For many years I’ve read bulletin inserts about the Persecuted Church, listened to Voice of the Martyrs news reports, participated in the International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church, and been aware that there are Christians around the world that are oppressed because of their faith in Jesus. I had sympathy for these fellow believers, but most of these individuals were an ocean away and their situations seemed too different from my own for me to really relate. But that all changed for me during the Urbana 16 Missions Conference in St. Louis, Missouri this past December as God transformed my sympathy toward the Persecuted Church to empathy.
In his book, Louder than Words: Harness the Power of Your Authentic Voice, secular author Todd Henry shares this perspective on the transformation of sympathy to empathy. “With sympathy…you feel something for the other person, but you are detached. With empathy, you cross the line into compulsion. You feel that you must act. “Saying ‘that [stinks]’ is sympathy, but when that shifts to ‘this [stinks]’ it means that you are vested in it and ready to act.”
As we entered the auditorium for the Urbana Conference general session focused on the Persecuted Church, there were large banners listing the names of countries where there is the greatest amount of hostility toward Christians, where they are most persecuted. I was shocked and horrified to see that three of our five USA Central Territory Partners in Mission locations are on the list of top 50 countries where Christians are persecuted.* In fact, two of our Partners are listed in the “severe persecution” category. The banners listing the countries India, Kenya and Mali represented my fellow Brothers and Sisters, my Partners in Mission, my fellow Salvationists, whose lives may be in danger because they have chosen to follow Christ! Christian persecution no longer seemed like a “far away” problem but rather a reality about which I need to be concerned.
A video was shown of a family who lives as missionaries in a location where Christians are persecuted. As a fellow mom, I was greatly impacted as I watched the mother of the family kiss her young children as they put on their Elsa and Anna backpacks to head off to school. As she sent them off for the day, she had no idea how safe the children would be or even if they would return home at the end of the day. I thought of all of the parents around the world whose families are oppressed and whose children are persecuted because of their decision to follow Jesus. I put myself in their shoes and realized the great sacrifice that it is for them to be Christ followers. My care and concern for the Persecuted Church, especially those who are parents, turned into empathy.
At this moment in the United States we don’t face the same kind of Christian persecution that is a reality in many parts of the world, but as the Body of Christ we are the Persecuted Church. First Corinthians 12:26 reminds us of this truth regarding the Body of Christ, “If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.” I can’t ignore the suffering of the Persecuted Church because we are the same family in Christ.
When it comes to the Persecuted Church, I’m ready to act. Are you? In what areas of life has God transformed your sympathy to empathy for those who are suffering around you?
*This information comes from the 2016 World Watch List Report published by Open Doors. https://www.opendoorsusa.org/
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