Teaching children to pray for the persecuted church

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IMB Editor’s Note: June 29 is the International Day of the Christian Martyr. According to church tradition, June 29 marks the day the Apostle Paul was martyred for his faith. The day offers Christians and churches an opportunity to reflect on those throughout history who gave their lives for the sake of the gospel.

In 2023 alone, Open Doors’ World Watch List reports that 5,621 Christians were murdered; 2,110 churches were attacked; and 4,542 Christians were detained. More than 360 million Christians suffer high levels of persecution and discrimination for their faith.

Nik and Ruth Ripken are familiar with the ultimate costs of persecution. As mission veterans with more than 30 years’ experience with the International Mission Board, they’ve extensively researched believers living in persecution around the world. Their 2016 film, “The Insanity of God,” is based on Nik’s best-selling book by the same name and recounts the couple’s lifelong journey to understand the role of persecution and martyrdom in the life of a believer.

In this article, originally published by IMB in October 2016, Ruth offers three ways to engage entire families in praying for the global persecuted church.

David’s zeal for North Korean Christians

A six-year-old boy looked up at my husband, Nik, with eyes as big as saucers. Those eyes are a sight forever etched on my mind. After a Sunday morning service, his mom, Debbie, asked us if her little boy, David, could talk to us before the evening service. We arrived a few minutes early to talk with him, and he was already sitting on the front row waiting for us.

“What is it like for Christians in North Korea?” he blurted, even before we got to the front of the church.

What six-year-old boy even knows there are Christians in the most persecuted place on the planet? What six-year-old child cares that believers are severely persecuted and can lose their lives if they follow Jesus and share Him with their families? Who even knows about the difficulties of believers who are locked away in camps and interrogated and abused?

Becoming a part of the Body

As Nik bent down to share a few stories of life in North Korea with David, I glanced over at Debbie and saw a mother who was helping her child become a part of the amazing body of Christ that is scattered and thriving and growing across the world. She had big tears in her eyes (as did I) as she watched her son pray for these believers with my husband.

I began to ask myself at that moment the same questions I’d like to ask you now: Are we raising children who know how to pray for people they will never meet? Are we helping the next generation to become kingdom citizens?

David didn’t have a heart for North Korea by accident. He had a mother and father who modeled for him how to pray for the nations, for people who are without Christ, and for those who are living out their faith in other parts of the world where it costs a lot to follow Jesus.

Teaching your children to pray specifically

Here are three ways you can lead your children to pray for Christians around the world who are being persecuted for their faith.

· Pray for believers around the world in front of your children. Open Doors USA offers a downloadable map of the top fifty countries in the world that persecute Christians. Select a country to learn more and pray for each one by name.

· Pray that believers in persecution will be obedient each day to share Jesus with their friends. Pray that they will be obedient through their suffering. Help your child to pray that for themselves as well as for those who are persecuted.

· Help the stories of the Bible come to life. Persecution was a reality for many of God’s children whose stories are told in the Bible — David, Daniel, the three men in the fiery furnace, Esther, etc. Use these stories to talk about obedience and the importance of being faithful.

God hears and responds to the prayers of children who know Him. Rather than shielding your children from the realities of suffering for Jesus’s name, lead them to pray boldly on behalf of the persecuted.

June 29, the Day of the Christian Martyr, is a great time to start.

You can learn more about the Ripkens, their ministry and available resources here.

Ruth Ripken is a mission veteran with more than 30 years’ experience with the International Mission Board. She and her husband, Nik, extensively researched believers living in persecution around the world.