Trent Matthews and Pastor Matthew Bixler recently returned from the Acts 29 Europe “Elect Exiles” conference in Belgrade, Serbia. It was a wonderful time of worship, making new friends, hearing about and celebrating how the gospel is changing lives across Europe, and exploring ways for Grace Church to continue to support our brothers and sisters overseas as well as send out our people to serve alongside them. The “Back from Belgrade” series is a collection of stories, reflections, and responses to what they heard and saw in Belgrade from May 7 – 9.
In the last post of this series, I highlighted some of the struggles that other Christians in Europe (and throughout the world) are facing. Many of these problems exist to us in a theoretical sense, but the reality is that we don’t live them out ourselves.
The question we were left with was, so what now? How should we respond? Here is a non-exhaustive list of a few practical answers that I hope will encourage you and help give you some tangible ideas.
Do Not Fear
First and foremost, we trust in God’s sovereignty. None of the hardships, struggles, or persecutions faced by God’s people are surprises to God himself. In fact, Jesus promises us that these things will happen:
“You will be hated by all for my name's sake.” - Mark 13:13
“All who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.” - 2 Timothy 3:12
We should actually do the opposite of being fearful – we should find joy. Jesus says in the sermon on the mount, “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”
Additionally, studying church history, even at a basic level, is so important in helping us develop a healthy, biblical perspective on suffering for the faith. The reality is, Christians are a suffering, persecuted people. That is our heritage (and our future). But what does history show us? That the light of gospel seems to shine brightest in the hardest circumstances and the church grows fastest when it’s facing annihilation. In Belgrade, Matt Chandler pointed out that, according to his research, during the first few hundred years of Christianity (approximately 33-312 A.D.), when the Roman empire was attempting to crush and marginalize Christians, the Church actually grew by about 30% each year, every year, for 300+ years. That rate of growth is unimaginable today!
We need to pray for these brothers and sisters. On one hand, we should thank God for sparing us from these trials; On the other hand, we need to pray for and encourage the brothers and sisters who are going through them.
While we in America are (or should be) thankful for the lack of opposition we face, we can’t forget that God has made many promises to those who are undergoing suffering and trials of various kinds. In light of those promises, we must pray (to borrow the saying of a former mentor of mine) that our fellow Christians “would not get out of suffering as fast as possible, but would get as much out of suffering as possible.” Pray that they would experience the blessings and eternal rewards promised in the scriptures, that they would boldly continue to share their faith (like the pastor in Turkey I shared about), and that the Holy Spirit would work through them mightily as Jesus promised would happen (Mark 13: 11).
You may not realize it, but we live in a very connected and accessible world. You can literally speak to, email, tweet, FaceTime, Zoom, etc. with anyone else in the world who has an internet connection.
Follow these brothers and sisters on social media. Communicate with them. Tell their stories to others. Let them know that they are not alone.
I can’t imagine how lonely it must be for some of them – being perhaps one of a few dozen Christians in an entire city. Why not connect with them and encourage them?
One of the greatest responsibilities we have as Christians in America is to steward the resources, freedoms, and immense wealth that God has entrusted to us. Make no mistake, compared to the rest of the world, not to mention people throughout history, we are rich. However, our tendency is often to minimize the impact that our dollars might have because “we can’t give that much.” Not only will your dollars go a lot farther than you might think, but you must also not underestimate the blessings YOU will receive from giving!
Jesus tells us that, “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” Imagine how the spiritual environment of your home or development of your children’s faith might be impacted if you started supporting, financially partnering with, hung up pictures of, and prayed as a family daily for non-American missionaries and church-planters. Believe it or not, such people do exist! What if you started giving extra each month to churches in other parts of the world? There is nothing stopping you! Just read 2 Corinthians 9: 6-15 (or all of 2 Corinthians 8 and 9 for that matter!), and if that doesn’t excite you to be generous, then I’m not sure what will.
The bottom line is that we have easy and diverse ways of involving ourselves in the lives of other Christians around the world. We can learn about what they’re going through (willful ignorance is not an option!), pray for them, encourage them, and support them. So, let us do that – to the glory of God in heaven!
Matthew Bixler is an elder at Grace Church. One of his passions and roles within the church is to see God’s people trained, mobilized and deployed for to proclaim the gospel and plant churches in Waco and around the world.
Trent Matthews, along with his wife Tori, are members of Grace Church and are preparing to move overseas to take part in planting Peak Trinity Church in Bakewell, England.