He and I are roughly the same age. Both of us are married and have children in elementary school. Both of us are pastors.
We were baptized into the same name and we're part of the same body. We both believe and proclaim the resurrected Jesus. His suffering is my suffering, and his victory is my victory. I am Youcef Nadarkhani and so are you.
There are some differences between us, though:
Youcef is from Iran; I'm from America.
While I was driving to church on Sunday, Youcef was sitting in a prison cell. While I was worshipping my Savior freely, he is facing potential execution for telling people about Jesus.
While we're debating which presidential candidate will best serve our personal interests, Youcef is imprisoned by a government that plans to hang him for his testimony of faith.
Sadly, Youcef's case is not isolated or rare. Iran is not the only country where men and women are persecuted, imprisoned, tortured, or executed for believing in Jesus.
These men and women should matter to us because they are a part of Christ's body. If they suffer, we suffer. If they weep, we weep.
Caring about those who are in prison for their faith in Christ isn't simply a nice thing to do with our free time. It's an obligation commanded in the Scriptures.
Many of my readers are college students, young professionals, and other influential men and women. You're in a position to have a voice and to make an impact. Let's not allow Youcef's story and those like it to be forgotten with the next news cycle. Let's make it known that Christians don't abandon or forget the suffering among us.
What can we do?
- Pray. Pray that Youcef's testimony will strengthen his fellow believers in Iran. Pray that he'll be courageous and hold firmly to the faith. Pray the government of Iran will release Youcef and allow him to practice his faith freely.
- Remember and help others remember. Keep spreading the word on Facebook, Twitter, and any other social media. When you pray with your friends, pray for Youcef and his family. As Hebrews 13:3 commands, let's remember him because he is part of the body and so are we. We're in prison with him, and with everybody who is there for the name of Christ.
- Take action. This link includes a way you can email Iran's representative to the United Nations and ask him to seek Youcef's release.
For those who know Jesus, solidarity with the persecuted church is a reflection of our love for Christ. So in His name, let's express our identification with Youcef and with our persecuted brothers and sisters around the world.
I am Youcef Nadarkhani, and so are you. Because we are the Church, the body of Christ, united in victory and in suffering.
What other ideas do you have for encouraging and supporting the persecuted church around the world?
(Image via www.aclj.org)
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A few weeks ago a news story about Franklin Graham (son of Billy Graham) charged up the Christian bloggers and editorials. It seems that the evangelist's invitation to speak and pray at a Pentagon event celebrating the National Day of Prayer was rescinded by the Army. The reason was that in 2001, after the World Trade Center attacks, he made public statements describing Islam as an evil religion and has recently described it as a violent religion.
While I personally agree with Graham's statements and strongly support his right to make the statements in the United States, I also feel that the level of angst demonstrated by some bloggers is perhaps misplaced given the circumstances.
First, should we be surprised at all that the secular government would disinvite an outspoken evangelical Christian from an event designed to promote the concept that all faiths are equally valid ways to know God? Has it not always been true that the name of Jesus provokes conflict and scorn among those who do not believe? Graham drew a line in the sand by stating that Jesus is the only way to truly know God; that belief has never been a popular one, especially in the halls of government.
In fact, Jesus stated explicitly that we should expect hatred from the world on account of His name (John 15:18-21). Not that we seek to be obnoxious, but Christian exclusivity will always be at odds with the world's values.
Second, we might have an exaggerated sense of the need to protect our personal rights. Our government does guarantee us certain rights, but the Scripture never encourages us to grasp at them. It seems that the example of Jesus (Philippians 2:5-11) and of the early church (Acts 5:41) encourages just the opposite: a humility and joy even in the face of the loss of our rights.
Third, if this is persecution, it could certainly be worse. Take a few minutes and look at www.persecution.org, the website of The Voice of the Martyrs. Spend some time in prayer for our brothers and sisters throughout the world who are literally beaten and killed and imprisoned for the sake of Christ. It helps to keep things in perspective.
So yes, we pray for our country. Yes, we support those who are boldly proclaiming the Gospel. And yes, we involve ourselves in government to the degree God leads each of us.
But we never place our hope for salvation in the kingdoms of this world.
"But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself."