Persecution is nothing new. Paul was on the road to Damascus and had a life changing encounter with the risen Lord. Many of us have had those encounters, but Paul got an extra word of encouragement: Acts 9:15-16: "But the Lord said to Ananias, "Go! This man is my chosen instrument to carry my name before the Gentiles and their kings and before the people of Israel. 16 I will show him how much he must suffer for my name." And when John has his vision, what today we call the revelation, one of the things that Jesus notes about the church at Ephesus is that they have endured hardship for His sake (Rev 2:3).
Even before that Jesus had been telling the disciples that life with Him wasn't going to be all things wonderful. We look at some of the places that Jesus took the disciples, and those places weren't always all that safe, but besides that there were the comments about persecution: 'Blessed are those who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness" (Righteousness= right relationship with God -Matt 5: 10);Then you will be handed over to be persecuted and put to death, and you will be hated by all nations because of me" (Jesus speaking- Matt 24:9). Or how about John 15:18-21 where Jesus tells the disciples that they will be hated, but they hated Jesus first. So persecution is nothing new.
And now a moment on my soapbox. Persecution means different things in different contexts and cultures. In middle class America, we hear that you can't say "Merry Christmas" in big box stores, but have to say "Happy Holidays" so as not to offend anyone (NOT true by the way) and we start screaming that Christians are being persecuted. We make bad choices and say about the consequences "We all have a cross to bear." Nowhere in either of those examples is the part about suffering for Jesus' sake, because of Jesus, or because of Jesus' Name. We just get it wrong.
Fast forward across an Ocean and you might feel you've been in a time machine and backed up several centuries, and in many places religious persecution is real. North Korea, Saudi Arabia, and Afghanistan are at the top of the list of countries where people are persecuted for Jesus' name but it happens in many other places. Despite the persecution, the threat of pain, torture, being exiled from the family and the community, or even death, the church is growing in some countries where persecution is real. In parts of Asia missionaries and GFA workers continue to press on as they proclaim the gospel to those who are lost in the darkness. They want every person within their extended areas of influence to hear the name of Jesus, and if they should physically perish in the process, so be it. The top ten countries are:
In a sense we are all linked to these brave souls, soldiers for Christ, so we should be praying for them as if our lives depended on those prayers. And perhaps they do. For more ways to pray for the persecuted church visit here