7 Things That Have Changed My Faith In 2017
This year has been a big year for the persecuted church. As we come to the end of 2017, I wanted to share 7 events that shaped and challenged my faith this year.
1. North Korea
In 2017, international tensions have never been higher with North Korea. Since 2002, this has been the most dangerous country in the world to follow Jesus, according to the World Watch List. But we’ve heard the incredible ways God has been working in the midst of horrific circumstances, through stories like Hea Woo’s and Myoung-Hee's.
There was good news this year. In August, Pastor Hyeon Soo Lim was unexpectedly released after spending more than two years in a North Korean prison. God is working in this country, and we hear stories of the church continuing to grow.
The 2018 World Watch List launches 10 January 2018. Will North Korea still be #1? Check back to find out.
Following Jesus in Iran can cost you everything. For the last four years, we’ve been following and praying for the release of a Christian women behind bars for her faith.
Image: Maryam before her imprisonment.
Maryam Naghash Zargaran was released on 1 August 2017. We give God all the glory, and are continuing to pray for her health as she recovers from the lack of medical attention she received while in prison.
Despite a history of persecution, and martyrs like Haik Hovespien, the Iranian church continues to be one of the fastest growing churches in the world.
Easter is an increased time of persecution for Christians. This year in Egypt, during their Easter Sunday service, two churches suffered bomb blasts. The attack killed 44 Christians and over 100 were injured. A Christian widow’s story made the gospel shine in the midst of suffering.
“I’m not angry at the one who did this. I’m telling him, ‘May God forgive you, and we also forgive you.’” she said. “Believe me, we forgive you.’”
Image: The remains of a burnt church in Minya, Egypt.
ISIS has declared the Egyptian church their next target. The church in Egypt remains bold and courageous for the gospel as God continues to build His church.
At the start of 2017, the UN declared the worst humanitarian crisis since World War II. Across five countries, 20 million people were at risk of starvation and even the UN’s attempts to raise enough money to support them have fallen short. There was a need, and you stepped up.
Image: Emergency food distribution by local church partners in Nigeria.
Across Australia and New Zealand, you helped raise over $200,000 to go towards emergency food and shelter for displaced Christians in Nigeria. You helped feed over 75,000 people in urgent need.
But you didn’t stop there.
In September this year, over 88 groups across Australia and New Zealand took part of Walk To Water and raised over $90,000 to build deep water boreholes, equip schools and medical clinics where Christians are in need.
“Supporters won’t believe what this help means to us all… this makes us so emotional. We are praying for all of you and the beneficiaries are praying for you all. We give thanks to God for you… These are the things that keep the light of God shining in the North [of Nigeria].” - Open Doors local partner in Nigeria
This is the moment we’ve been waiting for since the rise of Islamic State.
This is an image from Easter, when Christians returned to Qaraqosh to celebrate palm Sunday in their town for the first time in over two years. In June, Islamic State lost Mosul, Iraq and in October, they also lost Raqqa, Syria - the capital of their self-titled state.
Christians like Noeh are returning home. You have rebuilt his school, and his church. You have helped deliver 50,000 Bibles to displaced Christians in Iraq this year. For the last two years you have also been giving food and aid. And now that the Islamic State are on the back foot, you are rebuilding the church in Iraq.
In November, we had over 250 groups register for International Day Of Prayer 2017. Our founder, Brother Andrew said, “If we would understand the power of our prayers, we would be on our knees a hundred times a day and ask him things that would turn the world upside down.”
Image: Syria - “When I heard that people around the world who I don’t know... were praying for me and for my country, I was given the spiritual strength to go on.” - Church Leader, Aleppo
2017 saw more people than ever praying for the ministry and the persecuted church. Your prayers are transforming the global church.
In May, Islamic extremists seized the city of Marawi, killing 9 Christians and taking a number of others hostage. The city was eventually liberated in October, after 5 months of fighting.
Image: Government troops carry out a clearing operation against the pro-Islamic State militant group earlier this month. Source: Romeo Ranoco / Reuters
This was shockingly real for me as it was so close to home. This shows the spread of extremism, from the Middle East, down across Africa, and now almost onto our doorstep. I think we have two responses in this - fear or love. Which one will you choose?
The Inside Scoop On 2018
I wanted to give you an exclusive inside look at what’s happening next year.
Here’s some of the exciting things we have coming in 2018:
- One With Them
Easter is an increased time of persecution for Christians. We want to stand one with them at this time, to strengthen them through prayer and support.
- World Watch List
Every year this list defines our ministry, sets us apart and informs everything we do. It represents our brothers and sister who are persecuted for their faith. You can find out the most dangerous places to be a Christian, on 10 January 2018.
- Open Doors LIVE Podcast
Open Doors LIVE is a brand new, monthly podcast, hosted by Mike Gore and James Kozina. This podcast brings the persecuted church to life. Each episode contains life-changing stories, updates and trends in persecution and biblically-based discussion, making it a brilliant all in one devotion.
- Our Increases In The Field
Every year persecution increases, and so does our ministry. We’re not here to stop persecution, we’re here to strengthen the persecuted church to be bold for the gospel. Next year we’re working in more countries than ever before. The need outweighs what we’re able to give but we’re up for the challenge. Join us in this partnership with the persecuted church to fulfil the great commission.
Thank you for serving the persecuted church this year with your prayers and giving! You are making a difference for persecuted believers all over the world.
CEO, Open Doors Australia