Thank you for speaking on behalf of our persecuted family. This presentation is based on the subject of OPPRESSION and accompanies our January – March 2023 edition (R121) of VOICE Magazine.
The title of the presentation is: Living faithfully in a state of oppression – Daniel
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Living faithfully in a state of oppression – Daniel
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SLIDE 3INTRODUCTION (cont.)
Daniel and his friends had lived through the reformation years of King Josiah, a time when the king had led the people to return to God.
But the opening of the book of Daniel takes place at a time when for Daniel and his friends their whole system of worship had been destroyed, the temple in Jerusalem had been ransacked, and they had been taken off as prisoners by a foreign king determined to assimilate them into his own culture and belief systems.
In this new oppressive environment they lived each day with the threat of imprisonment or even death if they stepped out of line and dared to challenge what the king said.
While they were forced to live their lives under these oppressive circumstances, we know from elsewhere in the Old Testament that they were not forgotten by God.
One way God reminded them of this was through a letter they received from the prophet Jeremiah, encouraging them to stand firm in their faith.
God reminded them in this letter that they were the remnant through whom He was continuing to prove Himself faithful. Jeremiah even encouraged them to be a blessing to the nation which had taken them prisoner, encouraging them to continue trusting the Lord and to continue living out their faith – and live it out they did.
SLIDE 4INTRODUCTION (cont.)
They worked hard to be a blessing in their new oppressive context and as they did so they refused to forget the Lord, trusting in Him fully, at one point even declaring that if they were to die at the hands of their captors they would not bow down to the false gods of Babylon.
As we read their story and see how they lived out their lives in this way, it teaches us today about what it can look like to remain faithful to the Lord when the pressure really is on.
But we mustn’t just think of this as an interesting piece of history to inspire greater faith whatever our personal context.
As we consider Daniel and his friends who lived over 2500 years ago, we must also remember that there are many Daniels in our time, men and women of God who stand in line with them today.
Many Christians today live in oppressive states where they continue to act as good citizens, seeking to be a blessing to those around them, yet unwilling to bow the knee to authorities which seek to put themselves above God.
One of the things we know about Daniel is that he was being constantly watched by those who sought to control him.
At the end of chapter two, in response to Daniel interpreting a dream which had troubled the king, we read:
‘The king said to Daniel, “Surely your God is the God of gods and the Lord of kings and a revealer of mysteries, for you were able to reveal this mystery.”’
Then the king placed Daniel in a high position and lavished many gifts on him. He made him ruler over the entire province of Babylon and placed him in charge of all its wise men. Moreover, at Daniel’s request the king appointed Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego chief ministers over the province of Babylon, while Daniel himself remained at the royal court.
And yet this wasn’t good enough for some around Daniel who continued to look for ways to catch him and his friends out.
And so in chapter three when the king erects an enormous statue in his honour, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego were reported for refusing to bow down to it and thrown into the fire, which God delivered them from.
Later, under the new king Darius, who planned to place Daniel over the whole kingdom, he was reported by those who were watching him for praying to the Lord at a time when Darius had decreed that praying to any god but himself would result in a visit to the Lion’s den.
This decree was a line too far for Daniel who continued to pray openly to the Lord and was indeed thrown in with the lions from whom God once again acted as deliverer.
SLIDE 6CONTEMPORARY APPLICATION: CHINA
Jumping ahead to the present day, just as Daniel was watched by those around him who reported him to the king for not following his decrees, Christians in China are constantly watched, and even have cameras placed in their churches to monitor them as they worship.
SLIDE 7CONTEMPORARY APPLICATION: CHINA (cont.)
When they displease the government, prison can await as it did for Pastor Wang Yi who is serving a 9-year sentence handed down in 2019.
Like Daniel, Wang Yi knew he was being watched but continued faithfully leading his church, continued training others in Christian ministry, and continued inviting others to know Christ for themselves.
Like Daniel and his three friends, Wang Yi was prepared to face the consequences of his actions.
For Daniel and his friends the oppression they endured during the 70 years of exile may indeed have felt like the worst of times but we know that God was working for the good – He remained faithful.
We may look at the oppression of the Chinese Communist Party and conclude that it is indeed the worst of times for Christians like Wang Yi in China, but we know already that God has used this time in China to grow His church in unprecedented ways. Perhaps we might conclude that in God’s economy, even under such great oppression, it is very much the best of times in China!
SLIDE 9CONTEMPORARY APPLICATION: ERITREA (cont.)
Since 2003 there have been regular crackdowns on Christian groups leading to arrest, imprisonment and barbaric treatment. Christians have been imprisoned without going through any formal trial process, often being locked up in shipping containers in the desert. This means enduring awful heat during the daytime and freezing cold temperatures during the night.
SLIDE 10CONTEMPORARY APPLICATION: ERITREA (cont.)
In our current magazine we feature the story of Twen Theodros. At the start of her life as a Christian she came under pressure from her family to return to her Catholic upbringing but it was not long before the pressure became more intense. When she was spotted leaving a Christian meeting in February 2004 she was arrested because she did not belong to one of the four permitted faiths in Eritrea: Roman Catholicism, the Lutheran Church, Orthodox Christianity, and Sunni Islam.
Not long after this her father visited her and said he would let her have her Bible as long as she signed a piece of paper. When she asked what it said she was lied to and told that it would simply mean she could not preach or meet with large groups of Christians. In reality the letter was an admission that she had committed a crime and a promise to return to her former religion.
She was faced with the sort of choice Daniel and his friends had to make. Should she remain faithful to the Lord or bow the knee to those who were oppressing her? Twen knew the potential cost of remaining faithful but she trusted the Lord to be with her. Eight months later she was again arrested after a prayer vigil on New Year’s eve and this time she would spend 16 years locked away in one of the most notorious prison systems in the world.
The pressure to turn back was extreme. She watched as others, including pastors, renounced their faith in order to gain freedom and she was told by the prison guards they would force her to go back on her faith and that if she didn’t she would die.
And yet in the front of her mind were the words of Jesus in Matthew 10, “Whoever acknowledges me before others, I will also acknowledge before my Father in heaven. But whoever disowns me before others, I will disown before my Father in heaven.”
In Eritrea and around the world today just as Daniel and his friends were, Christians are under increasing pressure from hostile governments who would seek to destroy their faith.
We should remember them and pray for them, never taking it for granted that they will stand firm as Pastor Wang Yi and our sister Twen have done.
SLIDE 11CALL TO ACTION
When considering other believers who continue to face the same type of treatment as she did Twen told us, ‘I always pray that the same grace that sustained me will sustain them in their suffering; that they can rejoice. Our suffering in this world is very brief and passes quickly but God sees the eternal glory when he looks at us. He focuses on the eternal joy.’
Will you pray as Twen does for believers living under oppression, that they will be sustained by the grace of God to continue trusting in Him and rejoicing?
SLIDE 12CALL TO ACTION (cont.)
If so we would love you to stay connected to our ministry by signing up to receive our free regular information which includes our quarterly Voice magazine and prayer diary. This will help inform your prayer life as you hear the stories of believers such as Twen and Wang Yi. Please do sign up today and take away a copy of our current magazine.
SLIDE 13CALL TO ACTION (cont.)
Perhaps you would also consider supporting our current appeal for Christians living under persecution. In the last year we have seen this spread to the Russian occupied areas of Ukraine where evangelical pastors have been arrested, interrogated, tortured and even expelled from their towns. In addition to this church buildings have been confiscated and used for purposes that fit the agenda of the occupying forces.
Right now evangelical Christians living in both the occupied and contested areas of Ukraine are experiencing severe oppression and fighting for their survival. So perhaps you could consider making a gift to support Release International’s mission partners in Ukraine and other places where Christians face hostility and oppression. You can do that by visiting our website www.releaseinternational.org/give.
Your generous help could lighten the burden of our oppressed brothers and sisters in Christ in Ukraine, India, Malaysia, China, Central Asia and elsewhere. By giving today you can be an answer to their prayers and help them see that God’s love for them knows no bounds.
May God bless you as you seek to live out your lives faithfully, continuing to trust in our Lord who is always faithful, and as you continue to remember, pray for and support those who do this in places of extreme oppression.