Last Sunday, November 14, was the International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church. VOM's Todd Nettleton was asked by his pastor to share for five minutes in his church's morning services about a recent trip he took to meet with persecuted Christians in India. Here’s what he shared:
Today is the International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church, a day when we celebrate the unity of the Body of Christ by praying for our brothers and sisters who face abuse, attacks and even death simply because they follow Jesus Christ.
It is my honor to work on behalf of these brothers and sisters at The Voice of the Martyrs.
The best part of my job at VOM is when I get to go and meet with these amazing, courageous Christians and hear their stories so that I can come back to the US and help VOM be a voice for them.
Two weeks ago I was in Bangalore, India, which is a large city in the southern part of India. Bangalore is what they call the silicon valley of India, because it’s where all the tech companies like Microsoft and Google have their Indian office complexes.
India bills itself as the world’s largest functioning democracy, but it is also a country where Christians are persecuted, especially Christians who reach out with the hope of the gospel into the hopelessness of Hinduism and Islam.
Two weeks ago this morning I met one of those brave brothers in Christ, a young pastor whose name is Peter Paul. What is remarkable about my Sunday-morning meeting with Peter Paul is that he had been released from jail on Saturday night. So we literally met with him 12 hours after he got out of jail.
Peter Paul works as a teacher to support his ministry, and he lives and works in a slum area that is home to many Muslim people. Peter Paul began an after-school tutoring program to reach out to the young people in the area, and in addition to helping them academically he also helped them learn about Christ. Several weeks ago he gave many of his students a copy of the Jesus film which they went home and showed to their whole families. Then the week before we were there he gave about 20 of the young people a New Testament.
These Muslim kids were so proud of their new books that they took them with them to the Madrassah, which is their Muslim school. When the leaders of the Madrassah saw these Muslim kids carrying around New Testaments, they were not happy. They demanded to know where they had gotten the books, and the children told them about Peter Paul.
The angry Muslims gathered a mob of about 150 people from three different mosques and came to Peter Paul’s house. He had just finished his morning prayer time and was getting ready to take a bath when they arrived and dragged him outside, slapping and kicking him as they went and shouting that they wanted to kill him.
Peter Paul’s wife, Nirmala, came out of the house, begging the mob to leave her husband alone and telling them that they would move away from there.
Peter Paul looked at his wife and told her not to worry. “I said to my wife, ‘Whatever is the Lord’s will will happen in my life. Don’t worry.”
His wife had a hard time with that advice. She was worried.
But Peter Paul had an amazing sense of peace. I asked if he had been afraid. Keep in mind, he’s in the midst of a mob of 150 angry Muslims. This is what he said:
“No, I did not feel afraid. I know that God can redeem me from them.” There’s only one explanation for peace like that in a situation like he was in: only God.
Some of the mob went in to Peter Paul’s house and destroyed everything inside. Then the mob dragged him to the school where he taught and called the media and called police. When police arrived, instead of arresting the mob who was beating and kicking this lone Christian man, they arrested HIM. They took him to the police station on a charge of “disturbing communal harmony” by giving Christian books to Muslim young people.
He was in the police station 24 hours, where the police roughed him up some more, then he was taken to the prison where there were more than 5000 inmates housed.
Peter Paul told me that he was praying and I asked if he was praying to be released. His prayer wasn’t that, though. “Whatever is your will, Lord, do it in my life.”
Whatever is your will; that is a brave prayer for a man locked in prison.
He did say he was thinking of Bible stories like the story of Paul and Silas at the jail, and the story of Peter having an angel come and lead him out of the jail. But his prayer was, “Your will be done.”
Peter Paul got permission to speak and then shared his testimony and preached the gospel to the 70 other men in his cell. He said that his sermon was about giving glory to God. “Wherever we are, we should give glory to God. When we are in the trials and temptations, when we are having all the good things also, all the time we should give glory unto God.”
Several of the other prisoners were moved by the message and prayed with him afterwards. An evangelist in prison is still an evangelist!
When we met with him, Peter Paul had been bailed out of the prison 12 hours earlier. The charges against him are still pending, so he knew he’d have to go to court and could end up back in jail. His earthly possessions had been destroyed by the mob, and his landlord had been threatened and told not to rent to Peter Paul any longer. So as we were there with them in the little guest room where they had stayed the night before, he was just out of jail; he had no home to go back to, and his things were destroyed. It was basically the four of them with the clothes on their back and nowhere to go and no idea what was next.
If ever a man had excuse to be at least a little discouraged, Peter Paul was that man. And yet he was NOT discouraged. He was NOT down. Near the end of our time together, Peter Paul made this statement: “Persecution is not an accident. It is the expectation.”
Persecution is not an accident. It is the expectation.
Peter Paul’s words and attitude may seem foreign to American Christians.
But they don’t seem nearly so foreign in light of the New Testament, which is largely written by and to persecuted Christians.
Jesus sent his followers out “as sheep among wolves.” What happens to sheep among wolves? Jesus said “If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first.”
Paul wrote in second Timothy that “In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted,”
Peter told us, “do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you.”
James tells us to consider it “pure joy” when we face trials. Not if we face trials. When.
It seems Peter Paul was right. Persecution is the expectation.
There are instructions for those not facing persecution, too. Like you and me. Paul tells us to bear one another’s burdens, and that when one part of the body of Christ suffers, we should all feel that pain. The writer of Hebrews says to remember the prisoners as if you were right there in prison with them.
Today we are praying for persecuted Christians. I asked Peter Paul how we could pray for him. He would like you to pray that he can continue doing evangelism work. And he asks us to pray for his parents, because their faith has been a bit shaken by the trials their son has faced.
It’s interesting what he didn’t ask prayer for, isn’t it? He didn’t ask us to pray for a place for his family to live, even though they had no place to go. He didn’t ask us to pray that the charges against him will be dropped, though they are still pending. He asked us to pray that he can keep doing God’s work.
As we pray for persecuted Christians today, that really is their heart. They aren’t asking prayer that the persecution will stop. They’re asking prayer that they will be faithful servants of Christ, come what may.
Please pray for Peter Paul and his wife and his two beautiful young children.
There are others, too. There is a woman in Pakistan named Asia Bibi, and last Monday a court there sentenced her to death for the crime of blasphemy against Mohammed. Lawyers right now are working on an appeal, which she has until tomorrow to file. If she is executed, she would be the first woman put to death for blasphemy in Pakistan’s history.
A pastor in Iran also faces the death penalty. A Christian bookstore owner in Beijing named Shi Weihan is serving three years in prison. Pray for the countless Christians in North Korea who wither and die in concentration camps because they follow a savior other than Kim Jong Il.
Thank you for joining with us to remember Peter Paul and his family and the thousands of brothers and sisters like them around the world on this International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church. They need our prayers, today and tomorrow and the next day. And the next.
Todd Nettleton is the Director of Media Development at The Voice of the Martyrs - USA. He also posted these remarks on his personal blog.