While Americans sleep comfortably under a blanket of freedom, things are far different in the distant land of North Korea.
The Korean newspaper, JoongAng Ilbo recently reported that the North Korean government publicly executed 80 people. The offenses of those executed ranged from watching forbidden television programming broadcast from South Korea to being found in possession of a Bible.
Those executed were tied to poles, hooded, then sprayed with machine-gun fire. One source, whose identity was protected, stated, “I heard from residents that they watched in terror as the corpses were so riddled by machine-gun fire that they were hard to identify afterwards.”
To make their point, the North Korean government gathered more than 10,000 residents of Wonsan into a stadium and forced them to watch the executions. Wonsan is a port on the North Korean coast that is being transformed into a resort. The government hopes this transformation will draw foreign money into their impoverished economy.
The sad reality is that dictators like 30 year old Kim Jong Un exist. They rule with terror and cruelty. Many of them hate Christianity. They flex their muscle in violent ways to prevent the spread of the Gospel. This is not a new thing.
We know that even baby Jesus was sought out by the vicious and cruel King Herrod. Herrod feared that the Messiah would usurp his authority and sought to squash his influence before it had a chance to blossom.
Emperor Diocletian is perhaps the most famous of a series of Roman emperors who sought to destroy Christianity by exterminating the Christians. He rescinded their legal rights and demanded that they comply with traditional Roman religious practices. When the Christians refused to worship pagan gods, he and acted cruelly. Over the course of a few years, an estimated 3,500 Christians were tortured to death.
Persecution of believers in Jesus is not restricted to North Korea and the pages of history. In over 60 countries in the modern world Christians are persecuted for their faith. One hundred million Christians worldwide experience persecution.
In America, we sit in our pristine chapels. We don’t like to think of such horrible things as people who suffer for the Lord. Those thoughts mess with our sense of Comfort. They don’t mesh well with our faith – our faith that discomfits us little and costs us even less.
The time has come for the modern American church to be aware. We must understand the suffering of our brothers and sisters in Christ. Their plight should move us. Hebrews 13:3 admonishes us, “Remember those who are in prison, as though in prison with them, and those who are mistreated, since you also are in the body.” The implication of this verse is that we remember those in prison for the faith and those mistreated because of Jesus. We need to remember them because we are all part of the Body of Christ. We should pray for those who are persecuted. Paul asked the Colossians to pray for him during his persecution (Col. 4:3-4). Jesus even promised a special blessing for those who suffer persecution for the sake of righteousness (Matthew 5:10-12).
As I have thought about Kim Jong Un and his horrific acts, I have been compelled to pray more faithfully for the persecuted church. If you feel like you are ill-equipped to pray for people experiencing persecution, there are some wonderful guides available to help you know how to pray.
Even beyond praying for the persecuted, I have had to struggle with the issue of my own commitment to Christ. Am I willing to suffer for the Gospel? Is that answer rooted in theoretical situations or am I truly demonstrating a firm commitment to Jesus? Have I counted up the cost of following a Savior that says that those who follow him will experience persecution (2 Tim. 3:12, John 15:18-21, Matthew 10:16-20). Let us all count the cost and be willing to suffer for Jesus if required. If we are blessed to not personally experience persecution, let’s remember others in the Body of Christ who do experience the pain of persecution.