A friend in the Middle East is a religious refugee from a repressive Islamic nation. He and his family are courageous and faithful, having lost everything in their flight from persecution. He recently posted on his facebook page a picture taken of a Christian home in his region. The image is at the top of the blog. It’s the Arabic letter “N,” which stands for “Nazarene.” That’s what Muslims often call Christians since Jesus was from Nazareth. The symbol is painted on Christian homes and businesses to mark them as targets for theft, violence and even death. My friend put the image on his facebook page as a sign of solidarity with persecuted believers.
I was thinking about his brave gesture and began wondering about Christian parents here in America. How should we—especially parents of younger children—respond to persecuted Christians? What do we say to our kids? How do we as believing parents help our kids come to grips with this horrible evil in our world?
Most Christian parents do everything possible to protect their children from the evil things happening in the world. I know when my kids were growing up, Pam and I monitored everything we could. We kept tabs on their TV watching. We knew generally what books they were reading. Their friends were subject to our scrutiny. One time when Will brought home a video game that had some questionable content, I even made him return it to the store.
I don’t think we were tyrants, it was just that we wanted to do everything we could to protect their purity and innocence.
Which is why it’s so hard for Christian parents today to know what to say and what not to say to their kids about some of the bad things happening in the world. I’m not talking about the gross immoralities or dishonest behavior that’s so much in the news. I see no reason at all for an eight-year-old girl to be informed about a politician running around on his wife. Or a ten-year-old boy taught at school about war crimes. Their mental and emotional capacity just isn’t at a level where they can deal with those kinds of topics.
But kids need to know—at an appropriate level—that persecution is a real experience and Christian families in other parts of the world have been hurt because they believe in Jesus.
It’s important for several reasons:
- Because we in America must get out of our comfortable mind-sets and understand how faith in Jesus is counter-cultural. Being baptized isn’t a rite of passage and Sunday School isn’t just being with your friends. Following Jesus is serious business and seeing how people in other countries suffer for their faith is a great corrective to our natural inclination toward spiritual lethargy. To learn that as a child has a life-long impact.
- We need to teach our children the value of intercessory prayer at an early age, and nothing is as effective in that as helping them see the need of prayer for other children like themselves in other parts of the world. I was thrilled the other day when a new member at our church shared with me how she gathered her children around her every night to look at the prayer cards our church gives out and pray for missionaries in other parts of the world, some of whom are working with persecuted Christians.
- Our children need to understand from early on that following Jesus carries a price. Of course, a six-year-old doesn’t need to delve into the finer points of, say, Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s “Cost of Discipleship.” But he does need to grasp at a level appropriate to his age that anyone who claims to be a Christian will have to make some sacrifices. I’m not sure we get that message across to any age grouping in today’s American church; at least, not in a way that really registers with people. When a child hears of persecuted Christians his future spiritual maturity is more likely.
- Helping our kids understand something of persecuted Christians, when done in a truly biblical context, helps them understand the power of the gospel. Since the great majority of Christian persecution today is at the hands of Muslims in the Middle East, the natural inclination is to hate the people in that part of the world and look to destroy them. But the gospel offers them the same hope it offers us; namely, in Jesus, we’re all made new. Muslims in the Middle East need Jesus just as much as we do in our large, comfortable churches here in America. For children to be taught the biblical context of persecution from an early age will help them escape the knee-jerk reaction of hatred and violence at a later age.
- Christian persecution and even martyrdom have always served the church as a means of inspiration and an encouragement to living for Jesus. For children as well as for the rest of us, to learn how believers are staying faithful even under harsh circumstances can be an incentive for us to live that way, too.