On April 25, 2014, the day I returned from our church’s annual seniors retreat, I rummaged through the old newspapers I had collected for recycling. During the retreat, I had heard about the girls kidnapped from a school in Chibok in northeast Nigeria, but I needed to see the headlines with my own eyes. Of course, the Washington Post covered the story on the front page. I had never heard of the terrorist group called Boko Haram before, however, so I continued rummaging through some newspapers to see if this group had been publicized before the kidnapping. I found a two-sentence article in the A section on page 11 with the headline “Nigerian leaders unite against militants.” A small, six-paragraph article was also buried in the paper and dated April 22.
Only a day or so earlier, Bishop Julian Dobbs had given three moving talks at the retreat based on the third verse of the book of Jude: “Beloved, being very eager to write to you of our common salvation, I found it necessary to write appealing to you to contend for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints.” He put emphasis on the words “contend for the faith” and related stories of individuals he knew and the ordeals they were enduring. Little did I know that Dobbs’ forceful words to “contend,” combined with the news of the Nigerian schoolgirls, was part of a series of nudges from God to pray in earnest for the Persecuted Church.
Bishop Dobbs’ talks touched me, although I was not previously unaware of persecution. It was Ernest Gordon of CREED, a Christian rescue effort for dissidents in the Eastern bloc, who first taught me to pick a small bite of an overwhelming project and to pray and work on a little piece of a big problem—to be faithful on what I could do, and trust God. I followed his advice and I did pray, talk to others, and write letters for about six years for five prisoners in the Soviet bloc who were in prison because of their faith. All five of those prisoners were released.
Again, I believed God was using that sleepless night after rummaging through the newspapers to nudge me to wake up and realize that my Christian brothers and sisters around the world needed my prayers. I knew instantly that I had the responsibility to contend for the Nigerian schoolgirls and others like them. Since then, I have not only written to the president of the United States and the Washington Post, asking them to educate us and to protest the evil of Boko Haram, but I decided to go to the McLean office of Barnabas Aid and investigate their work. I found that they published a bimonthly calendar with up-to-date information about Christians all over the world who are persecuted because of their faith. I took six of the calendars and mailed five to friends I knew would be interested and who would pray.
That wasn’t the end. God kept nudging me to be more involved. At the time, I was 91 years old and did not want to be talking to people who were not all that eager to think about persecution, about our responsibility as Christians to contend for our faith. In plain language, I was self-centered and reluctant to obey God’s clear nudging. I doubted I would have much success. Then I remembered Mother Teresa telling Senator Percy that she wasn’t called to be successful, only faithful. I remembered it was God who would provide. It wasn’t up to me.
Arriving back at Barnabas Aid, this time I took 100 calendars and distributed them. I continue to offer that small service. I have written letters to vestry and clergy asking for special offerings to aid the Persecuted Church, and I am in a small group that always prays for the individual or church designated by Barnabas Aid for prayer each day. We also pass a plastic bag around weekly for small sacrificial gifts. We have made it into a sweet thing by making some little sacrifice for the money we collect.
Here are three ideas I’ve encouraged to increase our giving to help the Persecuted Church:
It is amazing what has happened. In 2018, these small gifts amounted to $611.61 and since 2015, the gifts total $2,340.68. In addition, all of us have been educated as to the size of the problem and we have become more aware of small ways to contend for the faith in our homes, neighborhoods, and country. The amount of money we have given is not big but it has fed people and helped our brothers and sister in Christ around the world. It has influenced people to pray and to be thankful for our blessings.
At The Falls Church Anglican, there is a group of people who meet monthly on a Tuesday night to pray for the Persecuted Church. I cannot attend that meeting, but I do pray. As I write, I am filled with thanksgiving for the privileges we have here in the United States. But for me, a lovely retreat in a peaceful place was a wakeup call. Jude wrote his letter in a time when there was danger from false teachers. Persecution took place soon after Jesus’ death and resurrection, and it wasn’t too long before Rome sacked Jerusalem and destroyed the temple. The message that we are to contend for the faith is still needed almost two thousand years after Jude was written. We are the beloved with a common salvation. Is there something each of us can do to contend for the faith? How can we use our freedom to aid those who are not free?
Virginia Watson recently celebrated her 95th birthday and is a longtime member of The Falls Church Anglican. Have you made any resolutions for the coming year? Consider making prayer for the Persecuted Church one of your commitments in 2019. For those who are able, come to the Learning Center (Room 110) once a month to pray for those under trial for their faith. Email the coordinator for more details. Visit Barnabas Aid to learn more about our Christian brothers and sisters around the world who are suffering.