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INTERVIEW
Elizabeth Kendal - Perspectives on Global Persecution
Elizabeth Kendal is the Principal Researcher and Writer for the World Evangelical Alliance Religious Liberty Commission (WEA RLC) http://www.worldevangelical.org/rlc.html.
What is the religious liberty prayer list and how did you become
involved with it? How can other people join?


The World Evangelical Alliance (WEA) Religious Liberty Prayer (RLP)
list exists to assist and serve people who are keen to intercede
intelligently and persistantly for religious liberty issues. We
intecede for our perecuted and suffering brothers and sisters, and
for nations where Christian faith and witness is repressed or where
religious freedom is under threat either through anti-Christian
government legislation or due to anti-Christian trends at the
societal level.

Anyone can read RLPs at the WEA website,
http://www.worldevangelical.org/rlc.html and subscribe (free weekly service) simply by sending an empty email to join-rl-prayer@xc.org

What is Christian persecution and how widespread is it?

When a Christian is made to suffer simply because of their choice to
love and follow Jesus Christ, we call that Christian persecution. IT
is a very broad definition and can cover everything from state
sanctioned execution through to enforced poverty. It is estimated
that around 200 million Christians suffer and live with the threat
of severe persecution (imprisonment, torture, execution, violence,
murder) while a further 400 million live with non-trivial
discrimination such as enforced homelessness, dispossession,
unemployment etc, simply on account of their faith in Christ.

In which countries is Christian persecution the most severe and
what factors have contributed to the growth of persecution in these
countries?


Christian persecution is most severe where hardline non-Christian
religious groups form the majority. In Saudi Arabia it is illegal
according to the Saudi Constitution for any Saudi to be anything but
Muslim. Apostates are executed - Saudis have absolutely no religious
freedom. In North Korea it is estimated that whole some 300,000
Christians "disappeared" after the border closed in 1953 and today
some 100,000 believers are believed to be incaserated in the most
harsh, cruel and appalling conditions in North Korea's gulag of
concentration labour camps.

How has persecution affected the growth of Christianity in these
countries?


Christianity grows as the Holy Spirit blesses the word/gospel that
goes forth. The main problem with religious oppression is that it
forces the Church, the salt of the earth and light of the world -
along with its gospel message, underground. Persecution is often a
consequence of Church growth. Persecution is designed to stunt,
limit or reverse Church growth. In many places, particularly in
strict Islamic nations, persecution has threatened the church's
existance and severely limited its growth. People often cite China
and say, "Look how the Chinese Church has grown under persecution."
I would contend that the Chinese Church has grown in spite of
persecution, because of the committment of evangelists who are
willing to suffer to spread the gospel. I believe that when
religious freedom comes to China it will be a decisive moment in
Christian history -- the Chinese Church will explode and an enormous
mission force will emerge prepared for sacrificial service.

Where is persecution increasing and why?

Persecution of Christians increases as Islam becomes more hardline.
Also, as COmmunist regimes seek to open up to the West they crack
down oppressively to maintain power and control of their people. The
rise of Hindu nationalism in India and Buddhist nationalism in Sri
Lanka has led to increased persecution against CHristians in those
nations.

What, in your opinion, is the greatest threat to the Church today?

I personally believe that the greatest threat to the Church today is
not Islam or Communism or nationalism - but the temptation to
conform our minds to the thinking of the world, i.e. to do exactly
the opposite of what Romans 12:2 tells us to do.

The Bible tells us clearly and demonstrates consistantly that God's
strength is perfected in our weakness (2 Cor 12:9) and that God's
ways are higher than our ways (Isaiah 55:8-9). In the face of
seemingly insurmountable difficulties (such as persecution),
Christians are tempted to look for solutions that are clever or
strong in worldly terms. We must however, look first to God for HIS
direction, wisdom, strength and intervention. This spiritual battle
is bigger than us. If we try to stand or to win in our own way, in
our own strength and in our own wisdom, we will fail. To accept this
takes great humility - something fallen mankind is pretty short on.
In summary - independence is the greatest threat to the Church. To
win this battle (which is actually the Lord's battle) we must be
totally God-dependent and obedient.

Is it possible for you to give a general portrait of a persecuted
Christian?


Persecuted Christians are most likely to be Asian, Middle Eastern or
black, and poor. Apart from that, they can be men or women or
children, young or elderly, illiterate peasants, servants and
farmers or educated pastors, doctors and lawyers. The thing they
have in common, is deep love for Jesus - a love that will not deny Him.

What are some of the major challenges facing those who are
suffering for their faith? How are these challenges overcome?


A lot of their challenges are very basic and we can help a lot with
these things -- things such as alieviation of extreme hardship. If a
Vietnamese husband is inprisoned for sharing his faith, his wife
becomes destitute, often homeless as well, and his children may be
denied the right to education. Christian ministries that supply the
practical needs of suffering Christians require as much support as
we can give them.

One of the great challenges is government and social attitudes to
Christians. This is something we must pray about, constantly calling
for God's intervention. Another great challenge can be the
temptation ot doubt God's love or presence. We can also pray about
this, that suffering believers will know the peace of God that
transcends understanding and guards hearts and minds in Christ Jesus
(Philippians 4:7).

What are the unique challenges Christian women face in countries
where they are oppressed?


The countries where Christians are persecuted are countries with
very poor human rights records. Women are treated poorly simply
because they are women and not treasured or valued as equals. In
many countries where Christians are persecuted, Christian women
received a double portion of hatred. They are frequently victims of
hate rape, abduction, murder and acid attack.

How do persecuted Christians worship and how does this differ to
typical worship services in countries with religious freedom?


In countries where Christian worship is illegal, Christians worship
quietly and in secret. In countries where Christians have freedom to
worship but are persecuted by a hostile society, worship is often
very quiet and in small groups, sometimes very early in the morning.
Recently in China, the authorities sent bulldozers to demolish a
very old established church founded by China Inland Mission in 1930.
Thinking they could avoid trouble by doing their work very early,
the police and bulldozers arrived at the Tu Du Sha Church at 4am,
only to find that some 300 believers were busy praying in the church.

The thing that really stands out about the persecuted Church, is
that it is centred around prayer and totally dependant upon God.

How have governments of free countries reacted to the
persecution of religious minorities in general?


Most Western governments have little understanding of Christian
persecution. They make the false assumption that improvements in the
economic arena will automatically lead to improvements in human
rights. This is false and it is being proved false over and over
again but most Western governments refuse to open their eyes as it
is not convenient for them and not in their economic interests. Most
Western governments are also very secular and simply do not
understand religious conviction. They understand how someone might
suffer for political beliefs, and so they have sympathy for them;
but they just can't understand why anyone would suffer for religious
beliefs. They have little or no sympathy for those who suffer for
their faith, and this translates into little or no action.

How has the global Church responded to the tragedy of
persecution? Is this response sufficient?


The prayer response has grown significantly over recent years. This
is greatly encouraging. Certainly, in answer to prayer, Christians
are becoming more aware and more concerned about the global body of
Christ and particularly their brothers and sisters who suffer for
their faith - the faith we too hold. It has been wonderful to see
prayer ministries multiply and prayer mailing lists grow and grow. I
believe God is doing a work. I believe it is God's desire to display
his power and glory, in answer to prayers. I believe God is building
His Church just as he promised (Matthew 16:18) and that he will do
it in answer to our prayers.

How can individual Christians assist those who are suffering for
their faith and how can they get their Churches involved in
assisting those who suffer?


Prayer is the foundation and the starting place. The WEA RL Prayer
ministry can assist here by keeping pray-ers informed and up to
date. it is good to have the church prayer co-ordinator and/or cell
group leaders on the WEA RLP list so they can bring one issue per
week to the group/church for prayer. The RLP bulleting also has a
120 word summary that is designed to be published in church news
bulletins or used as a summary in a prayer group.

How should we pray for Christians who are persecuted?

With love as those who are not only our brothers and sister but as
ones who are children of God. When we love, and see ourselves as ONE
(John 17:21) then prayer will be natural and passionate and real. It
is important to be informed and intelligent - but it is essential to
love both the believer and God, whose heart must break for the
suffering of his children.

How have you seen God working through the persecuted Church?

This question is too big to answer! So I will only answer
personally. I personally have been greatly, deeply effected by the
struggle, courage, and faith of the persecuted Church. It is the
place where miracles happen - both miracles of deliverance and
miracles of supernaturally enduring faith and grace. These are the
miracles of God's strength being made perfect through human
weakness. The persecuted Church has shown me what the gospel is
really worth - how valuable it really is. I will never again take
God's gospel for granted, nor take lightly the fact that some people
don't have access to it. It has put my fears and woes into
perspective - I will never again complain about losing the TV
remote! It has given me a great and consuming love for the global
body of Christ, and a deep passion for the lost and for the world.

Thank you for your time and insights.

-PKS (24-Aug-2004)