‘After what we heard this morning, everything else pales into insignificance. I was in tears when I heard that girl from Korea speak’.
This was one of the comments made during the Release International annual conference, held in London’s Salvation Army Regent Hall on 6 November.
Called ‘Strong together’, the conference sought to bring together friends, supporters and mission workers alongside those who have been persecuted by anti-Christian governments across the world. Chief executive Andy Dipper gave the opening address and encouraged people to be inspired and challenged by the messages.
After a time of worship, more than 200 delegates heard from Godfrey Yogarajah on the work among marginalised evangelical Christian groups in Sri Lanka. A prayer focus ensued, after which we heard first-hand testimonies of what Christians have suffered in North Korea, and what God is doing in the country.
Our attention was drawn to a small, folded, feather-light, plastic ‘sandwich bag’, which was attached to the programmes. On either of the sides was neat writing – it was a pamphlet proclaiming the gospel message, written in Korean.
Delegates were told how the South Koreans use these as one of the many ways to evangelise their northern neighbours and tell them of the love of God. The pamphlet is to serve as a reminder to keep praying for North Korea. Even behind the barrier of one of the most closed countries in the world, the message can and does get through.
After lunch, when there was the opportunity to browse literature and sign various petitions, delegates heard from Martin Goldsmith, a Jewish Christian and patron of Release.
He spoke on Philippians 3:10: ‘To know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of his sufferings’. Like missionary Helen Roseveare, for whom this passage became her ‘calling card’ from God, Mr Goldsmith spoke of his visits to suffering Christians across the world.
‘Some 40 per cent of my German Jewish people went to the gas chambers. Where was God in the Holocaust? He was there.
‘We often speak only about delivering people but we also need to pray that God will be with people in their suffering.
‘We need to know that it is a privilege to suffer with Jesus and that suffering does bind Christians together in fellowship’, he said.
Selame Kidane, who escaped from the persecution in Eritrea, spoke after a short prayer focus break. Although Eritrea is nominally 47.3 per cent Christian, the hard-line military government is made up of the Muslim population, which stands at 49.2 per cent.
Eritrea has seen terrible persecution, with pastors strung up for days on trees, Christians packed into shipping containers as makeshift prisons – up to 24 people crammed into the airless, toilet-less metal container in the desert sun.
Men under 45 are forced into the military and never leave military service, while others spend years and decades, even generations, in appalling conditions in refugee camps.
‘We have to remember these are our brothers’, she said, reading a moving poem to bring home the message that all Christians must stand together in prayer and support each other during times of persecution.
As delegates were reminded by Mr Goldsmith, it is only a matter of time before every Christian in this country becomes the victim of some form of institutionalised persecution.