Pummeled with constant news about crises, it becomes tempting to simply ignore the persecution of our brothers and sisters around the world.
In a sermon at Times Square Church, Pastor Carter Conlon pointed out, “Many today find themselves journeying through this season of despair….
“As much as you know it, you’re doing what’s right. You’re trying to be a representative of Christ in this perishing world. But it looks so hopeless! Everything seems to be going the other way, and you wonder, ‘Will I ever make a difference?’”
Turning off the Feelings
Often people respond to the overwhelming number of calamities in the news by simply lowering their eyes to whatever immediately affects them and shrugging off everything else.
This apathy now has a psychological term in the modern age of global connectedness where tragedies worldwide constantly crowd our newsfeeds: desensitization.
In the wake of the shooting in New Zealand, The New Yorker writer Jelani Cobb wrote with sad wisdom: “Terrorism hopes to inspire fear and confusion, but its most pernicious impact begins the moment that people no longer feel either of those things but, rather, simply a grudging acknowledgment that this is the way we now live.”
For believers, this pitfall can have especially slippery slopes when we are aided by the secular media that is all too happy to turn a blind eye to Christian persecution.
Nigeria’s Burning Churches
In 2014, Michelle Obama held up a piece of paper with “#BringBackOurGirls” written on it and made the Chibok schoolgirls’ kidnapping by Boko Haram terrorists an immediate sensation in the United States.
Dozens of celebrities joined in, including Kim Kardashian, Justin Timberlake and Bradley Cooper, supporting the movement.
The herder-farmer conflict became highly politicized, but when it became clear that the Nigerian government was doing little to help the girls and outside groups could not find them, the movement faltered then died off.
Boko Haram terrorism—very often aimed at Christians—is still Nigeria’s most widespread crisis and is in fact escalating despite the silence of many news outlets.
Near the end of January 2019, Nigeria’s president, Muhammadu Buhari, told a crowd of supporters that Boko Haram, which has waged a 10-year insurgency in the country’s north-east, had been “fully decimated.” Shortly after, there was a violent Boko Haram attack on the city Baga, then another spate of attacks in a nearby city displaced about 30,000 people.
Since Boko Haram is a fanatic Islamic organization, Christians in the north and in the Middle Belt face violent persecution. Believers in the states ruled by Sharia law, are treated as second-class citizens.
Some are killed, others—particularly young girls—are kidnapped, and many have had their homes and churches burned down.
Violence in the Philippines
Situations like those in northern Nigeria can feel hopelessly complicated and impossible to solve.
Neither of these obstacles should stop believers from praying for their brothers and sisters across the globe.
In the Philippines, certain communities there have some of the longest partnerships with World Challenge, and about six years ago, they alerted us to an issue they were seeing grow in a nearby village.
The adjacent community had once had a population of several hundred Muslims, but it had suddenly ballooned to several thousand Islamic followers. The area quickly became the tromping grounds of two warring drug dealers, and villagers were often killed and found lying in a ditch near the town’s mosque.
People in the region began to live in fear on a daily basis and often multiple families would huddle in one house for the night when armed men had been sighted.
Understandably, the local Muslims were leery of outsiders and sometimes violently repulsed anyone who tried to enter the village.
The hopeless-seeming situation could’ve made it very tempting for Filipino Christians to withdraw and find safer places for their families and church.
Faithful Prayer and Action
Evelyn is a long-time community evangelist and partner with World Challenge who live in the area. Rather than pulling out, she invested several years into building relationships and trust with Muslims in the village.
She prayed fervently and unceasingly for God to bring transformation.
Each Friday, she would travel to the village, teach community health lessons for any interested adults, spend the night in the community center, and then offer children lessons on Saturdays.
She encouraged everyone to join her in praying for God to protect them from the violence and bring healing to the area, a prayer many villagers vehemently joined in.
Occasionally, the local Imam or a friend would call Evelyn and warn her if it was too dangerous to visit.
Then, unexpectedly, the government performed a major crackdown on the drug trade in that region. The drug dealers left, and the village became much safer.
The astonished villagers declared this to be an answer to prayer.
Slow Growth of New Life
When World Challenge workers visited the village with Evelyn, they were able to meet the local Imam. He was very happy and thanked our worker profusely, then proudly showed them a newly constructed community center that the village had built.
Many locals happily related how the training has impacted their community.
They have gardens, in-home businesses for generating extra revenue, improved neighborhood relationships, and an improved mosque. They openly said all these things were the result of prayer and the community training.
Evelyn indicated that there have been opportunities to share the gospel one-on-one, and several individuals have become secret believers. They are praying that the Imam will become a believer as well.
Slowly but surely, God is bringing healing to the community.
It has taken six years; nothing has happened overnight, but discouragement or setbacks have not turned the church away from this need, and God is honoring their faithfulness.
“Listen to my voice in the morning, Lord. Each morning I bring my requests to you and wait expectantly” (Psalm 5:3).