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Joy in Persecution

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“Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” Matthew 5:10

The work of justice is not easy. As we intercede on behalf of victims of oppression, we will meet adversity. You may experience doubt and question whether praying is actually enough. There will be the voice of the accuser that says you should be spending your time more efficiently—the voice that taunts “God is not listening.” And perhaps there will even be the voices of criticism, someone who may not understand your calling or commitment to pray for the work of justice.

There will be arrows of persecution thrown at you that will feel like daggers in your spirit. But when that persecution comes, know your prayer is making an impact. Know you are advancing the kingdom of heaven here on earth—a kingdom that is rightly ordered and governed by righteousness and justices. And having done all of this: “Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven” (Matthew 5:12).

Meet Michael

NAIROBI, KENYA – Michael was framed for the violent robbery and murder of a UN security official. He was completely innocent. All the witnesses said that Michael was not the right man, but he was arrested, tried and sentenced to death by hanging in 2010.

Asking God to turn tears of sorrow into tears of joy

IJM Kenya had defended Michael's innocence in court, and the conviction was a shock. IJM’s Director of Aftercare in Kenya said, “I’m not sure I believed it, but as our whole team wept and sobbed that day around our conference table in Nairobi, I told the team, ‘We are crying tears of sorrow today, but God will turn our tears to joy when one day Michael sits in freedom around this very table.’”

That team was determined to keep fighting for Michael. They appealed to the Kenyan High Court, but it was already four years behind on its cases. Michael was 78 years old and had already spent a year in jail for a crime he did not commit. Instead of having Michael wait another four years for his case to be heard, IJM Kenya decided to ask the High Court to let Michael out of death row at the maximum security prison while he waited for his appeal.

IJM was asking the High Court to grant bail to a convict. Even though we believed Michael was clearly innocent, he had been declared guilty. Bail had never been granted to a convicted man in Kenya’s history. But bail was a possibility under Kenya’s new constitution, which was made law shortly before Michael’s conviction.

While IJM pursued the precedent-setting request in court, we asked all prayer partners to pray for this seemingly impossible request.

Persevering in prayer

In 2010, IJM asked the 1,000 people who joined us for our annual Global Prayer Gathering to persevere in prayer for Michael’s freedom. It seemed impossible, but we encouraged one another to keep thinking of Michael as though we ourselves were innocent and in prison.

Just six weeks after GPG, the High Court heard Michael's request for bail. When the judge heard Michael’s plea, he was appalled at the injustice. The judge strongly criticized the prosecutor for advancing such a ridiculous case, and then, in an unprecedented ruling, he released Michael on bail. Michael was free. He walked out of prison and into the arms of his family and friends.

IJM Kenya staff rejoiced around that same conference room table where they had previously cried tears of great sadness when Michael was convicted. God had heard the cries of his people. He replaced those tears of agony with shouts of joy.

In 2011, Michael made his first overseas trip to join us at the Global Prayer Gathering. This is what he shared with us:

“I am here to say thank you for praying for me. I did not give up hope because I knew IJM and IJM’s friends remembered me. IJM’s social workers took such good care of me and my family while I was in prison.

But more than that, God remembered me. I knew that God knew me inside out. I knew he saw me. I told him: 'The police won’t listen to me; you have to fight for me.' I was shaken when I was condemned by that judge to die, but I did not give up hope in the God who loves me. I belong to him. Every breath.

I have had many hard times in life. Through it all, God has taught me to trust him patiently and to hope in suffering. There is a lot of suffering in my country at the hands of the government and the police, but I have hope for Kenya that it can be better. Good people help fill me with this hope.”

Discussion Questions

  1. Do you ever feel like praying isn’t enough? What does James 5:13-17 say about the power of prayer?
  2. How have you seen God work through your prayers?
  3. How does Michael’s faith in spite of injustice challenge or inspire you?
  4. The Bible states that followers of Christ will be persecuted. How might you be persecuted as you follow him in your community? How can you prepare for it?

Prayer Focus

  • Pray for God to give us strength in the face of persecution as we fight for justice.
  • Pray for those around the world who are persecuted, for those who have lost hope.
  • Pray for those who are wrongly imprisoned, like Michael, and ask that they would be set free.
Posted by Alyssa Shibata at 6:00 AM