Faith under Fire

woman standing with hands raised at sunset

 

Jesus foretold that persecution of Christians is to be expected in life (Mark 13: 9, Luke 6:22) and the apostle Paul warned that “anyone who tries to live in devotion to Christ is certain to be attacked, while the wicked imposters will go from bad to worse…” (2 Timothy 3:12).   ‘Release International’ is a Christian ministry working in 25+ countries to help persecuted Christians prayerfully and pastorally.  It is working with churches in Poland to care for Ukrainian refugees and says there is little doubt that “the persecution of Christians has increased substantially” in Ukraine.

The cloud of Christian persecution can sometimes, however, have a silver lining for believers.  James argues that persecution can develop endurance and maturity in one’s life (James 1:2–4).  A Christian yielding graciously to persecution may demonstrate that s/he is a better person as compared to their adversaries (Hebrews 11:38).  Here are two examples:

Remarkable stories of faith under fire have been emerging from Ukraine.  Some churches there are holding services in bomb shelters and residential street areas.  Videos posted on Facebook show that during one such outside service there is an explosion nearby.  Even as the reverberations continue, the celebrant continues his reading from Psalm 91: “You need not fear the terrors of night, nor the arrow that flies by day.”

In another case, a Ukrainian Christian called Viktoria asks for prayer to help her forgive the invading soldiers: “May God touch the hearts of the soldiers, they too need salvation. It is very difficult for us; we struggle with feelings of hatred towards them but we try to forgive them.”  –  It’s easy to feel hatred, but here Viktoria produces kindness and blessing in the face of evil opposition.  Peter says of Jesus, “When they hurled their insults at Him, He did not retaliate; when He was tortured, He made no threats but put His trust in the righteous judge” (1 Peter 2:23).

As the conflict continues in Ukraine, humanitarian agencies are also warning of the increased risk of human trafficking for people fleeing the country.  There is evidence that criminal gangs linked to human trafficking are on the move along border routes.  According to the International Organisation for Migration around 1.5 million children, who are especially vulnerable to human trafficking, have fled Ukraine.  In a statement, the IOM said: “Instances of sexual violence have already been reported and among the individuals who promise onward transportation, there have been indications of potential exploitation”.

Aid agencies like Caritas are supporting women and children crossing the border into neighbouring countries like Poland, Slovakia and Hungary to try to prevent human trafficking.  “Right now, there is a very high risk that people might become a human slave,” said Caritas Ukraine’s Director.  Listen to the interview here.

President Zelensky of Ukraine has spoken to Pope Francis by phone about the dire humanitarian situation and the blocking of rescue corridors and has asked him to mediate.

Heavenly Father, Your will for your people is peace, not war. Pour out on our world, especially the Ukraine, your Spirit of compassion and solidarity. Convert the hearts of the aggressors to the way of peace. Be with all those on all sides who endure the consequences of war, especially the widowed, the orphaned, the parents who lose their children, the refugee, the persecuted and the peacemaker. Grant all those who believe in you the strength and desire to be close to those who suffer. Bind us all into the peace of your Kingdom. Through Christ, Our Lord. Amen.