The Persecuted Church for which I pray became real for me today.
From my basement computer I had precious fellowship with a brother in Christ via Skype. Riaz (not his real name) is hiding in his home in the restricted nation of Pakistan for many days to avoid the anger of the local population. I heard the fear in his voice. His grown brother called to insure the safety of Riaz and his wife and children. Riaz may need to flee Pakistan for a time.
Two year ago I became aware of Riaz as he embarked on a labor of love in an inner city microfinance project. He has served hundreds of the chronically poor in the slums of a Pakistani city, uniting local pastors around the mission of empowering the poor through productive enterprise.
But then a short time ago a local mosque in the city began circulating rumors that this Christian ministry was charging interest on loans, had Western connections, and was leading women into prostitution. These vicious rumors included threats to burn down the microfinance offices. Tensions between Christians and Muslims increased, until recently a mob from the mosque gathered at the home of one of Riaz’ workers and hurled verbal abuse and threats. This worker is now in hiding, and local leaders have advised the microfinance project to suspend its services indefinitely.
“This ministry was like a child to me,” Riaz stated as he peered into his laptop camera, his arm around his six-year-old daughter. “I came here to serve the Lord, but I just have no idea why this is happening. I have lost my job, and I don’t know what I or my family will do. My mind is racing, and I have a hard time focusing on the Bible or in prayer.” He related a litany of the spiritual warfare present in his own life and in the life of the business and the church in recent days. Just two days ago his wife slipped on some steps and broke her arm. Riaz could not accompany her to the hospital for fear of arousing local hostilities.
So I listened and asked questions. I reminded Riaz of Moses’ 40 years in the wilderness (Exodus 2-4; 7:1-7). We discussed the life and trials of Job, including God’s marvelous and gracious revelation of his mighty power and sovereignty in Job 40-42. We pondered the many trials that befall God’s people and looked together to the Gospel and the hope of the resurrection featured in 1 Corinthians 15. I shared the story of my friend Jim McMahon who lost his wife Laura to cancer recently. But I shared the powerful verse that Jim quoted to me again and again during difficult times from 1 Corinthians 15:58: “Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steafast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.”
This is persecution in real time. My brother remains barricaded in his home as I write. Only the Lord knows what the outcome will be. But today’s jarring experience reminds me that normal, everyday believers can stand with our Christian brothers and sisters throughout the world. And Riaz’ most urgent request was “pray for the sheep that we have here, whom we cannot care for right now.”
We can pray down divine protection from a powerful and loving God. We can minister the Gospel to the frustrated and hurting hearts of Christ’s disciples. We can stand together in the hope that the nations will turn and bow to the Lord.
I post this video in honor of my friend and as a tribute to Riaz’ courage. It captures Riaz’ heart for the poor.