Part Two: An Anglican Moment for Persecuted Christians around the World
Part one described the new movement for persecuted Christians in the Anglican Church in North America, the Anglican Persecuted Church Network – sponsored by the New Wineskins Missionary Network. But for a movement to be effective, it has to truly move people. It has to have a moment of anointing from the Lord.
Likewise, a moment when people’s hearts are touched and they are deeply moved, needs to become a movement. If not, it is just a passing moment that makes no difference for the persecuted.
Part two describes the moment, which was truly an Anglican moment, which ignited the hearts of people at New Wineskins for the persecuted church around the world.
The Saturday night plenary session at New Wineskins 2019 was devoted to our persecuted brothers and sisters. Dominic Sputo, founder of LumenLife and author of Heirloom Love: Authentic Christianity in an Age of Persecution, was keynote speaker. God is powerfully using Sputo across the nation to waken Christians to love for persecuted brothers and sisters. And New Wineskins was no exception.
While sharing the testimony of his miraculous healing and God’s call to him for persecuted brothers and sisters, Sputo reminded the gathering that Jesus’ final instructions to His disciples on the night before He was crucified were “Love one another just as I have loved you.” And that the Lord said it four times that night.
Sputo also revealed that researching what the Bible says about money, he “counted 426 verses in the New Testament that are meant to direct our giving.” In those 426 verses:
- 13% are related to supporting gospel workers (missionaries, church pastors and elders).
- 21% are related to giving to the “poor” without distinction between Christians and non-Christians.
- 66% are related to helping poor, suffering persecuted Christians.
And even though the biblical reason for Sunday collections was “to help poor, persecuted believers,” today less than ½ of 1% of what we give on Sunday is used to help persecuted Christians.
One of the reason why we’ve fallen away is that we’re reading the New Testament out of context. The New Testament was written with the tears and blood of Christians at a time when the normal Christian life was defined by suffering and loss. But here in the U.S., our default lens for reading the Bible is distorted by our comfort and security so that we don’t fully see the persecution context.
When we read “practice hospitality,” Sputo said, we think about having friends over for dinner. But this commandment was written when hospitality was needed for Christians fleeing persecution. Taking care of widows and orphans meant taking care of women widowed and children orphaned because husbands and fathers had been turned into human torches by Nero, or food for wild beasts in the arena.
You can read more of what Dominic Sputo discovered and what should move us as Christians in Heirloom Love. To quote him once more, “Jesus is still being persecuted through His children and how we respond to the persecuted is really our response to Jesus.”
Following Sputo’s challenge, the group heard testimonies from The Rt. Reverend Andudu Adam Elnail, Bishop of Kadugli and Nuba Mountains, Episcopal Church of Sudan, and from The Most Rev. Dhiloraj Canagasabey, the Archbishop of Ceylon/Sri Lanka and Bishop of Colombo. Their testimonies brought home the reality of all that Sputo had said.
Elnail himself had to flee from Sudan after the Islamist regime bombed his compound and put out a fatwa against him. He and his family needed the hospitality of Christians in America. And the people of the Nuba Mountains and other marginalized people groups in Sudan need to know that we are with them as they wait desperately to see if any good will come after the recent overthrow of President Omar al-Bashir.
Canagasabey, of course, came to New Wineskins not long after the Body of Christ in Sri Lanka was rocked by the horrible slaughter of over one hundred Christians from three different churches that took place on Easter. Sri Lankan Christians need the prayers, advocacy, and support of American Christians.
Then came prayer time. New Wineskins Executive Director, Jenny Noyes, announced that the closing 30 minutes or so of the night would be spent praying for the persecuted.
All around the auditorium were banners of 22 different countries where Christian persecution is most severe. Noyes had asked me to bring the banners, the creation of the Save the Persecuted Christians, from Washington, DC. I am a founding member of Save the Persecuted Christians (STPC), which is a grassroots coalition of organizations and individuals working together to educate the public on global anti-Christian violence, support the persecuted, and hold the persecutors accountable.
Noyes instructed us to “get up out of our seats” and move to a banner and to pray as the Lord led us. She urged everyone to move from banner to banner, like a kind of Stations of the Cross. And that was quite appropriate – the banner exhibit is actually entitled People of the Cross, with the title banner featuring the beautiful, haunting face of Ibitsam, the widow of one of Christian men martyred by ISIS in Libya and her little son reaching up to her, the Cross tattooed on his wrist. (That photo was taken by Jordan Allott, the filmmaker of Christians in the Mirror, mentioned in Part One)
What happened next was a God-moment. All over the auditorium, people moved to the banners. Some were laying their hand on the people in the photos, other were kneeling on the ground in front of the banners, some were praying out loud, many were weeping. Later, people reported things like, “God opened my eyes and heart to our persecuted brothers and sisters as never before!” and “I will never be the same again.”
I believe, though, that this was not just a God-moment. It was an Anglican-specific God-moment. As Anglicans who are part of GAFCON – who were embraced by our brothers and sisters in the Global South when we had nowhere else to go – we have a unique connection to many of the countries where persecution of the Church is taking place. We are particularly well-situated to be prayer warriors for the persecuted. We have a unique history of Biblical faithfulness and a wide expression of our faith – from Anglo-Catholics, Reformed Anglicans, and Charismatics to everything in between.
Like Mordecai said to Esther, who knows that we are not in this place – made to leave our old denomination, losing buildings and other property, deprived of clergy pensions, connecting more deeply with the Communion in the Global South – for such a time as this?
Has God been preparing the Anglican Church in North America for a special calling to persecuted Christians? That remains to be seen. All I know is that as I
approached a banner to pray, and saw my brother and sister Anglicans praying and weeping and doing spiritual warfare for the persecuted, I couldn’t even pray! All I could do was weep and say “Thank You, Jesus, for what You are doing.”
Something broke that night. And I don’t think it just broke in me. I think some barrier broke that was separating us from our brothers and sisters who are persecuted. May God give us the grace to take that moment and built a movement, in the Anglican Persecuted Church Network.