Wednesday, 27 November 2013

Lest We Forget the Persecuted

Today, Thursday 28 November, 2013 is Thanksgiving Day in the USA. This peculiarly American festival dates back to 1621 when the settlers of Plymouth Massachusetts held a harvest feast after a successful growing season.

According to Wikipedia, “The event that Americans commonly call the ‘First Thanksgiving’ was celebrated by the Pilgrims after their first harvest in the New World in 1621. This feast lasted three days, and it was attended by 90 Native Americans (as accounted by attendee Edward Winslow) and 53 Pilgrims. The New England colonists were accustomed to regularly celebrating ‘thanks-givings’days of prayer thanking God for blessings such as military victory or the end of a drought……….

The tradition of giving thanks to God is continued today in many forms, most notably the attendance of religious services, as well as the saying of a mealtime prayer before Thanksgiving dinner. Many houses of worship offer worship services and events on Thanksgiving themes the weekend before, the day of, or the weekend after Thanksgiving.

At home, it is a holiday tradition in many families to begin the Thanksgiving dinner by saying grace…. Before praying, it is a common practice at the dining table for each person to tell one specific reason they’re thankful to God that year."

Thanksgiving has developed as a civil as well as a religious occasion. It is also a time when families strive to be together over the holiday.

It is therefore particularly poignant that in 2013, many Christians in America will leave an empty place at their Thanksgiving dinners as a sign of solidarity with Pastor Saeed Abedini and the persecuted church worldwide.

Saeed Abedini has dual Iranian and US citizenship. Imprisoned by the Iranian authorities in 2012 because of his faith in Christ, he is serving an eight year jail term in Tehran's Evin prison.

A true hero of the faith, Saeed Abedini was first arrested in 2009. His crime was that of carrying out the Great Commission. He had grown, and was supporting, a network of underground house gatherings. In Iran, those who convert to Christianity are forbidden by law from worshipping in churches.

Journalist Carey Lodge, writing in ‘Christian Today’ recently reported that: “In prison, Pastor Saeed has endured long stints in solitary confinement, and beatings and torture at the hands of his jailers and fellow inmates.

He has been told by his captors to deny his faith, but he has repeatedly refused to do so. In a letter written from prison, he says his response to his persecutors is Romans 8:35-39:

“Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword?  

As it is written:‘For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.’

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

In a recent message from prison, Pastor Saeed thanked his supporters for their continued prayers saying: "I rejoice knowing that in my chains the body of Christ has chained together and is brought to action and prayer".

On this Thanksgiving Day, Christians should especially remember all those who stand for Christ in the face of extreme violence and unimaginable circumstances.

Let’s continue to be chained to and in prayer with these 21st century martyrs. The Living God expects no less from His people!

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