(Voice of the Persecuted) Dear Prayer Warriors, fear of the COVID-19 around the world has been unprecedented, truly a pandemonium in countries such as Italy, as many find themselves in a state of panic with the numbers of infected on the rise and quarantines are implemented. Global economies have been hit hard with many unable to make a wage as their workplaces are temporarily shuttered. On Friday, President Trump declared a National Emergency to slow the spread of the virus in the USA and plan for relief programs to help those who are affected by the crises. Local leaders, even in the U.S, have called for schools to be closed and ask their citizens to stock up on goods and prepare to hunker down for at least a few weeks. As a result, stores struggle to keep product on their shelves with some shoppers even becoming combative and a threat to those around them. Fear of the unknown is bringing out the worst in society. In the U.S., Governors are recommending events where over 100 people gather are cancelled, including church worship services.
How does the Church respond and still obey God’s command to gather during this COVID-19 epidemic? This is a question churches around the globe are being forced to confront or will be in the near future. Chinese churches have already struggled with this for more than a month.
Unlike the secular world, we who are called by His Name truly know where our hope comes from.
“1 I lift up my eyes to the mountains—
where does my help come from?
2 My help comes from the Lord,
the Maker of heaven and earth.
As we are told to stay away from the crowds and as churches take necessary steps to protect their congregations and the communities around them, we as believers are still commanded to meet with one another.
“19 Therefore, brothers and sisters, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, 20 by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body, 21 and since we have a great priest over the house of God, 22 let us draw near to God with a sincere heart and with the full assurance that faith brings, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water. 23 Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful.24 And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, 25 not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.”
The following is a precious letter that was written in late January from a pastor in China to his church. He encouraged believers to continue coming together in smaller groups, with guidelines for those who should avoid all meetings. The church is also providing online meetings and worship for those who cannot physically attend a small group.
DO NOT NEGLECT TO MEET TOGETHER: A PASTORAL LETTER IN A TIME OF QUARANTINE
Dear brothers and sisters,
In light of the epidemic, we foresee that our church will not be able to meet together for quite a long time – anywhere from one to three months. During this period, how can we fulfill the biblical command of Hebrews 10:25: “not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near”?
Some say this biblical command is for ordinary times, not special circumstances. In normal times we can obey, but special circumstances demand special measures. However, is our time truly as special as when the author of Hebrews wrote this command? At that time, Christians were discriminated against and persecuted. Any meeting, even the smallest, could bring imprisonment and capital punishment. Throughout Hebrews, the author continually encouraged the letter recipients to have faith. Why? Because not only did they face persecution from authorities, they also faced persecution from society and their fellow citizens. We have reason to believe it was more difficult for believers to meet in the time of the book of Hebrews than during our own times. Therefore, this command is not just for churches during normal times, but especially for churches in “wartime.” This command not only requires Christians to continue meeting together, but also requires believers to encourage one another. Wartime situations bring a greater reminder than ordinary times that “the Day” is drawing near, therefore we should come together “all the more.”
In that case, why can’t the church meet as usual? Our primary concern should not be to avoid person-to-person infection, but to avoid causing panic and uneasiness to our neighbors, property management, neighborhood, and community. The government’s proposal is not religious persecution, but a public health warning caused by any human gathering. As we love our neighbors and carry one another’s weaknesses, and so that we may also please and build up our neighbors, we have suspended our meetings. Our church also has to consider other risks related to big gatherings, including the increased possibility of infection and the inability of many congregants to attend due to quarantine. We should pray for this epidemic, asking God not only to alleviate the pressure of the epidemic so we can resume gatherings, but also to bring reflection and transformation to our nation and society through this epidemic. The Bible promises us that the Messiah will take our illnesses and bear our diseases.
However, the church still bears the responsibility to teach. The church must make it possible for believers to obey the biblical command to gather. This is why we will make every effort to coordinate resources and provide opportunities for small group gatherings, so faithful brothers and sisters who are willing to obey the biblical command will not neglect to meet together, encourage one another, and enable the Word of God to shepherd his people. Keeping a close watch on epidemic reports and statistics or hearing slogans about presenting a united front to fight the disease will not bring spiritual growth or hope; only the Word of God can do this. Pastor Tim Keller says persecution helps you become either a better Christian or a worse one, but it does not leave you alone. Becoming a better Christian is the work of God’s Spirit, through God’s word, in the community of God’s people.
I encourage all of you to make every effort on Sundays to attend a small group meeting near your home, as long as you have no symptoms and have had no contact with infected individuals or people from infected regions. If you have a home big enough to accommodate meetings and the desire to serve, by faith open your home so the people of God can meet together. If you are willing to open your home as a venue for temporary small group meetings, please tell the elders. If you want to attend a nearby small group meeting, please register with us. On Sundays, encourage one another (rather than gossiping about the epidemic or shopping for face masks) and let the Word of God fill your spirit and family.
When you attend small group meetings, please wear facemasks in the neighborhood. Try to arrive early, and spread out your arrivals so as not to raise the attention of other residents by arriving at the same time. If you have recently returned from a domestic trip via high-speed rail or bus, please do not attend small group meetings, because railway stations and passenger transportation centers are crowded places. We suggest self-quarantine for about two weeks before you begin to attend small group meetings. Instead, you may connect with the meeting online. Attendance of those who have traveled internationally should be determined by the epidemic situation at the place of departure and individual health conditions.
If you are quarantined out-of-town and cannot return or are traveling, I encourage you to attend nearby church gatherings. Physical interactions and hearing the Word of God in person is always better than virtual meetings. This will also provide you an opportunity to encourage and build up the local saints. If you cannot find a local church, you can still participate by listening to our sermon online.
If you are in the city but cannot attend our gatherings due to a cold, fever, or suspicious symptoms; if you dare not attend because of worry and fear; or if you cannot come out of consideration for or pressure from family members, we welcome you to notify the church and invite us to pray for you. Do not feel shy or ashamed because of this; bearing each other’s weakness is the teaching of the Bible and one of the reasons the church exists. We welcome you to listen to the Word of God through remote access.
For remote access for those who do not attend a small group: while you do not belong to any group, I still hope you will attend worship by following the scripture readings, prayers, and songs according to the liturgy published on the church’s social media. Our online worship will include a pastoral prayer and preaching, and conclude with fellowship and sharing in an online meeting room.
In order to help you obey biblical teaching, to shepherd and to teach God’s people with God’s word, and to share the gospel, we encourage willing brothers and sisters to host at-home small groups. We encourage you to attend if you can. We will provide online access to brothers, sisters, and seekers who cannot attend.
Your pastor – Source and translation by China Partnership.
Churches are now meeting in the same way that many of the persecuted have been and are doing today! As the Lord leads you, I welcome you join tonight’s Persecution Watch prayer conference call to pray for persecuted believers, the Kingdom harvest and against the trauma of fear.
- For all the Nations and their leaders.
- For the Body of Christ and for the harvest.
- As the world responds in fear, pray that our focus remains on the Lord and for His glory to be revealed by the peace and the strength He gives us to move forward without fear. Pray He will use and direct us at this time to care for the weak and bring others to Himself.
- We will also continue to lift up our dear precious, Leah Sharibu and Alice who continue to suffer as captives of the Islamic Boko Haram group in Nigeria.
- For Pastor Wang Yi from China, who has been sentenced to 9 years in prison for boldly sharing the love of God.
I encourage you, dear ones, to remember who you are and who you belong to. We are the precious children of the most High, the King of all Kings, Who is, Who was and Who is to come!
Dear Saints, Lord willing we are looking forward to praying with you tonight.
In Christ’s Love,
Nadia Dybvik , Prayer Call Leader for Persecution Watch
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What is Persecution Watch?
Persecution Watch is a U.S. national prayer conference call ministry that prays specifically for the global Persecuted Church. For over a decade, Blaine Scogin led this national network of believers who faithfully pray for the persecuted and the global harvest for the Kingdom of God. The group meets via a free call-in service every Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday night at 9pm Eastern (please check your time zone). Blaine also served as Prayer Director for Voice of the Persecuted and our missions became one. The prayer mission of Persecution Watch is an important part of our own. With the passing of Blaine into glory on December 26, 2019, Voice of the Persecuted is committed to continue the prayer conference call for the persecuted along with our dedicated prayer warrior team.
On occasion, persecuted brothers and sisters have been invited on the call to share the trials they’re facing. The team serves to encourage them by washing their feet in Spirit led prayer. Time is often reserved for those on the call to ask questions. We believe this helps to gain a better understanding of the situation that persecuted Christians endure in their specific nations. Q&A also helps us to focus our prayers based on their current needs.
Persecution Watch also hosts callers who want to pray united from other nations. If your heart is perplexed by the sufferings of our persecuted brothers and sisters, you no longer need to pray alone. We welcome all who desire to pray for the persecuted church and consider it a joy to pray together with you. If you’re new to the call and can’t find your voice, listen in and pray silently or on mute. We are grateful and thank the Lord for bringing us all together to pray in agreement for our persecuted family in Christ. We can all be prayer warriors on this call!
NOTE: Persecution Watch has a new email address for the prayer team and those who would like to receive urgent prayer requests, weekly call prayer points and notification of special prayer events and special guest speakers. Please fill out the form below to be included in our new distribution list to receive this important information. Since the passing of Brother Blaine Scogin, we thank you for your patience as we have transitioned into this new season. We are grateful for your prayers and to the Lord for guiding us as we continue the Persecution Watch prayer call mission.
Note to Voice of the Persecuted (VOP) readers: The Persecution Watch prayer team is also the prayer team of Voice of the Persecuted. SIGN UP today