Date: June 13, 2018
by Elizabeth Kendal Prisons in the West are dangerous places because they are full of violent criminals. Fortunately, apart from the occasional miscarriage of justice or irregular abuse of power, citizens are not usually incarcerated for their beliefs or peaceful activity. Meanwhile, in prisons all across the non-Western world Christian prisoners of conscience are threatened, not merely by criminals, but by unsanitary conditions, infectious diseases, untreated illness and extreme mistreatment - including torture - at the hands of the authorities. These human rights abuses are enabled by a worldview that diminishes and even negates the Christian's value as a human being. While thousands of Christians are prisoners of the state, thousands more are 'captives' held by non-state actors - mainly jihadists. Along with girls abducted as slaves and brides, other captives are missionaries who were following the model of Jesus, selflessly serving others far from home when they were captured. In such cases the captive's life only has value as long as their bodies can be exploited or the prospect of ransom remains alive. Compounding the hardship and physical suffering is the crushing heartbreak of separation from family and friends; many have no Christian fellowship and are denied access to the Bible. How vulnerable must these believers be (especially young, new believers) to the devil's fiery darts as he seeks to crush their spirit with doubts about God's presence, faithfulness, goodness and love. Nothing but the shield of faith will do ... and this is where we come in. Christian prisoners and captives might grow exhausted and confused, but we will be there, fighting for them. If a montage of images of today's Christian prisoners and captives were to be assembled, it would form a snapshot of our increasingly global Church. It would be evidence not merely of persecution, but of faith; expressing both the reality of Matthew 10 and John 15:18 - 16:4, and the promise of Genesis 12:3b and Habakkuk 2:14. For today's prisoners and captives are men and women, young and old, Pakistani, Chinese, Indonesian, Nigerian, American, Indian, Colombian, European, Central Asian, Australian, Vietnamese, Iranian, Eritrean, Laotian, Burkinabe, North Korean and more. They are high profile human rights lawyers like Gao Zhisheng (China), humble labourers like Asia Bibi (Pakistan), students like Leah Sharibu (15, a captive of Boko Haram, Nigeria) and foreign nationals like Rev. Andrew Brunson (an American pastor imprisoned in Turkey), Sister Gloria Cecilia Narvaez (a Colombian missionary nun taken captive in Mali) and Dr Ken Elliot (an 83 year-old Australian missionary doctor taken captive in Burkina Faso). There are far too many to name; but praise God, he knows and loves each one and in faithfulness, never ever leaves them. (Matthew 28:20) We thank God for the confirmation on 4 June that Jeff Woodke - an American missionary taken captive in Niger - is alive and being held captive in the Malian desert. We thank God for the 7 June release into exile of Vietnamese human rights lawyer Nguyen van Dai. We lament with believers whose appeals have been rejected, including Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani (Iran) who returns to prison after his 10-year sentence was upheld on 2 May; and Pastor Nguyen Trung Ton (Vietnam) whose 12-year sentence was upheld on 4 June. We lament over the catechist Mathieu Sawadogo, and his wife Alizeta. Jihadists abducted the couple from their home in Soum Province, northern Burkina Faso, at 4am on 20 May and presumably they have been taken into the Malian desert. Imagine yourself in their shoes - and pray! 'Remember those who are in prison, as though in prison with them ...' (Hebrews 13:3 ESV). PLEASE PRAY SPECIFICALLY THAT: * the Spirit of God will powerfully sustain all Christians who are this day prisoners of hostile regimes, or captives of non-state actors. [Captors might be able to control the environment but they cannot control the Spirit of God!] May prisoners and captives find their strength renewed and spirits lifted as if on eagles' wings (Isaiah 40:31); may the Lord intervene for them to provide ministering angels at every turn. [Imagine yourself 'in their shoes' -'Remember those who are in prison, as though in prison with them ...' (Hebrews 13:3 ESV) - and pray!] * the God of justice and righteousness will intervene to deliver justice for his people. 'But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.' (Amos 5:24 ESV). * our Lord Jesus Christ will subvert all evil and redeem all suffering so that ultimately all things will 'work together for good' (Romans 8:28) and to the glory of his holy name.