International (MNN) — Today, faith leaders will join business and military leaders at the United Nations to talk about the “greatest crisis in the Modern Age” — namely, the persecution of Christians.
The UN is hosting a summit called “Not Peace but a Sword: The Persecution of Christians in the Middle East as a Threat to International Peace and Security.” Speakers will be calling the UN and its member states to recognize and take action against the horrors being inflicted on Christians throughout the Middle East by the Islamic State and other radical Islamic groups.
In fact, The Voice of the Martyrs notes that “more people have died for their faith in Christ in the last 100 years” than in the previous 19 centuries combined.” Global Advance founder, David Shibley agrees. “Over these last 25 years, there has been significant change in some ways. It is a darker picture–notably darker.” Their ministry has been focused on training the church leaders on the “frontlines,” hence the Frontline Shepherd’s Conferences.
A quarter century ago, there was a massive evangelistic push once Communism fell. Islamic extremism was not on the radar at all in many countries. Today, with the rise of the Islamic State, Gospel work has to be approached differently. Shibley notes that even in countries like Kenya, often used as a base for other mission fields, terrorism is part of the landscape, “specifically, in Holy Week–designed to be in Holy Week so as to frighten believers from even coming on Resurrection Sunday throughout Kenya. There was a noticeable downturn in the attendance of believers in Kenya,” Shibley says, referencing the al-Shabaab attack on the Nairobi University campus in Garissa. It wasn’t by accident that the Islamists slaughtered Christians there. It sent a message. “All of this is strategized, but what I am encouraged by is that leadership in nation after nation: they understand the times. They know that these are, in fact, perilous times, just as Scripture has told us there would be.”
The reality: it won’t be easing up any time soon. In many countries, especially in the Middle East and Africa, the threat comes from an Islamic government or from extremists who are emboldened by a government that tends to “look the other way.”
“We have looked upon persecution in this country, at least up until recently, as kind of an elective course for the ‘Super Christians.’ But it’s just Christianity 101 for most of the world. I am encouraged that a very virile, strong, bold Church is rising as a result of that.”
As the Islamic State expands its territories, it becomes increasingly dangerous for traditional Gospel work to move forward. How do you resource today’s church leaders? Shibley explains, “I’m going to be sharing completely from the prison epistles, written by Paul from prison, writing to those who were suffering persecution. It’s interesting to me that even though the New Testament writers mention the fact that they are being harassed, persecuted, and some are even dying for the faith, they stayed focused on the mission at hand.”
However, intense focus and isolation don’t mix long-term. Discouragement fells many a church leader. That’s why Global Advance meets with these pastors: “We need to be praying for all of us, that we would have what the early Church prayed for in Acts 4: ‘Lord, grant Your servants boldness that with all boldness, they may speak Your Word.’ The Lord wonderfully answered that by filling those early believers with His Spirit, and the Bible says they spoke the Word of God boldly, as a consequence.”
Global Advance has plans to meet with church leaders in nine countries, many of which are experiencing a notable uptick in the persecution of Christians. Aside from resources, prayer is needed. Shibley reminds us, “We can come to the Lord, just as the early Church did, and ask that the evil intent of evil men would be stopped and squelched; and often, the Lord answers that prayer.”
Despite the greatest crisis in the Modern Age, the way the world is changing is not a surprise to many Christians. To answer the sword is aggressive, but Shibley says, not in the way you might think. “You know you can counter bombs with bombs. You can respond to angry rhetoric with more angry rhetoric. But aggressive love: there’s no counter to that. We’re to go in the love of Christ with His wonderful message of redemption to the whole world.”