Listen: Murray Noble from Open Doors chats to Laura Bennett
Easter is the highlight of the Christian calendar worldwide – but in places where religious persecution is high, it holds even greater significance; this is the time of year when believers are most likely to come under attack.
One year ago, more than 250 people were killed in a series of suicide bomber attacks on churches and hotels in Sri Lanka, on Easter Sunday. Believers in that country will be carrying heavy memories as they approach Easter time this year. It will be the same for many Christians in places like Egypt, Pakistan and Kenya too, where similar attacks have occurred on Easter weekend in recent years.
But Open Doors Persecution Researcher Murray Noble told Hope 103.2’s Laura Bennett there is joy for these people, too, knowing that God is greater than the persecution they face. He said that in the 2019 attacks in Sri Lanka, there were many remarkable stories of God at work, despite the terror and trauma.
“Anniversaries of events always have an element of fear to them,” he said. “But in that brutality [in Sri Lanka] we also saw joy and saw God moving in many ways.
“At one of the three churches that was attacked, called Zion Church, there were 83 families that were affected – either through injury, or through losing a loved one. And a year on, all 83 families are still at church and growing in faith. I think that speaks to the truth and the depth of the gospel, where families join together in one body, saying ‘we follow Jesus no matter what’.”
“Even in the heartbreak and the hardship, we see God working to bring people to Him.”
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He said the focus for Easter will still be on joy.
“I think there’s the acknowledgement of risk, but absolutely a focus on joy… that Jesus is good, that God is with them, and that another year has come around where they can celebrate his death and resurrection.”
In The COVID 19 Shutdown, Remember Persecuted Believers
For Christians in Australia, religious persecution can be a hard concept to grasp, when it’s so far from our own shores. But this year, with church doors closed by the COVID-19 pandemic, Open Doors is encouraging people of faith to take the opportunity to put themselves in the shoes of people in persecuted nations.
“This situation allows us to say, ‘Imagine if it wasn’t COVID-19 keeping us indoors, but it was the fear of a policeman knocking on the door’, and how that would impact our faith. If a policeman came to the door and said ‘give up Jesus, or we’re putting you in prison’, or ‘we’re fining you or taking away your home’, how would we react?
“The beauty of the persecuted church is they’ve weighed that cost, and they’ve decided ‘Yes, it is definitely worth it’.
“We have the opportunity step into that experience, to commit to saying, ‘Even in this hardship and isolation, I’m going to follow God no matter what’.”
“So I think in this time we have the opportunity to step into that experience, to buy in and say ‘I want to know what it’s like to be a persecuted Christian, I want to commit to saying, even in this hardship and isolation, I’m going to follow God no matter what.”
Open Doors is encouraging Christians to pray for believers in persecuted nations – particularly that their faith will remain strong, and grow. They are also holding their annual One With Them appeal, this year encouraging anyone who is financially able, to give $100 towards the support of the persecuted church.
Another way to support persecuted believers is to draw a cross on your wrist, like Christians in Egypt do, as a way of remembering and ‘standing with’ those who suffer for their faith.
Find out more at Onewiththem.org.au.