13 December 2017

Release International

Release International – voice of persecuted christians

“REMEMBER those who are in prison, as though in prison with them, and those who are mistreated, since you also are in the body.” (Heb.13:3; ESV)

The context of those words implies ‘remembering’ people who are suffering for their faith in Christ. But what does it mean to ‘remember’ them? What does it mean to take that verse of Scripture seriously? What does it mean for you and your church?

Those are the issues addressed by Release International, a UK-based mission agency that seeks to be a voice for the persecuted.

Countless numbers of Christians around the world are living today in situations of intimidation, discrimination, threat, hostility and open violence. In many Muslim countries ‘conversion’ to Christ from an Islamic background is considered by some to deserve death; under Communist regimes the proclamation that Jesus Christ is Lord is considered dangerously subversive; while in certain Hindu and Buddhist lands Christianity is regarded as an unwanted foreign intrusion on a religious ‘culture’. In such places to follow Christ is costly: Christians know what it means to ‘take up their cross’ for Jesus.

Through indigenous mission partners, Release runs a number of projects in up to 30 countries around the world; projects that seek to encourage and support; projects that seek to meet the physical and spiritual needs of Christians and the Christian church, living, worshipping and witnessing in the midst of persecution. And in the UK Release seeks to engage Christians and the Christian church in its Biblical responsibility to care for suffering fellow members of the Body of Christ.

Full-time staff and experienced preachers and speakers are based in Ireland, in Scotland and in England to bring issues of persecution to the Church, and to challenge and encourage Christians to respond Biblically.

Release International is perhaps unique in the UK in that its origins are found in the fires of persecution itself. The agency’s founder was Richard Wurmbrand, a Romanian pastor who suffered 14 years of imprisonment and severe treatment at the hands of that country’s communist regime in the late 1950s and early 1960s.

In later years Wurmbrand had an extensive ministry, on both sides of the Atlantic, making Christians in the so-called ‘free West’ aware of what was happening around the world, and urging them to act and to pray. In the final chapter of his first, and most famous book, ‘Tortured for Christ,’ Wurmbrand wrote movingly: “The message I bring from the Underground Church is, ‘Don’t abandon us! Don’t forget us! Don’t write us off! Give us the tools we need! We will pay the price for using them!’”

Here in the UK we are awash, it seems, with Christian resources: Bibles, study materials, conferences, leadership training, and so on. Where Christians are seeking to follow Christ in the midst of persecution most, if not all, of these things are in scant supply.

Release recently completed its first eightday leadership conference for over-16s in China, called ‘History Makers’. Around 40 young leaders attended the event, which had to be held in a secret location, as the Chinese government forbids non statesanctioned church training. One teenager who attended said afterwards: “Whatever God has for me, I’m willing, ready and available.” Another declared: “I want to reach my generation for Jesus. I want them to know who Jesus is and what He has done for them. Even if I am ridiculed and rejected, it’s worth it.”

In recent years Chinese Christians have had to face far more than just ‘ridicule and rejection.’ Release’s magazine and website has regularly featured stories of the closure of churches, imprisonment, and torture of Christians.

Iran is a country that regularly hits the secular headlines. A few months ago one of Release’s staff met up with someIranian Christians at an event run by one of our partners. They all spoke of the constant pressure Christians live under in that country, as leaders are monitored by the government, and frequently arrested. “I have found it hard working as a minister; I have to be very careful about how to talk to people because the government doesn’t want anybody to talk about Christ,” said one pastor.

India is often described as ‘the world’s largest democracy’, and has a secular constitution. However, over the past 15 years there has been an alarming growth in attacks on Christians from a well-organised Hindu fundamentalist movement. Similar stories have emerged from nearby Sri Lanka of Buddhist-led attacks on pastors who are seeking to spread the gospel of Jesus Christ.

In these and many other countries Release sponsored projects seek to alleviate suffering – but also to equip the local church to play its own part in ‘The Great Commission’. These projects include such practical caring as providing for individual Christians and families where the ‘breadwinner’ has been imprisoned or martyred; camps and conferences that give pressurised Christians respite, Christian fellowship and valuable discipleship training; and support for those who provide persecuted Christians with legal advice.

Other projects provide the church with Bibles or with evangelistic materials. The Apostle Paul wrote of the church: “God has so composed the body, giving greater honour to the part that lacked it, that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together, if one member is honoured, all rejoice together.” (1 Cor.12:24-26). While we can’t support every Christian mission endeavour or activity, Biblical teaching on the Body of Christ suggests strongly that we should make room in our thinking, praying and acting for our persecuted brothers and sisters. One Christian, whose church had invited a Release speaker, said recently: “I do think we need specific examples [of persecution] as it is too easy to pray, ‘God bless the persecuted church.’” Through Release’s free magazine and website, Christians in the UK and Ireland have the opportunity to discover those ‘specific examples’ and to pray – and act – accordingly. And to do so is not only our responsibility – it can also become a blessing: as we discover for ourselves and for our encouragement real, flesh-andblood examples of God’s persevering grace at work in the lives of his suffering people.

If you would like to find out more about these issues, do contact Release International’s Ireland office on: 02893 340014 Email: fmccloy@releaseinternational.org