Good Friday: Christ's Sacrifice

For dogs have surrounded Me; The congregation of the wicked has enclosed Me. They pierced My hands and My feet;

I can count all My bones. They look and stare at Me.

They divide My garments among them, And for My clothing they cast lots.

~Psalm 22:16-18

But He was wounded for our transgressions,

He was bruised for our iniquities;
The chastisement for our peace was upon Him,
And by His stripes we are healed.
All we like sheep have gone astray;
We have turned, every one, to his own way;
And the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all.

He was oppressed and He was afflicted,
Yet He opened not His mouth;
He was led as a lamb to the slaughter,
And as a sheep before its shearers is silent,
So He opened not His mouth.
He was taken from prison and from judgment,
And who will declare His generation?
For He was cut off from the land of the living;
For the transgressions of My people He was stricken.
And they made His grave with the wicked—
But with the rich at His death,
Because He had done no violence,
Nor was any deceit in His mouth.

10 Yet it pleased the Lord to bruise Him;
He has put Him to grief.
When You make His soul an offering for sin,
He shall see His seed, He shall prolong His days,
And the pleasure of the Lord shall prosper in His hand.
11 He shall see the labor of His soul, and be satisfied.
By His knowledge My righteous Servant shall justify many,
For He shall bear their iniquities.

12 Therefore I will divide Him a portion with the great,
And He shall divide the spoil with the strong,
Because He poured out His soul unto death,
And He was numbered with the transgressors,
And He bore the sin of many,
And made intercession for the transgressors.

~Isaiah 53:5-11

As you remember Christ's sacrifice and celebrate his resurrection, please pray for our persecuted family around the world.

VOM Team in Nigeria

Recently a VOM team visited with persecuted Christians in Nigeria, where they met with and ministered to persecuted Christians, including children and widows. Included in the team was a group of women specially trained to minister to and encourage widows.

Here are some highlights of their trip.

 

Please pray for Christians in Nigeria.

IRAN: A Light in the Darkness

Pastor Behnam Irani has endured a number of trials and suffered during his imprisonment at Ghezel Hesar Prison located in Iran. After nearly two years of suffering from an intestinal disorder and being very ill, Pastor Behnam was finally taken for surgery on Feb. 22 and he is reported to be doing well as he continues to recuperate in his prison cell — where he was taken about four days after the operation. And as he has been in recovery, secret police seized his only Bible as well as other Christian books.

BehnamOne wonders if the police are trying to seize his hope.

Just a few days ago, we also heard from readers who have reported that the letters they have sent to Pastor Behnam are being returned. Although marked “insufficient address,” our contacts assure us that the address is correct. They implore you to continue to write to the pastor.

But why write if my letters aren’t going to get there?

Even while your letters may be returned, we know from other prisoners like Maryam and Marziyeh, who were held in the women’s ward of Evin Prison, that the guards may report the volume of letters to Pastor Behnam. Though he may not be able to hold the letter and read it for himself, news of your love will encourage him.

The letters also tell officials that Christians are watching how the pastor is being treated. The letters and your prayers may have helped to convince authorities to ensure that Pastor Behnam was treated for his abdominal problems, where medical problems are often overlooked. Prisoners, especially Christians, are treated poorly.  

The pastor has a wife and two young children. His daughter and son both miss their father, who has been in prison since May, 2011. Prisons in Iran are dark places. In a letter to the church dated October 2012, Pastor Behnam wrote, “Here in the jail, most of the prisoners are addicted to many types of illegal drugs, especially crystal meth.”  Very few have hope of any kind.

He goes on in his letter and exhorts the church to remember, “No matter how dark it is around you, it is important for you to keep shining, and to let the light of your love be generously offered.” This light, he says is truly found in Jesus.

Pray that although Pastor Benham’s Bible has been taken he will continue to be a light to those in a very dark place, both his fellow prisoners as well as the guards. Pray that guards would report to him the letters he is getting and would take notice that Christians are watching.

Write a letter today at prisoneralert.com in hopes that he is able to receive encouraging words from you.

“Ann Kay” is a writer for VOM. She learned about VOM five years ago when she read Tortured for Christ and began receiving the newsletter. She is passionate about reaching the world for Christ and sharing stories of the persecuted church.

Things We Don’t Tell Children

Leah’s Daughter

Leah stood among the congregation in the church in South Sudan, singing beautiful praises to God. Christian workers visiting the church noticed her right away. They saw that Leah was blind and sickly, and she wore old clothing.

“Leah is a strong Christian,” the pastor later told the visiting workers.

“Why don’t you help her more?” one worker asked some of the Christians in the congregation. “She’s blind and sick, and she needs clothes!”

“How can we?” asked the local Christians. “There are so many others like her, and we are poor ourselves!” Leah photo

But God has not left Leah alone. He has given her a very special helper. Leah has a 5-year-old daughter. Leah’s daughter has learned to lead her mother around. She is her mother’s guide.

The visitors saw Leah’s daughter standing faithfully by Leah’s side. The girl held onto her mother with one hand, and she clutched a Bible in her other hand. Close to her mother, she is learning to sing praises to God even in the most difficult circumstances. That can be a hard lesson for any Christian to learn, but God has given Leah’s daughter a very good teacher.

What We Don’t Tell Children

VOM’s Kids of Courage resources have told the story of Leah and her daughter. From the story, children learn that people don’t have to live in comfortable circumstances to joyfully sing praises to the Lord. They learn that God cares for us (1 Peter 5:7), often through others, even children.

When children have already learned about bold believers who suffer, they may not be any less grieved by harsher stories of persecution when they are adults. But they may be less likely to blame God and to have their faith shaken when they encounter the persecution.

After they get older, they can learn more about how Leah’s village was attacked by Muslims from the North about six years before the visiting Christians arrived.

Koc_logoMost of the people in the village fled, but Leah couldn’t see where to run. Her daughterher guide, her blessingwas the result of the Muslims’ attack on her that day. “Love your enemies” and “Pray for those who persecute you” surely take on new dimensions when you’re forced to bear your enemy’s child. KOC_Logo

We don’t tell children that part of the story. But we can help prepare them to hear it later when they can again be reminded that people don’t have to wait until they are in comfortable situations to praise the Lord, and that God cares for us in our struggles.

VOM’s Kids of Courage resources help parents and educators teach children ages 5 to 13 about persecuted Christians around the world, and provide opportunities for children to serve and pray for them. Learn more at www.kidsofcourage.com.

Old Wrapping Paper Launches Mission Movement in India

Ancient Israel comprised 12 tribes camping around the tabernacle. In the same way, Christianity has always contained various camps, tribes and denominations, often closely related and working together for the Kingdom. One of the fastest-growing in early America was the Freewill Baptists of New England, started when New Hampshire’s Benjamin Randall was converted in 1770. Freewill Baptists aggressively pursued evangelism and education in Northeast America and were among the loudest voices against slavery.

The extension of the movement overseas was ignited by a handful of old wrapping paper.

The General Baptists of England had sent Amos Sutton to India in 1830 as a missionary doctor. The load was too great, and his American wife, worried about his health, suggested he write to Freewill Baptists, appealing for help. Sutton immediately penned a long letter ending with, “Come, then, my American brethren, come over and help us.” On This Day

Unfortunately, Sutton had no address for the Freewill Baptists, so his letter rested in his desk many months. One day he received a package and, opening it, saw a fragile item wrapped in discarded newspaper. The paper proved more valuable than the gift, for it was the Morningstar, publication of the Freewill Baptists. Dr. Sutton immediately posted his letter to the listed address. The Freewill Baptist Foreign Mission Society was soon established, and Sutton made a dramatic visit to New Hampshire. Pale and emaciated, he told 3,000 assembled Christians, “As I arise to speak, I seem to see the millions in India with bended knees and tearful eyes, saying, ‘Sir, plead our cause—plead it effectually!’” He did, returning to India with 21 workers. Many of them died, others suffered greatly, but still more followed. And on April 14, 1839 the first small Freewill Baptist chapel in India was dedicated to Christ to accommodate the new converts.

“Could the friends of missions have witnessed our little assembly quietly seated on their mats, listening to the Word of eternal life with serious attention,” wrote a missionary, “they would have rejoiced with us, and would have praised the name of that God who had here made room for us.”

The person that mailed the gift to Dr. Sutton may have never known the impact of the discarded paper that he wrapped it in. Yet in God’s sovereignty that “trash” led to souls being won in India. Has God ever used something unique or something the world would see as rubbish to guide you or assist you in finding His will? Please share your story in the comments to this post.

Story excerpted from “On This Day in Christian History: 365 Amazing and Inspiring Stories about Saints, Martyrs and Heroes” by Robert J. Morgan. Disclosure: VOM is part of the Amazon Associates program. If you click on the links in this post and purchase the book from Amazon, VOM will receive a very small percentage of your purchase as a referral fee.

EGYPT: Prayer Request

Each week VOM posts a new prayer need at www.iCommitToPray.com, the online prayer meeting for our persecuted brothers and sisters. This week's request is for the family of a young woman brutally killed by radical Muslims in Egypt:

68_MARYSAMEHGEORGESFAMILYMary Sameh George, a 25-year-old Christian who lived with her parents and sister in Cairo, was brutally attacked and killed on March 28 by pro-Muslim Brotherhood demonstrators. As she does each Friday, Mary was on her way to deliver groceries and other necessities to a poor family in the Ein Shams area when she was stopped by a group of protesters. When protesters spotted her gold cross necklace, they dragged her out of her car and repeatedly stabbed and choked her to death. Her family was devastated when they learned of her murder; her fiancé's mother was so grief-stricken that she died shortly after learning of Mary's death.

Will you commit to pray for Mary's family as they grieve her loss? Add your voice online to pray for Mary, and invite your Christian friends to join in also.

Christians Concerned as India Elections Open

Christians in India are fearful that the country's general elections, which begin this week, may lead to a rise in persecution of Christians and other religious minorities. About 815 million people are expected to cast ballots in the elections, which take place in several phases ending May 12. Results are expected to be announced May 16.

Opinion polls suggest a victory for the opposition National Democratic Alliance, led by the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). Its prime ministerial candidate, Narendra Modi, is currently chief minister of Gujarat. He was widely criticized for failing to prevent the massacre of more than 2,000 Muslims in his state in 2002. Modi, 63, has been denied a visa to enter the United States for more than 10 years. In-map

Most incidents of mass violence against Christians have taken place in states under the rule of the BJP. Rev Richard Howell, general secretary of the Evangelical Fellowship of India, says Modi's rise has led to 'fear and insecurity' among Christians. 'The perception… is that the scale of persecution of Christians will increase,' he says.

While Modi is seen by many—especially those outside India—as a radical Hindu nationalist and a human rights abuser, he is seen by many in India as a capable leader who has improved the economy in Gujarat and brought 24-hour electricity to its people.

“He is seen as having been a very competent, even successful chief minister in Gujurat with the one major exception of the 2002 riots,” Dr. Robert Hathaway, director of the Asia program at The Wilson Center, told NBCNews.com. “The economy there has grown remarkably well and he is regarded as the atypical Indian politician in the sense that he is not surrounded by allegations of corruption or enriching himself personally.”

Christians in India are requesting prayer for their nation as the elections go forward. Pray Christians will find strength and security in Christ as this process moves forward. Pray also for God’s will in the election process.

Learn more about the nation of India and persecution there.

Sources: Release International (VOM’s sister mission in the UK), NBCNews.com

Little Love Leads to Little Forgiveness

Luke 7:47 tells the story of Jesus at the home of the Pharisee named Simon. As they were eating, a woman of ill-repute slips in and proceeds to show gratitude and love to Jesus by anointing him with alabaster oil. Simon comments in a rather judgmental manner. If Jesus was really a prophet he would know the kind of woman who was performing these deeds of kindness to Jesus, implying that he would reject her. Simon was most troubled by the fact that Jesus told her that her sins were forgiven without having to perform rituals of the law to get forgiveness. Jesus responds to Simon’s criticism by telling a story about who was forgiven most, the one who had sinned a lot or the one who sinned little. The point Jesus makes is that since she had been forgiven a lot, she shows a lot of gratitude and love. Jesus was also speaking to Simon in an indirect manner. If you would recognize your sinfulness and ask forgiveness you, also, would show much love and gratitude because he who is forgiven much loves much. Conversely, he who loves much also forgives much. Simon lacks both love and forgiveness. He did extend a cordial welcome to Jesus as was custom for guests in one’s home.

VOMClassroomTaking this truth (he who has been forgiven much loves much), we could apply this to the situation of those who are persecuted and the persecutors. The persecuted who forgive their persecutors have already experienced forgiveness in their lives and, because they have the spirit of forgiveness and love, they are able, out of gratefulness, to extend forgiveness to those who persecute them. For the persecutors, they like Simon need to experience forgiveness for their sin. The witness of those who are persecuted and are showing love and forgiveness is clearly seen by the persecutors, and this may be the first glimpse that such a spirit and attitude is even possible in this life. Through the acts of forgiveness and love the persecutor may begin to see their own sin and the darkness that pervades their heart.

Assuming that many of us are not being persecuted for our faith at the moment as many in our extended Christian family are, how do we apply this truth to our situation? It is here where our brothers and sisters who are being persecuted are an example and inspiration. If we cannot show love and forgiveness to people who wrong us, although not to the extent of persecuting us, then we need to hear the words that were spoken to Simon. Apparently we do not show love and gratitude because we have not been forgiven much. If the truth were known, we need to confess the extent of our sins and receive great grace and forgiveness from God. Then we would have the heart of forgiveness and gratitude.

Jesus also said that if we do not forgive others we will not be forgiven (Matt. 6:15) because it reflects an attitude and spirit that fails to show genuine gratefulness for the extent to which we have been forgiven. To have an unforgiving spirit will injure and destroy our relationship with God. If we graciously extend forgiveness to others, we are in fact expressing our love and gratitude toward God for lavishly pouring his grace of forgiveness upon us. To God be the glory!

Roy Stults, PhD, is the Online Workshop Coordinator and Educational Services Coordinator for The Voice of the Martyrs. He graduated from Olivet Nazarene University (BA and MA), Nazarene Theological Seminary (M.Div.), Trinity Evangelical Divinity School (Doctor of Missiology), and The University of Manchester (England) with a PhD (theology). A Vietnam veteran, Dr. Stults served as a missionary for 19 years and pastored U.S. churches for eight years. Prior to joining VOM, he was a Professor of Religion at Oklahoma Wesleyan University.

Southeast Asia Trip Highlights

Last week VOM's Todd Nettleton appeared as a guest on In The Market With Janet Parshall, which airs nationwide each day on the Moody Radio Network.

IntheMarketwithJanetParshall

Todd shared with Janet highlights from his recent trip to Laos and South Korea, where he met with North Korean defectors.

You can listen to the interview in its entirety by CLICKING HERE (a new window will open). To go directly to Todd's interview, go to the 25:00 mark in the file.

Blessing and Hope

This week is my first week back in the office after a 12-week maternity leave. Our beautiful daughter was born Dec. 29 and I enjoyed spending the first weeks of her life concentrating on her needs. We named her “Rajah,” a transliteration of the word for “hope” used in Arabic Bibles when it refers to future hope. Here on earth we expect tribulation, enduring patiently, but we also rejoice in our hope for the future (Romans 12:12).

Though I’ve been out of the office, my thoughts have never been far from our persecuted family members. In the last three months, my husband and I have hosted VOM workers from Syria, Lebanon, Turkey and Israel in our home. Each time we introduced Rajah to our Middle Eastern brothers and sisters, every one of our friends immediately offered a blessing over our baby daughter.

It was beautiful to witness and so amazing to consider how God will use her life in the future. She will likely face tribulation for her faith, just as our Middle Eastern brothers and sisters experience today, but I pray that she will continue to rejoice in hope and remain constant in prayer as she goes through persecution.

When our friends blessed Rajah, they weren’t blessing her flippantly or as a trite means of congratulations. These are men and women whose lives are dedicated to serving hurting Christians and reaching people for Christ in overwhelmingly Muslim nations. They prayed for God’s favor for Rajah in expectation that she, too, will be used by the Lord to point people to his truth.

This path might not be easy. We see over and over how God doesn’t always protect his followers from every evil, but he does use every circumstance for his glory. Our friend from Turkey was nearly beaten to death for being a Christian, but today he’s involved in a ministry that is sharing the gospel with large numbers of Turkish Muslims.

Our friend from Syria gets phone calls nearly every day detailing how Christians in his country are being expelled and entire villages wiped out. There are threats against his church.

Just this week, colleagues of our Lebanese friend were beaten as they passed out Christian literature and relief supplies to refugees. And the church of our brother from Israel has been bombed and burned on a number of occasions.

So when our friends bless Rajah, do they bless to request God’s favor and protection on her? No, they bless her to dedicate her to God’s service, a position they know from experience is not always pain-free, but they also know that there is no better place to spend a life than to spend it dedicated to God’s service.

That is my prayer for my daughter, for myself and for all of us as we work together to fellowship with the persecuted. We may need to make difficult choices, endure difficult circumstances, but we do so in hope that we will someday enjoy an eternity worshipping the only One who is worthy of our efforts.

Dory P. has worked with VOM for seven years. She grew up in Ecuador, met her husband while working with another mission organization, and now lives in Oklahoma. Between Dory, her husband, three-year-old son and infant daughter, they share seven passports. Dory helps tell the stories of the persecuted through VOM's newsletter, and her husband serves with VOM's international department.