Three Ways Christians Should Respond to Islamic Extremists
By Jason Peters
The founder of The Voice of the Martyrs (VOM), Pastor Richard Wurmbrand, was no stranger to persecution by extremists. He spent 14 years in a communist Romanian prison, and his wife, Sabina, lost her parents, two sisters and one brother in a Nazi concentration camp.
“Jesus never feared or hated anyone,” Richard was known to say in the years following his release. Today, American Christians are faced with new challenges presented by Islamic extremists, and many are unsure of how to respond.
During recent visits to Iraq and neighboring countries where VOM is serving persecuted Christians, I have had the privilege of meeting and hearing the incredible stories of many of our brothers and sisters who have lost everything to Islamic extremists. Their responses to persecution provide us with an exemplary pattern of three approaches that are well supported by the Sermon on the Mount.
1. Pray for Islamic Extremists and Those They Persecute
When Jesus said, “pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you” (Matthew 5:44b, NKJV), he was teaching people who suffered under extreme oppression. The Roman authorities were known for their cruel tactics and utter disregard for the Jewish people they terrorized.
We in the West have been shocked by the cruelty exhibited in videos produced by the self-proclaimed Islamic State (ISIS). Stories of their brutality naturally push us toward hatred and fear. But in contrast to our natural inclinations, Jesus calls us to pray for our persecutors. We should pray that they will come to know the truth of Christ and that many will experience “Saul-to-Paul” transformations, becoming the next wave of bold evangelists in their region.
What about those who are persecuted? When we ask persecuted Christians how we can help, their first response is, “Pray for us.” Through prayer, some persecuted believers have experienced supernatural deliverance. Abu Fadi, a brother from Mosul who lost everything when ISIS militants attacked, was miraculously rescued along with his family after being detained at an ISIS checkpoint. Perhaps a believer in America was praying at that precise moment, lifting up the plight of our Iraqi family members. The story of God’s supernatural intervention in Abu Fadi’s life is told in VOM’s new book, I Am N. The book will help you learn more about what our persecuted family members face and how to pray more effectively.
2. Reveal the Love of Christ to Muslims
When ISIS extremists moved into northern Iraq, they began identifying Christian-owned homes and businesses by spray-painting the Arabic letter ﻥ, or “N,” on the buildings. This single letter, the first letter of the word used in the Quran to identify Christians, conveyed the powerful accusation that the occupants were followers of Jesus.
Our Christian brothers and sisters were then given the choice of either converting to Islam or standing for Christ and losing everything they owned. In Mosul, the second largest city in Iraq, more than 100,000 Christians were displaced, abducted or killed in less than one week.
How should Christians respond to this type of cruel treatment? Jesus provides clear instruction in His Sermon on the Mount: “But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you” (Matthew 5:44a, NKJV).
I have seen firsthand how persecuted Christians live out their faith and observed the remarkable ways they share the love of Christ with their enemies. The VOM book I Am N explores the themes of sacrifice, courage, perseverance, faithfulness and two other themes that many find surprising — forgiveness and joy.
During a memorable trip to northern Nigeria, I met a widow whose husband had been killed by Boko Haram. The woman said she often saw the man who had killed her husband walking through her village. Then, remarkably, she told me that with God’s help she was learning to forgive him. I was stunned by her response and deeply inspired by her example. Through God’s grace, it is even possible to share Christ’s love with the extremist who killed your husband.
3. Stand with Our Persecuted Family Members
Scripture reminds us that we are to “Remember the prisoners as if chained with them — those who are mistreated — since you yourselves are in the body also” (Hebrews 13:3, NKJV).
What does it mean to “remember” them? At VOM, it means that we will do whatever we can to provide the spiritual and physical help that they need. This year, we are working with persecuted Christians in 68 countries around the world. We serve them through persecution response projects, Bible distributions and support of front-line workers who are advancing God’s kingdom.
God has made it possible for us to deliver more than $5 million in aid to those affected by ISIS, and we will continue to visit them, pray for them and serve alongside them.
Today, you have Christian brothers and sisters who are in prison. You have family members who have been kidnapped by ISIS in Syria. Parents, siblings and children in our family are being mistreated. But as followers of Jesus, we are confident that they are never truly alone.
On April 13, 1969, Pastor Wurmbrand stood before an audience at London’s Royal Festival Hall and shared about his prison experiences: “You are alone in a cell; they meant you to be alone. But, we were not alone!”
I have met and prayed with Christians who have been held captive and faced unimaginable tortures. But they report that God was with them; they supernaturally experienced His presence. Some even share that these dark times were the times of greatest intimacy with their Father in heaven.
We invite you to partner with us as we stand alongside our persecuted brothers and sisters, who remain joyful and blessed by their relationship with Christ despite having lost everything they own. These Christians are our family members — part of the body of Christ. We will not let them suffer in silence. We will not let them serve alone. www.i-am-n.com
As a global voice for our persecuted family members, Dr. Jason Peters travels frequently to meet face-to-face with persecuted believers around the world. Peters was executive editor of I Am N: Inspiring Stories of Christians Facing Islamic Extremists and host of the I Am N video curriculum (David C Cook, March 2016). Jason and his wife Kimberly ministered overseas for several years, where two of their five children were born.