“…as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way: by great endurance, in afflictions, hardships, calamities, beatings, imprisonments…” (the Apostle Paul: 2 Corinthians 6:4-5; ESV).
The Apostle Paul was no stranger to being arrested and imprisoned for his gospel witness. In the Book of Acts we find him languishing in prison and under house arrest, and we know several of his New Testament letters were written from the confines of a cell.
Paul wasn’t the only Apostle, of course, to suffer in this way. Peter and John spent a night in custody as early as Acts, chapter 4, and Peter is again imprisoned, following the martyrdom of James, in Acts chapter 12.
And in our world today there are Christians who find themselves arrested and then incarcerated – simply for proclaiming the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.
While imprisonment is not the only form of persecution Christians may face today, it is one of the most distinctive – and painful. Being imprisoned as a Christian means being deprived of freedom, separated from family and Christian friends – and often while enduring harsh treatment.Release International’s calling as a ministry is to love and serve persecuted Christians around the world. That includes (although it is not limited to) prisoners of faith and their families. Release was established in response to the testimony of Richard Wurmbrand, the Romanian pastor who spent a total of 14 years in Communist prisons, frequently being tortured for his faith.
In his famous book, Tortured for Christ, Pastor Wurmbrand made a passionate plea on behalf of persecuted Christians: “Don’t abandon us! Don’t forget us! Give us the tools we need! We will pay the price for using them!”
Today Release International is active in more than 25 countries around the world, working through Christian partners, to strengthen, encourage, resource and care for those who suffer for Christ and the gospel.Pastor Wang Yi, from China, was arrested at the end of 2018. A year later he was sentenced to nine years in prison. He was accused of ‘subversion of state power’ and ‘illegal business operations’. His wife, Jiang Rong, is currently under house arrest. At the end of the Book of Acts we read of the Apostle Paul seemingly under some kind of house arrest. We are told Paul was able to welcome “all who came to him”, and that he proclaimed the kingdom of God and taught about the Lord Jesus Christ “without hindrance” (Acts 28:30-31). It has been reported, by contrast, that Jiang Rong has been completely isolated: barred from interacting with family, friends and church members. In recent years Christians have also faced imprisonment – and cruel treatment – in Eritrea, on the Horn of Africa. Dr Kiflu Gebremeskel, who was the chairman of the Eritrean Evangelical Alliance, has been imprisoned since May 2004. He was arrested in an early morning raid on his home in Asmara, the country’s capital. A former maths lecturer, Dr Kiflu has never been charged with a crime or brought before a court, and his wife and four children have not been able to visit him.
Iran is another country where Christians have been imprisoned for their active witness to the gospel of Christ. A Release International partner for Iran said recently of the opposition Christians face: “This is part of a campaign to stop the spread of Christianity, to arrest those who are leading house churches and those who are involved in evangelism and teaching. Persecution is on the increase because the authorities are aware of the growth in the number of converts and house churches and are determined at all costs to stem this.”
Release International raises the voice of persecuted Christians and calls individual Christians and Christian congregations to express real fellowship with those who suffer for their faith. The writer of the letter to the Hebrews said: “Remember those who are in prison, as though in prison with them, and those who are mistreated, since you also are in the body,” (Hebrews 13:3). This verse of Scripture is a powerful motivator for all the work Release seeks to do.We can express fellowship with our persecuted brothers and sisters in Christ prayerfully, pastorally and practically. Release’s free quarterly magazine, Voice, is a great resource to be informed about persecution, in order to pray for those who are being persecuted.
If you sign up to receive information from Release we will send you a free copy of Imprisoned with ISIS, by Petr Jasek.Petr, who is from the Czech Republic and who works for an associate ministry of Release International, was arrested and subsequently imprisoned in Sudan, after visiting persecuted Christians. In the book he recounts his 445-day ordeal – which included being locked up with ISIS fighters – and how the Lord sustained his strength and courage during that time.
Looking back, he writes: “For me, my experiences in prison in Sudan were a profound opportunity to proclaim Christ, even if it brought personal pain. I have learned that God sometimes allows us to ‘walk through the valley of the shadow of death’ (Psalm 23:4) to teach us to trust in his strength instead of trusting in our own. It is only in the valley, in the shadows, in the darkness, that we see Christ shining the brightest.”
By Kenneth Harrod, Release International