduous trees, most likely ash, which added an atmospheric coldness to the physical coldness of the day.  Across the road from the campus was a large brewery which was defended by an 8-foot high stone wall topped by rolled razor-wire and "guarded" at intervals by large and fierce-looking black crows.  The windows of the main brewery building were darkened and announcements in Russian were periodically barked out of external loudspeakers.

In all, the physical surroundings of the campus provided an atmospheric reminder that only a few years before, there was no Christian oasis in the area and the campus itself was the home of a Komsomol (Soviet Youth Organization) Camp.  Such atmosphere wasn't the only thing working to remind us how privileged are even the poorer folks in the West.  We had also been reminded of the stark reality some Christians had faced in the former Soviet Union when we visited a church in Donetsk that met in the building that was formerly the local KGB headquarters.  What had been an interrogation room had become a room filled with clothing donated by German Christians.  An office had been converted to a small radio broadcasting operation and the main hall was now a sanctuary for Christian worship which, even on that cold and grey January Sunday morning, was so full that some worshippers stood out in the hallway for a 2 1/2 hour service.

But the most saddening reminder of how materially privileged we are in the West came in the form of a warning:

We are praying for your persecution

The reason some Christians who have suffered persecution under the thumb of repressive governments, and the brothers and sisters who are even now so suffering is that they fear we have forgotten them.  We don't write to them, don't give nearly enough and, I suspect, they can sense that we are not praying for them.  We have forgotten that we are a Body, adopted into Christ.  We have forgotten the Christians like them who are hidden from our view much like we forget about the existence of our gallbladder, tucked up under our equally forgotten liver, until it causes us discomfort.

That was fifteen years ago, and depending upon your vantage point, it doesn't look like much has changed.  September 11, 2001 has proven to be little more than a blip on the radar.  It may have been a wake up call that some still look back to but we appear to have hit the snooze button.  More than once.

So this is a teeny little reminder that the hidden parts of the body need attention even when we don't receive constant reminders of their existence.  Isn't it funny that even when we receive national reminders to pray in splashy events such as the National Prayer Breakfast and the National Day of Prayer, we make more fuss over the high school student who was told not to pray when he gave his graduation speech than we do over the abortuary across town where our next generation is routinely executed?  And when have you ever heard someone at a National Day of Prayer Rally remind us to pray for our brothers and sisters in chains as if we were in chains as well?

I sometimes think material comfort is the greatest enemy of body life.  Our wealth has created chains that are harder to break than the strongest prison chains made by a jailer. 

The Scripture at the top of this post is linked to the website for IDOP, International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church.  You'll learn about the organization and how to pray for the persecuted, you'll read testimonies and learn about the resources available to you.  If you would like to get your church involved, be sure to visit their resources page.

But most of all, don't allow yourself to think it is a special day celebrated on the second Sunday in November.  The privilege of praying for our brothers and sisters in chains, praying as if we were chained up alongside them is something we celebrate every day.

1 comment:

Laurie said...

Great article!! Yes, I remember that day in Donestk. I remember the sense of awe during that church service, and when we found out about the KGB. That was amazingly powerful experience!! I am glad you wrote about it!!