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Sunday Night Live Sermons

THE PEOPLE OF PRAYER
Colossians 4:7-18

10th November 2002

Two Australian Aid workers from Perth, Diana Thomas and Peter Bunch were accused in 2001 of preaching Christianity in Afghanistan and were detained by the Taliban. After the terrorist attacks of September 11th 2001 they became hostages, and their situation became more precarious. For one hundred days, from the beginning of August until November, people around the world were praying for their safety from the Taliban.

Diana Thomas is a nurse and Bible College graduate. She had worked in Afghanistan for nine years with "Shelter Now" an international Aid agency. The Taliban accused her of preaching Christianity. She and her seven col-leagues faced the death penalty. This week Diana Thomas was in my office for our radio program and I asked her what happened in prison on September 11th 2001. She replied: "Our interpreter told us that six thousand had been killed in two air crashes in America, and we all just looked at each other. I realized then it must have been Osama Bin Laden. The Taliban were denying it and I thought, 'Oh God, we're now hostages.'"

After September 11, the Taliban started moving the aid workers around. They were re-located from their prison to the intelligence prison. At night they were moved to another place they called the night prison. This one was more heavily guarded. The Taliban were afraid that the U.S. forces would try to capture them at night time. They were moved from Kandahar to Ghazni and even locked in a steel shipping container without windows or fresh air. Eventually they were rescued by soldiers of the Northern Alliance.

Diana said to me: "We had a lot of fanatical people in Pakistan. Many times we had our names in the newspaper. In fact I had my name on the front page of the newspaper with another Western Australian girl. The headlines said we had converted 100,000 Afghans and we would be killed. We had a spate of articles for about a month writing terrible derogatory articles about our organisation, "Shelter Now." I asked her, "Did that lead to any retaliation against you personally or the aid society?" Diana replied, "No it didn't and I really believe that's because we prayed a lot. We were first taken to a prison that was not far from our office. There were thirty other inmates and there were scorpions and mice. I really believe millions of people were praying because everywhere I've been in countries like Brazil and Jerusalem they said we were praying for us."

I continued: "Diana with this terrible imprisonment were you there by accident?" Diana replied, "No I don't believe we were. God really was preparing us for prison but we didn't realise that. The thing that really helped me was that I was there because God wanted me there. I think if everything was taken from us that we had - our rice, our houses, all our belongings - and if I didn't know that God wanted me there in prison, I would have found it very difficult. But each one of us knew we were there for a reason and I believe that reason was to pray. The night after the two American girls had been taken by the Taliban we had our team meeting and we had a time of worship and it was a very solemn time because we knew we could be next to be taken and the prophetic word that came out was 'are you willing to go through whatever it takes to see this nation change?' And we said 'yes Lord'."

"The next morning we were taken and so when I look back I saw God was really preparing us for prison and He just wanted eight people to be willing to be the catalysts for the prayer worldwide that changed Afghanistan because God is the defender of the orphans, the widows, the poor and the needy and he heard their cries. They had suffered immensely under the Taliban regime. We saw many people in prison who were quite innocent. There was a twelve year old girl in our prison who had run away from her husband. Another lady was beaten by her husband so she ran away and the religious police caught her. There was a lady who answered her front gate without wearing the burka. We really felt God was saying it's time for this wicked regime to be kicked out."

"We never once heard about the death penalty. Everyone else heard about it but we never heard about it. I believe that was so people outside could pray. The Taliban wanted five million dollars as ransom and our executive director said "If you can get us a satellite phone we'll try and get you the money." The rest of us thought, "What on earth is he talking about?" We didn't realise he wanted to make contact with the Americans because the Americans did not know we were in Ghazni. At 9:30 next morning the Americans started bombing. The prison was shaking so we did the only thing we knew and that was to pray. Then after two hours we could hear people yelling and running outside and then it was very quiet."

"All of a sudden someone was trying to break the door downstairs and I thought "Oh no. They going to come and kill us!" Then into our cell burst these wild looking guys shouting "Freedom! Freedom! The Taliban has gone".

This was amazing. After one hundred days in imprisonment we were free. I didn't think I was going to make it because I'd lost weight and I hadn't had any exercise for three and a half months. But we just went through the street and we could see people celebrating everywhere. Women were coming to their gates without their Burkas. They all knew that we were the only foreigners in the country and they were saying congratulations because we had gotten out of prison. You know it really was God who put it on peoples' hearts throughout the world to pray. I really believe us eight were the catalysts for the prayer worldwide that changed Afghanistan because God wanted to do something in Afghanistan and the only way He could mobilise prayer was through eight people being willing to go in there."

The people of prayer, those in prison and those who faithfully pray in their homes, make a difference in our society. They change the world. Sometimes we faithfully pray that God will intervene, and we do not know God has already answered. Like the early believers who were in the Upper Room praying for God to release Peter from prison, while Peter was already at the house gate knocking to be let in! Acts 12

Listen to the Apostle Paul writing from prison where he was a prisoner for his faith and who would soon die for his faith: "Tychicus will tell you all the news about me. He is a dear brother, a faithful minister and fellow servant in the Lord. I am sending him to you for the express purpose that you may know about our circumstances and that he may encourage your hearts. He is coming with Onesimus, our faithful and dear brother, who is one of you. They will tell you everything that is happening here.

My fellow prisoner Aristarchus sends you his greetings, as does Mark, the cousin of Barnabas. Jesus, who is called Justus, also sends greetings… Epaphras, who is one of you and a servant of Christ Jesus, sends greetings. He is always wrestling in prayer for you, that you may stand firm in all the will of God, mature and fully assured. I vouch for him that he is working hard for you and for those at Laodicea and Hierapolis. Our dear friend Luke, the doctor, and Demas send greetings… I, Paul, write this greeting in my own hand. Remember my chains. Grace be with you." Colossians 4:7-18

Here, in our New Testament is a letter from a group of prisoners for the Lord. Paul was there because of His witness to the faith, but the others were there because they chose to come and witness to the Praetorian Guard and others guarding the prison in Rome. Paul had been imprisoned in Philippi, Ephesus, Jerusalem, Caesarea, and finally in Rome, in the Mamertine Prison. Here he was under the personal guard commander, stratopedarchus, for over two years. It is in this prison that Paul wrote most of his letters in the New Testament and was visited by the young men he mentored as Christian leaders. While he was in prison, some of his jailors believed and joined the church. Here Paul wrote to the Church at Philippi where the other converted jailor was a member: "Now I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel. As a result, it has become clear throughout the whole palace guard and to everyone else that I am in chains for Christ. Because of my chains, most of the brothers in the Lord have been encouraged to speak the word of God more courageously and fearlessly." Philipians 1:12-14

This is the week of prayer for the persecuted of the world. This is a time when fanatical adherents of the Muslim religion have attacked Christian churches and persecuted Christians in the Sudan, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Uzbekistan, half a dozen Muslim countries in the former Soviet, in Indonesia and other places. The worst country is North Korea, where people caught with a Bible are "detained, tortured, sent to a re-education camp, or summarily executed." Number two is Saudi Arabia, site of Islam's sacred cities, Mecca and Medina. Arrests, torture, and prison are common, and the death penalty can be imposed for converting from Islam to another religion. Numbers three and four on the list are Laos and Vietnam. This week I heard of some Chinese Christians have been "tortured to death in prison having molten metal poured over their heads" White House sources confirm that President Bush discussed these human rights violations against Christians when Chinese President Jiang Zemin visited him last month.

How widespread has persecution become? Missiologist David Barrett estimates that there may have been as many Christian martyrs in the twentieth century as in all nineteen previous centuries combined! Many Australians find it surprising, even unbelievable, that in today's world, the largest group of people being persecuted for their religious beliefs are in fact Christians. Last year over 330,000 Christians were killed because of their faith, mostly in Muslim countries. More than 200 million people, in more than 60 nations, were denied the right to freedom of worship because they were Christian. The Lord Jesus, the Apostles Paul and Peter, James and John, and in fact all of the early Apostles, except Judas, were imprisoned for their faith.

The issue for us is, "Do we take our responsibility to pray for these persecuted believers seriously enough?" When Diana Thomas and Peter Bunch were prisoners of the Taliban and it was front-page news and on television, I am sure many of us did earnestly pray. But what of the one third of a million still in prison? Should we not be people of prayer for them? People of prayer change the world. We need to support Christians who are persecuted for their faith. The Bible League, International Christian Concern, Open Doors, The Voice of the Martyrs and half a dozen other Christian organisations, have banded together to encourage churches to remember the persecuted, the martyrs and those in prison because of their faith. This week is the week of prayer for the persecuted. Decide now to be among the people of prayer. They change the world.

There are great evils and grave injustices. God tells us in the book of Hebrews, "Remember those in prison as if you were their fellow prisoners, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were mistreated." Hebrews 13:3 We have a responsibility to pray for persecuted Christians throughout the world and, as we are able, to work for human rights. So Christians change things.

The Lord Jesus called us to be committed as His followers and to be people of prayer. If you have not committed to life to Him as one of His, knowing that your sins have been forgiven and that you have the gift of eternal life, then commit yourself to Him now. Belong to Him and be part of the people of prayer. The people of prayer change the world! God hears the prayers of righteous people. The people of prayer change the world.

REFERENCES.

"SPIRITUAL RESOURCES FOR RESILIANCE: Prayer" Gordon Moyes.
Open Book. 2001.
BreakPoint with Charles Colson Commentary #021108 - 11/08/2002

Wesley Mission, Sydney.