This weekend Americans will commemorate Memorial Day, a holiday of collective national remembrance. Many will gather in cemeteries and civic parks for grateful and sometimes tearful ceremonies. This will be a good and appropriate kind of remembering. It is important that we remember the immense price hundreds of thousands of soldiers have paid with the currency of their life-blood so that we can enjoy our political and religious freedoms.
But this kind of remembering will not demand much of us beyond renewing our grateful resolve to not take for granted our freedoms. There will be a brief recollection, hopefully a prayer, and then we’ll move on with our leisurely plans.
A Demanding Remembering
But a Memorial Day kind of remembering will not suffice for our suffering Christian brothers and sisters. The remembering that God requires of us demands sustained action:
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)
When the author of Hebrews tells us to “remember,” he isn’t talking about a fond, grateful private reflection. What he means is, “go help them,” and the original Greek conveys the sense, “keep helping them.” When we remember our war dead, we don’t remember them as though we were dead with them. But we are to remember the imprisoned Christians “as though in prison with them.” That is a demanding remembering.
We are to remember mistreated Christians as though we were sharing mistreatment. We are to react to our brothers’ and sisters’ affliction just like our entire body reacts to the pain when one member of our body is afflicted. That is a demanding remembering.
Where the Body Is Hurting
In northern Iraq, Christians are being brutalized and exterminated. They are being beaten, imprisoned, raped, kidnapped, extorted, and murdered. Their homes are being stolen or destroyed. Their wives and daughters are being stolen and destroyed — sold into sex slavery. Young prepubescent girls are fetching the highest prices from lecherous ISIS militants who believe Allah sanctions such sating of their lust.
Christians in North Korea, Somalia, Syria, Sudan, and a host of other nations are suffering under terrible adversity and persecution. Boko Haram has wiped out 5,000 Christians in Nigeria within a year. This past Good Friday, 148 Christians were hunted and assassinated by Islamic militants at Garissa University College in Kenya. In Pakistan the Christian minority population is under a constant threat of violence, many marginalized into abject poverty, and 700 girls each year are kidnapped, sexually abused, and forced to convert to Islam.
We Must Act
“Remembering” in Hebrews 13:3 is an imperative. Involvement at some level is not optional. Remembering our suffering brothers and sisters in Christ must move us to action.
It seems clear from Hebrews 10:32–39, that the author was speaking into a local context of suffering when he wrote verse Hebrews 13:3. The readers likely knew the sufferers personally. Thus, from this text and others, we know that Christians bear a unique responsibility to care for suffering Christians in their local church and region.
But the New Testament ethic for actively remembering (i.e. helping) suffering fellow Christians reaches far beyond our local communities. Perhaps the clearest example is when Paul collected funds from churches throughout the Roman Empire for the relief of the suffering saints in Palestine (Acts 11:27–30; 1 Corinthians 16:1–3). The famine in Judea was a concern for all Christians everywhere who knew about it.
The suffering of millions of Christians in the world is a concern for Christians everywhere who know about it. And due to the ubiquitous media reports, most of us know about it.
What Must We Do?
Read — Seek to understand what’s going on. Indifference is often connected to ignorance. Spend time, perhaps 10 minutes 2–3 days a week, on sites like the ones referenced below in the “Pray” section and do Internet searches on phrases like “persecuted Christians.” You will have your awareness raised significantly and, Lord willing, your concern. Don’t shy away from graphic descriptions. We must not turn a blind eye from the real horrors being inflicted upon our brothers and sisters. We must remember as though mistreated with them.
Pray — Really pray. Open Doors, Voice of the Martyrs, Operation World, and others have collected helpful prayer resources to educate you and help you target your prayers, especially for the persecuted church. But there is also a lot of fodder for prayer in daily news reports. Have your family, friends, small group, etc. join you in intercession.
Give — If we know about Christian suffering, and we have this world’s goods, and we do nothing, or we give significantly beneath our ability, “how does God’s love abide in [us]” (1 John 3:17)? That’s what we must ask ourselves. Can we give to all needs? No. But we can give to some. If we ask our Father, he will direct us where to give over and beyond our local church’s needs. If we have an abundance, one of the reasons we have it is to supply for our suffering brothers’ and sisters’ needs. Where do we give? There are so many worthy charities and a few minutes’ Internet research will yield some great options.
Talk About the Needs — One way we “stir up one another to love and good works” (Hebrews 10:24) is to talk about the needs by counseling and encouraging each other on how to best meet them. Let’s help each other move beyond merely talking about how horrible some suffering is to what we can tangibly do about it.
Go — If the suffering we see is in close proximity, we have some responsibility before God to personally help relieve it. But a few of us are called to also travel thousands of miles to put our remembering to action. Every time we hear a report of suffering Christians, may we all breathe the prayer, “Here I am! Send me” (Isaiah 6:8). At some point it may be our privilege to have the Lord take us up on our offer.
Americans, remember with appropriate gratitude this Memorial Day the military deaths that purchased your freedoms. But Christians, don’t remember your imprisoned and mistreated brothers and sisters like Americans remember their war dead.
Hebrews 13:3 remembering demands action. We must not do nothing.