It seems like every day brings word of another atrocity against Christians in the Middle East: inhumanities many of us could never even imagine.
Burnings, beheadings, crucifixions—this kind of brutality sounds like it belongs in Domitian’s Rome, not the year 2015. The sooner our leaders act against it, the better.
But in the meantime, I hope you’ll join me in ceaseless prayer, because make no mistake: there’s a deeper fight going on here than the one between Islamic extremists and Middle-Eastern governments. As Paul said in the midst of another persecution, it’s a spiritual battle against “the powers and principalities of this present darkness.” And just like in Paul’s day, we are seeing today some incredible examples of Christians fighting that spiritual battle and winning.
Take Meriam Ibrahim, the Sudanese wife and mother who was arrested last year and sentenced to 100 lashes and death for marrying a Christian. Meriam was pregnant when imprisoned, and had to care for her oldest son behind bars until she gave birth—even then chained by one arm.
Well, Meriam was released not long afterwards, thanks largely to international pressure on the Islamic government of Sudan. She and her husband were reunited, and the whole family is now safely in the United States.
Meriam’s captors reportedly told her that she could save her life if she renounced her Christian faith and her marriage—which Islamic judges considered illegitimate. She flatly refused.
Late last month, she received an award from the National Religious Broadcasters for her incredible courage in the face of persecution.
“Meriam Ibrahim is a modern-day example of what it means to not be ashamed of Christ,” said NRB President and CEO Jerry Johnson.
And there are others. We’ve told you continually about Pastor Saeed Abedini, an American citizen, husband, and father imprisoned in Iran for ministering in the name of Christ.
His wife, Naghmeh, has worked tirelessly for two-and-a-half years to secure her husband’s release, last month meeting with President Obama, who promised to do all he could to help. And just a few days ago, she told a not-all-that-friendly crowd at the political gathering CPAC how proud she is of her husband for standing firm in his faith—despite his captors’ demands that he renounce Christianity.
In Sudan, in Iran, and even in the path of ISIS, Christians are showing what they’re made of. But even I was surprised when I heard about Giovanni Martinelli, the Italian bishop of Tripoli. As Islamic State fighters tighten their noose around Libya and almost all Christians there have evacuated, Martinelli is staying behind in the community where he says God has called him. He’s been threatened by Muslims in the street for opposing Islam, and says they’ve even paid him a visit in his sanctuary.
“In the church they came to tell me that I must die,” he told an Italian newspaper, replying that if God allows ISIS to behead him for his faith, “so it will be.”
“Being able to give my testimony is a precious thing,” he continued. “I thank the Lord that he allows me to do so, even with martyrdom. I am not moving from here. I am not afraid.”
This courage—this ability to stare down the barrel of death and refuse to deny Christ—made Christianity convincing to early eyewitnesses. And it’s a power that only comes from Christ’s resurrection—from the confidence that, as Jesus said, anyone who believes in Him, “though he die, yet shall he live.”
Jesus made a promise to His followers that He would confess before the Father all who confess Him before men. Even as we pray for their deliverance, let us also thank God for the victorious witness of Christians who are refusing—even in the face of death—to deny our Lord.
— by John Stonestreet
Stonestreet is the Director of Strategic Partnerships for the Chuck Colson Center for Christian Worldview and is heard on Breakpoint. Copyright© 2014 Prison Fellowship Ministries. Reprinted with permission. BreakPoint is a ministry of Prison Fellowship Ministries.