Assemblies of God Pray for Persecuted Christians Abroad
– and Fear Persecution at Home
He ran to the front of the chapel clutching a few pages from a Bible.
"This is all I've ever had of the Bible," he said. "It's such a privilege to worship with you."
But two soldiers burst into the room before he could take a seat, and ran from the back to arrest the man. When he refused to renounce Christ, he was killed in front of the gathered worshipers.
This drama created a different kind of chapel service for the students of Southwestern Assemblies of God University in Waxahachie, Texas. They were unexpectedly confronted with the privilege of religious freedom many American Christians take for granted. Southwestern's Mission Association sponsored the brief presentation last Wednesday, as well as other activities during the week, to raise awareness of the plight of persecuted Christians around the world.
Assemblies of God churches and colleges were among thousands of groups from a broad spectrum of Christian fellowships that focused on this issue. A season of prayer beginning September 28 culminated in the second International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church on Sunday, November 16.
The International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church began in 1996 through the efforts of the World Evangelical Fellowship (WEF) in cooperation with a variety of denominations and faith-based organizations. Also in 1996, the National Association of Evangelicals issued a Statement of Conscience and met with political and religious leaders to oppose persecution through international policy. The Day of Prayer has as its primary focus the work of intercessory prayer and citizen action.
Participation within the Assemblies of God took different forms. Some churches, like Trinity Life Center and Westwood Christian Assembly in Seattle, Washington, promoted the issue among their regularly scheduled intercessory prayer groups. Numbers of others directed all or a portion of a Sunday service to prayer for Christians facing an array of attacks worldwide.
"I don't think the average Christian knows the extent of persecution around the world," said Gene Watson, a member of Calvary Assembly in Atlanta, Georgia. "I think if they did they would be more moved to intercede and do others things necessary to help."
Calvary Assembly showed video clips then had special prayer for persecuted Christians in several areas of the world. For Watson, the experience was one that will impact how he continues to pray for others' needs.
For some, the Sunday emphasis brought back memories of personal encounters with persecuted Christians. Kevin and Eunice Tyler are Assemblies of God missionaries to Ukraine currently attending Capitol Hill Assembly of God in Oklahoma City (the Rev. Franklin Cargill, pastor).
"A lot of the people we worked with in Ukraine had faced persecution before the breakup of the Soviet Union," Eunice said. "We need to be aware of the needs that they have and the things that they face. We live such sheltered lives. Christians in America can't comprehend it."
Cargill had bulletin inserts placed throughout the entire six weeks. The congregation shared in a time of prayer before and after a screening of "Shatter the Silence," the video that was part of an International Day of Prayer resource kit.
While the prayer emphasis focused on the foreign oppression of Christians, some participants noted that American Christians may soon be at risk.
Pastor Garry Wallace of Bethel Hill Assembly of God in Dallas has believed for a long time that Christians in the United States could face persecution in the future. "I'd be surprised if it doesn't happen," he said. "We live in a post-Christian society."
Already, some participants believe, Americans have fewer religious freedoms than some Christians in the former Soviet Union. Pastor Fred McDaniel returned last week from a ministry trip to Hungary with a team of about 20 men from First Assembly in Ocala, Florida.
"Here we were in a former closed society in a small town about 30 miles from the Romanian border," he remembered. "We were working on a church and the mayor of the city gave us a proclamation and we were invited to minister in the public school. In fact, the school provided our lunches while we were there. When we had our assembly at the school, some 400 students and their teachers prayed the sinner's prayer with us. Two of our men are school teachers, and they arranged for the principal to set up pen pals with our kids in our church's school. We're hoping that some of the kids who are in our church will be evangelists to the public school kids in Hungary."
To McDaniel, it was "very ironic" that he could minister more freely in a Hungarian public school than he could in an American one.
The Rev. Dwight Colbaugh, campus pastor to Evangel College in Springfield, Missouri, believes darker days lie ahead for the American church. Colbaugh organized an all-night prayer meeting for students on November 15 that began with a special emphasis on persecuted Christians.
"Rather than praying that we not be persecuted," Colbaugh said, "or that in some humanitarian way we be released from this, I told the kids it's much better that we pray that if and when persecution comes we stand true to what we believe in the message of Christ. I think that is the most important thing. I feel that our students should know that this is where we are. We are at the end of the age, and it is very important that they pray with understanding."