How Do You Obey Hebrews 13:3?


Christian persecution Mosul IraqSome years ago, I had a conversation with T. W. Hunt, a well-known prayer warrior. He had come to lead a conference on prayer at our church. At the time, I was a volunteer representative for Voice of the Martyrs. When he realized my concern for the persecuted church, his eyes lit up, and he enthusiastically retorted, “I pray for the persecuted church every day.”

As we spoke further, he revealed his method for remembering to pray for the persecuted church (as we are called by Hebrews 13:3 to remember the persecuted and ill-treated because we, too, are in the body). His method was simple. Each month, he received the VOM Newsletter. Upon receiving it, he would start at the front cover and work his way to the back, praying for each person’s name mentioned in that newsletter. He would make sure that he prayed for every person mentioned in the newsletter every month.

Though I never adopted his method for remembering on a consistent basis, I did realize that we must take extraordinary steps to obey Hebrews 13:3.  It is not a natural command for us to fulfill. We do not naturally identify with the persecuted church; thus we must be commanded to remind ourselves not to forget about our suffering brothers and sisters in Christ. I have set up these reminders in many different ways over the years.

For instance, I once wore a “Pray for Sudan” arm band. I also wore a “Bound with Them” bracelet to keep prisoners on my mind. One of the most effective ways I found was to make myself as familiar with Christians in prison as I was with Greek vocabulary—so I literally made flashcards of Christians in prison and kept them on a little ring which I could carry with me and flip through, praying as I went through the names on the flashcards.

Today, I am keeping things a little simpler still. My prayers are focused on Asia Bibi because her life is, literally, in the Asia Bibi Persecution Pakistan Praybalance. In 3 weeks, a judge will decide if this wife and mother of five will live or die. She is under the sentence of death in Pakistan on account of her faith in Jesus Christ. I have changed all my social profile pics to a prayer reminder until after October 16th so that I do not fail to remember this sister in prison in her time of great need.

I’m sure there are many other ways to remind ourselves to obey Hebrews 13:3. Please feel free to share how you remember to remember the persecuted (and thus obey Hebrews 13:3). Talk about it with your friends and ask them to share. The more we hear ideas from one another, the more likely we are to “stir one another up to love and good works” like remembering those who are ill-treated on account of their faith in Christ.

Remember the prisoners, as though in prison with them, and those who are ill-treated, since you yourselves also are in the body (Hebrews 13:3, NASB).

Some Simple Ways to Pray for Asia This Week


Praise the Lord! A number of folks have changed their profile pics to the “Pray for Asia Bibi” reminder seen here. As I pointed out, that is a great way to remind ourselves and others to pray for Asia Bibi between now and October 15th. Her judge in Pakistan has said that he will delay no more, and the next meeting date is final: It is life or death.

We can help her through our prayers. Remember Paul’s words to the Corinthians. They helped him when he thought he was going to die:

Asia Bibi Persecution Pakistan PrayFor we do not want you to be unaware, brethren, of our affliction which came to us in Asia, that we were burdened excessively, beyond our strength, so that we despaired even of life; indeed, we had the sentence of death within ourselves so that we would not trust in ourselves, but in God who raises the dead; 10 who delivered us from so great a peril of death, and will deliver us, He on whom we have set our hope. And He will yet deliver us, 11 you also joining in helping us through your prayers, so that thanks may be given by many persons on our behalf for the favor bestowed on us through the prayers of many. (2 Corinthians 1:8-11)

Here are a few ways we can be praying for Asia Bibi in her current distress:

  • Pray for her faith not to fail, that God would strengthen her soul to faithful endurance.
  • Pray for her husband to trust Christ and stay fixed on Him clearly, especially in this next month.
  • Pray for her children to see Christ and the Holy Spirit at work through the faith displayed by their parents throughout this ordeal (She has 5 children).
  • Pray for her judge to have the courage to execute justice (rather than executing Asia Bibi).
  • Pray for this judge to do what is right, even though his life will then be in danger, as radicals would likely try to kill him if he allows Asia Bibi to go free.
  • Pray for those who have persecuted Asia and caused her 5 years of imprisonment, that they will be broken by the beauty of her faith and the holiness of her suffering for Christ’s sake. Pray they will be convicted of sin and converted to Christ.
  • Pray for the church in Pakistan to be strengthened through Asia’s faith, even as Paul says that the church was strengthened by seeing how God worked through his suffering.
  • Pray that the gospel would increase in Pakistan in the same way that it increased when Stephen was martyred and Paul was imprisoned.

My wife made the picture above her iPhone wallpaper so that every time she turns on her phone she gets a reminder to pray. Get creative!

I’m sure that you can think of many other ways to be praying during these last few weeks. Please feel free to share how you are praying for Asia. That will likely help all of us to pray with focus and intensity. Please continue to pray and continue to share these prayer requests with others. We have a genuine opportunity to see how the fervent, faithful prayers of the righteous can accomplish much on behalf of Asia Bibi.

Why You Should Change Your Profile Pic for the Next Month


Asia Bibi (aka Aasiya Noreen or Asia Noreen) is married, a mother of 5 children. She has not been at home with her husband or children since the summer of 2009 (what was your family like in 2009? Where were you?)

More than 5 years have passed since her family last lived together because Asia has been in prison since June 19, 2009, for defending Christ against the slanderous charges made by her Muslim coworkers. You can read the whole story here at Prisoner Alert.

Asia Bibi Persecution Pakistan PrayIn the meantime, you should change your profile pic on Facebook, Twitter, etc., to something like what I have pictured to the left for two simple reasons. First, change your profile pic so that you will be reminded to pray for Asia for the next month. This is a very important and strategic plan because in one month (October 15th) a judge has promised to declare his final verdict: Asia has been convicted in Pakistan of insulting the prophet Muhammad, and she has been sentenced to death. In one month, she may die.

Pray every day for one month. Changing your profile picture may remind you to pray for this woman and her family. Pray for the judge to set her free, but realize that he, too, would need more prayers from us, as other high-ranking officials have been murdered in Pakistan for helping Christians (see here). It will take courage for him to issue a favorable verdict for Asia. This situation appears to be in its final days, and our prayers are needed.

Second, changing your profile picture does raise awareness and it does keep an important issue floating around the internet for weeks–and weeks may be all that Asia has left! It’s easy to be cynical about “do-nothing” activism on social media. I have heard comedians mock the simplicity and easiness of thinking a tweet or post is the same as “real” activism—some call it “Slack-tivism.”

I would not worry about being mocked for being so simple. Jesus’s first followers were mocked for being unschooled fishermen. And whatever one wishes to say about “slack-tivism,” there is no doubt that social media keeps certain issues alive for weeks and months–which is why advertisers pay to publish their posts!

This wife and mother of 5 needs us to keep her situation alive for the next month so that, possibly, a judge will end up keeping her alive beyond October 15th.  In other words, this is life or death.

I will post soon a list of ways to pray for Asia Bibi over the next month.  In the meantime, why not change your profile picture (or take some other measures to keep this situation out front for the next month)? It really could mean life or death for Asia Bibi.

While praying remember Proverbs 16:9. We don’t pray in vain because

The heart of man plans his way, but the LORD establishes his steps.

Christ’s Heart for the Persecuted: A Simple Explanation with Current Illustrations


I know a woman whose life was very hard through no fault of her own. She and her husband had 8 children together when he was murdered, leaving her a widow with very little means to survive. Family members offered to take the younger children so she could try to survive with the older ones. She told them they might as well have asked for her arms, or legs, or her very heart. She could not part with any of her children.

Christ love persecuted churchHer children remained poor, but they were loved. This simple, widowed mother was asked one time which child she loved the best. That question would shock some of us, as we might wrestle within ourselves with guilt over the tension and frustration we feel toward some of our own kids. I mean, I could see wrestling with the question and having to ask myself, “Oh, no! Is there a chance I love one child more than another?” –I don’t, mind you, but my emotional weakness would cause me a little anxiety.

But the question did not cause this woman even the slightest angst. She was not flummoxed by it a bit. Her answer was simple and to the point. When asked which child she loved the most, she quickly and calmly replied, “Whichever one is hurt.” The child who is hurting is the one most in need of a mother’s love and, thus, the one to whom her love must be directed. It’s a simple, profoundly true concept.

I know it is not appropriate to take our own illustrations and project them upward, onto God. Yet, the truth of love and its direction toward the needy must correlate to some extent. It might be better to say it this way. The reason a mother (or father) knows instinctively to love the child in need is that we have a heavenly Father whose heart is toward the needy, the suffering, and, especially, the persecuted–those who suffer explicitly because they belong to Him.

When Christ’s martyr Stephen was stoned, Christ was standing there to receive him (Acts 7). When Christians are called on by governors and authorities to answer for their faith in Christ, they are instructed by Him not to prepare what to say because His very Spirit would speak through them in that hour:

they will lay their hands on you and will persecute you, delivering you to the synagogues and prisons, bringing you before kings and governors for My name’s sake. 13“It will lead to an opportunity for your testimony. 14“So make up your minds not to prepare beforehand to defend yourselves; 15for I will give you utterance and wisdom which none of your opponents will be able to resist or refute. (Luke 21:12-15, NASB)

We could continue on–Christ identifies Himself as the object of persecution when He calls Saul to account (Acts 9). He takes it personally: “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.”  And, Christ is pictured in Revelation as holding all time at bay until the full number of his saints are martyred, then the reckoning will follow, and his angels of vengeance will reap full justice on the earth (Revelation 6…). The principle seems sound to me. Christ is particularly present with his saints who are suffering on account of Him.

So, below, I have listed a few examples of Christians who may be the objects of Christ’s particular love and affections–where He may be particularly present in this hour of need. Let us, too, draw near to Him and offer prayers for these suffering saints since we ourselves are in the body.

From Back to JerusalemMuslims in Syria recently crucified two Christian teenagers for refusing to convert to Islam. The story was crosses persecution Christian syriareported on a Croatian Catholic website by Sister Raghida, former head nun at the Christian School in Damascus who witnessed the atrocity.  (This story is graphic. Villages were stormed and Christians killed mercilessly. Some were beheaded, and the killers “played soccer” with their heads).

Lela Gilbert reminds us of the plight of Asia Bibi: Nonetheless, since 2009, this falsely accused woman has been on death row in a filthy prison cell, wondering if and when her death sentence will enforced. She longs for husband and five children. Day and night, in squalid surroundings, she fights off her fears, endures physical illness and prays.

And from Nigeria: Muslim herdsmen armed with guns and machetes on Friday night (March 14) launched attacks on three villages in Kaduna state, killing more than 100 Christians and destroying homes, sources said. 

May the Lord indeed be present with His people in their darkest hours, as we help them through our prayers (see 2 Corinthians 1:5-11).

Persecution Update from the Fall 2012


Church Icon at St Polycarp's Roman Catholic Ch...

Church Icon at St Polycarp’s Roman Catholic Church depicting Polycarp miraculously extinguishing fire of the city of Smyrna (Izmir, Turkey). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

2 Timothy 3:12, Indeed, all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted. 

 

Given the fact that God promises persecution to all Christians, it should be no surprise to us that Christians are routinely attacked around the world. The Assyrian International News Agency has chronicled by country some of the more intense situations of persecution from the fall of 2012. You can see their whole list on their website, but I have pasted a partial list below:

 

KenyaA grenade was thrown into the Sunday school building of St. Polycarp Anglican Church, blowing off the roof, killing one boy and injuring eight other children attending Sunday school, including some requiring surgery. The attack came soon after a Somali member of the Islamic terrorist organization Al Shabab, who had earlier targeted four other churches, was sentenced to prison after he confessed to planning attacks on Parliament. According to the mother of one of the children, “We are in Eastleigh [a region with a large Somali population]. Many Christians, including myself, thought that something might happen. Every week we’d wonder ‘What if it’s this Sunday?’ But we’d still go to church.” Likewise, a parliament member said, “The life of an innocent child has been taken and others have been cruelly injured and traumatised in what should be the safest of places. The sanctity of life has been heartlessly breached in a sanctified place. Such acts seem to be designed to spark civil unrest and intimidate the Christian church. In the face of such an outrage we ask, with the prophet Habakkuk, ‘O Lord, how long?’ and let us trust that God in his mercy will bring justice and relief as we cry out to him.”

 

Nigeria: Thousands of Christians continue to flee northern areas of Nigeria, which are predominantly Muslim, and where the jihadi organization Boko Haram holds sway, after a renewed spate of church attacks. An Islamic suicide bomber rammed an SUV loaded with explosives into St. Rita Catholic Church holding Sunday Mass killing eight people and wounding more than 100. One “journalist saw the bodies of four worshippers lying on the floor of the church after the blast, surrounded by broken glass. The body of the suicide bomber had been blasted into nearby rubble.” The church building was devastated and charred black. Also, the Church of Brethren was raided by Islamic gunmen who killed at least two people and set the church ablaze. Many churches are shutting down in fear of further attacks.

 

Pakistan: The Catholic Church of St. Francis, the oldest of the archdiocese of Karachi, was attacked by a Muslim mob of 600, who destroyed property but did not manage to break through the front door. According to a priest: “Fr. Victor had just finished celebrating a wedding, when he heard noises and shouting from the compound of the church. Immediately all the faithful, women and children were sent to the parish house. The radicals, shouting against the Christians, broke into the building and started devastating everything: cars, bikes, vases of flowers. They broke an aedicule and took the statue of the Madonna. They tried to force the door of the church, throwing stones at the church and destroying the windows.” Police arrived an hour later, giving the terrorists plenty of time to wreak havoc. The Archbishop of Karachi lamented that “the church of San Francesco has always served the poor with a school and a medical clinic run by nuns. For nearly 80 years it carries out a humble service to humanity without any discrimination of caste, ethnicity or religion. Why these acts? Why are we not safe? 

 

Syria: Two churches were attacked. One bomb was detonated near the historical gate of Bab Touma (“Thomas’ Doorway”) which is largely populated by the nation’s Christian minority. The bomb exploded as people were going to their churches for Sunday Mass; up to 10 people were killed. “Terrorists are doing this,” said George, a Christian who, like many residents in Bab Touma, lives in fear of the rebel fighters trying to gain control of the capital. Another car bomb exploded in front of the only Syrian Orthodox Church in the town of Deir Ezzor, currently under opposition control. Five people near the church were killed. In September the same church was desecrated and vandalized by armed gangs.

 

 

Good Work Is Never Vain


God promises us triumph for the Christian (1 Corinthians 15). There is a victory already won (even if not fully realized) for all those who are alive in Christ. One of the great promises which attends this victory of Christ is implicit in 1 Corinthians 15:58:

Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your toil is not in vain in the Lord.

It may be true that Christians are killed for their faith, but they will never suffer loss (Luke 21:18). The second death never

Pakistan Persecution Christian

Shahbaz Bhatti

hurts the Christian, and, as the exhortation of 1 Corinthians 15:58 reminds us, the believer’s work is never lost. Fashion, fame, and fortune can and will be lost, but faith in Christ never ends in vain.

I am reminded of this reality today, reading the story of Rimsha Masih. She became famous this past summer after she was accused of violating Pakistan’s blasphemy laws. Rimsha, an 11 year-old suffering from some mental disabilities, was ultimately acquitted of all charges and released. Unfortunately, neither she nor her family feels safe in Pakistan. Even with her fear, she continues to persevere in good works, writing letters to religious leaders around the world (like Pope Benedict XVI) and encouraging Christians to remember those Christians who are in prison for their faith, as though in prison with them. Surely, Rimsha’s faith is on display, and her good works will abound to all eternity.

Even more encouraging, however, is the on-going work of Shahbaz Bhatti. Bhatti—at the time of his assassination—was the only Christian in the official cabinet of the Pakistani government.  Before he was killed, Bhatti founded the All Pakistani Minority Alliance (APMA). It was this organization which spearheaded the efforts to save Rimsha. In addition to writing letters to Christians around the world, Rimsha has also taken time this Christmas to thank the APMA for their help in getting her released.

The APMA is now being operated by Paul Bhatti, brother of the slain founder, Shahbaz Bhatti. As Christ promised, Bhatti’s work has not proven vain. May the Lord continue to bless and multiply the good works from Christians like Masih and Bhatti.

Is It Persecution If No Violence Occurs?


English: Sacred Heart Cathedral, Lahore

Sacred Heart Cathedral, Lahore (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

Another incident has erupted in Lahore, Pakistan, as Muslims have raided a Christian school complex and threatened Christians there with violence.  The incident occurred after a local Muslim leader announced over the loudspeaker that Christians at the school were guilty of tearing pages from the Quran.  Within minutes, a mob had attacked the school and gained entrance to the Christian compound.

 

Fortunately, police also responded quickly, and no further violence ensued. No Christian was beaten or arrested. So, is this an incidence of Christian persecution?  Can there be persecution if no one is arrested, beaten, tortured, or imprisoned?  Yes, I think persecution can and does happen at times even when there is no violence.  Jesus is the reason I think this is true.

 

In Matthew 5:11, ‘Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me.”

 

There are two main points in Matthew 5:11 which make it possible to have persecution even when there is no violence. This case in Lahore, Pakistan, provides a perfect example of Christian persecution without violence.  Here are the two reasons briefly explained.

 

First, notice that the blessing of Matthew 5:11 occurs for those who have had things said against them falsely. Insults and slanders are lumped into the broader blessing for the persecuted.  Jesus Himself faced these slanders, as some referred to him as a drunkard, while others said he did his work by the power of the Devil.  Jesus was not immune to falsehoods being levied against him, and neither will any of His followers be.  In Pakistan, Christians at this school were falsely accused of crimes they did not commit. Those false accusations were responsible for mob rioting.  The rioting was clearly anti-Christian persecution.

 

Second, and more important, the attacks were happening because of Christ. Ultimately, all persecution is against Christ Himself. So, in this case, the school was targeted because Christ is present there with His people.  The school is part of an outreach ministry. More than 100 Muslim students are getting a great education free of charge because the Christians are reaching out to them, attempting to help the poorest neighborhoods of the city by providing schooling free of charge. This is Christian love in action because it is empowered by Christ Himself.  The presence of Christ is on display, thus fueling the fires of persecution. Even as unbelievers hoped to silence Christ when He walked on earth, so, now, the same pattern is repeated against Christ’s body, the church.

 

We can be very thankful that this latest attack did not include violence.  We can be thankful that no one was killed or injured. But we can be certain that the harassment will continue because where Christ is present there will be opposition to Him. The darkness still hates the light.

 

 

Dishonorable Killings Continue


Lahore City Centre

Lahore City Centre (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I just read this devastating account of a couple in Lahore, Pakistan, who killed their 16 year old daughter because she was talking to a young man. In many Shariah-compliant Muslim communities, parents are driven to kill their children (almost always their daughters) in order supposedly to preserve the honor of the Muslim family.

As I have written before, I cannot think of much that could be more dishonorable. Yet, this kind of killing is not uncommon. In Pakistan, for example, there have reportedly been at least 1,000 such killings this year. Astounding, isn’t it?

Pakistani Muslims Redefining Neighborhood Watch


Do you live in a subdivision that has a neighborhood watch? In America, we take this watch to mean that neighbors Persecution Pakistan Neighborhoodare looking out for one another, protecting each other from harm.  In a Pakistan neighborhood in Lahore, the neighborhood watch has taken the opposite turn.

According to this report, Ahmed Bhatti has organized Muslims in the Walton Road neighborhood to force Christians there either to convert, to leave their homes, or to die.  From the story,

Ahmed Bhatti on his microphone was shouting, ” I am giving Christians this invitation to convert to Islam otherwise they will face consequences” while announcement was made gathering of Muslims were raising Islamic Slogans.

Muslim persecution christians pakistan neighborhoodThere’s an invitation you just can’t refuse!  One Christian pastor–Rev. Dr. Jamil Nasir–recounts the horror his family faced while he was away at a meeting.  His wife was left to calm the screaming, panic-stricken children who were frightened by a group of Muslims gathered outside the house chanting threats.

I have a hard time imagining what this must be like for the residents of the neighborhood. Certainly, they need our prayers. What do you think you would do if your neighborhood were overrun by Muslims demanding that you convert or die?

2 Important Persecution Stories from the News


 

Pakistan

Persecution Pakistan christian GirlQuite a bit of coverage has been given to the sad case of Rimsha Misrak, a Christian girl in Pakistan who is accused of blaspheming Muhammad.  She remains in jail, and her family is in protective custody.  I have read some reports which say Rimsha is 11, but this story reports that she is 12.  (Does it matter?)

Her crime is blasphemy. Supposedly, she defamed pages of the Quran, possibly by burning them.  The BBC reports,

The crowd wanted to burn her alive, this is a condemnable act and a clear violation of human rights.  She is an innocent child – she doesn’t even know what she did. She is in a state of shock.

Many will say that no one is ever actually killed under the law, but the truth is that 46 people who have been charged were killed by mob violence either before or after their trials (see here).  If Muslims are peace-loving and value human life, then surely they will decry not only this incident but also Pakistan’s horrendous law 295 which encourages such behavior.

Egypt 

In Egypt, Christians and others protesting the new Muslim Brotherhood government are in fact being crucified (See Here). Crucifixions are not unheard of, but they are almost certainly a religious statement as much as a punishment. If one wished only to kill dissidents, a bullet would work just fine. The extra labor involved in setting up a crucifixion must be to make a point.

I think the point being made is this: If you wish to follow Christ, then follow him—all the way to the cross.  In an ironic way, the executor ends up making the same point Christ made in Luke 9:27,

And He was saying to them all, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow Me.

 

Christian Killed in Pakistan


You might remember that as the drama of Said Musa was unfolding, I pointed out that part of the difficulty facing the Afghan government was the threat of an uprising among the masses of Muslims who would be outraged by leaders unwilling to execute the death penalty against those who supposedly blaspheme the prophet Mohammad by converting to Christ.  I suggested that Afghanistan need only look to the south to see what might happen.  Just two months ago, more than 50,000 Pakistanis protested in favor of a murdering bodyguard who killed the governor he was supposed to be protecting simply because that governor had the audacity to question the legitimacy of killing someone on account of his being a Christian.

Now, it has happened again.  The only Christian in the Pakistani government was killed yesterday.  Shahbaz Bhatti, a Roman Catholic who was outspoken in his opposition to the truly barbaric anti-blasphemy laws in Pakistan, was gunned down while he sat in a car outside of his mother’s home.  Bhatti was 42 years old.  He was the minister of minority affairs in Pakistan.  His life’s work was given to bringing about unity among the various people groups of Pakistan.  Peace, unity, social justice, inter-faith harmony, and human equality—these were the ideals for which Shahbaz Bhatti stood.  And these are the ideals for which he died in Pakistan.

I get so frustrated when I see happy little righteous-types in their Honda hybrids sporting their “coexist” bumper stickers—you know the ones that have the crescent moon as the “c,” the Star of David as the “x,” and the cross as a “t.”  I think, how naïve does one have to be to preach coexistence equally to Jews, Christians, and Muslims—as though there is any relation between the “horror” of Christians hoping to keep the definition of marriage in tact and the ungodly appetite for murder prevalent among millions of today’s Muslims.  If one is really concerned about peaceful coexistence, then he ought to join the fight against Islamic jihad.  Decry acts of violence such as this murder of a peaceful Christian who gave his life to inject some sanity into a place that would surely benefit from its effects.

And some other ways to get serious about coexistence?  Stop parading laughable liberal icons like Michael Moore around as though they are saying something courageous.  Whatever he is, Michael Moore is not courageous.  Neither are the activists against traditional marriage courageous.  Nor, as a matter of fact, are environmental activists courageous.  None of these groups—none of these liberal iconic causes—can approach the courage of Shahbaz Bhatti, who actually gave his life for the cause of coexistence.  I am tired of vacuous liberal platitudes in the face of genuine evil.  Real men—like Shahbaz Bhatti—need our encouragement and our aid.  The distance separating the east from the west is a smaller distance than that which separates today’s liberals from men like Shahbaz Bhatti.

Nina Shea of the Hudson Institute points out that Minister Bhatti refused to get married because he did not think it would be fair for a wife and children to live under the constant burden of death threats.  Bhatti determined that he would give his life for the cause of human coexistence in Pakistan.  And, now, this real hero has indeed given his life for that cause. Let’s pray his life was not in vain.

Pakistan in the News


Linked here is yet another story concerning the on-going persecution in Pakistan.  This GR news piece asks some pertinent questions about persecution which any reporter should try to answer.  We can’t really fault reporters for failing to get the story straight, however, when we, as Christians, aren’t generally reading the story of persecution at all.