I have never experienced praying for the persecuted church like I did two weeks ago! The communion of saints, which is a wonderful and profound Christian doctrine, can sometimes feel stale and distant. But on November 9th, 2014, at Nuova Vita Church in Bologna it was anything but that!
Four Evangelical churches gathered together with us for a worship service where we reflected on Jesus’ words in Matthew 5:44, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” These words are simple, profound, and seemingly “other-worldly.” In some sense, these words do come “from another world”, or better, from another kingdom; from another King. But these are words that have broken-in to our present world and into our individual lives through the death and resurrection of Jesus – He who loved His enemies (us!) and prayed for those who persecuted Him (Luke 23:34).
What brought all this to another level for me was praying not only for the persecuted church but for their persecutors; and praying this together with christians who had themselves been persecuted! Let me explain.
At the end of August, our region (Emilia Romagna) brought hundreds of refugees to Bologna and provided housing for them right next to our new ministry center! Some of these refugees are from regions of Nigeria where Boko Haram is pressing southward, and have seen churches being destroyed and other acts of hatred. In God’s providence these brothers (the dorm next to our church houses 200 men) have found shelter in Bologna and a home at Nuova Vita Church. Each Sunday we have about 30-40 Nigerians. Right away we started simultaneously translating our service, began an English language Bible study on Monday evenings, and collected clothing and other items that could be of help to them. But these are small things by comparison to the humbling joy of praying with these Nigerian brothers for the conversion of Boko Haram leaders.
I was genuinely overwhelmed hearing them pray, and I was profoundly aware in that moment of the love and grace of God, demonstrated through the death of Christ for us, “while we were still sinners” (Romans 5:8). The kingdom of Jesus has broken-in to our lives and, in unexpected ways, even into our city. Sunday morning we ended our service of worship in small group prayer asking God to reflect His love for His enemies through our lives and that, through the gospel, He would bless those who persecute His church.
We rejoice in the growing communion of saints in Bologna and what this means for the advance of the gospel here and abroad. Pray with us and for us – for wisdom and strength.