Standing with the persecuted church
(From the July - September 2017 issue of VOX.)
While VOX editor Ruth Garvey-Williams was on the Finding Faith Tour around Ireland, she had the privilege of sitting down with Chris, who works with Open Doors Ireland. At exactly the same time, an even more epic journey was taking place as Stephen Kyle was cycling from Belfast to Turkey to raise awareness of the work of Open Doors.
Reading the story of Brother Andrew as a teenager, I was always aware of Open Doors,” Chris from Ballymoney, Co. Antrim, shared. “I’ve been fortunate to work with a number of charities, and I’m delighted to join the team at Open Doors here in Ireland.
“Open Doors is all about supporting the persecuted church. Here in Ireland, we are mobilising the local church to be on their knees in prayer and on their feet in action,” Chris said. “We feel like Brother Andrew all those years ago. If one part of the body is hurting, then the rest of us should be hurting too. Sometimes we miss that side of our identity in Christ that we are part of the family. Too often we thank God for the freedom we have without appreciating what other Christians are suffering. As the body of Christ, we need to look beyond ourselves and see these people as our brothers and sisters.”
Open Doors produces a World Watchlist focusing on the 50 countries where persecution of Christians is most severe. North Korea remains number one, but the list also features places like Yemen, where a huge humanitarian crisis has gone almost unnoticed by the rest of the world.
“Around the world, people are meeting in abandoned buildings,” Chris explained. “Secret church meetings need to stay quiet, so some will sing in whispers. Others are memorising Scripture because they cannot carry their Bible. I’ve heard of children forced to leave their homes and the one thing they want to take with them is their Bible. You cannot help but be inspired by them.”
“When I hear that Christians are facing persecution and yet are still praying for their cities, it makes me ask why we are not standing strong and praying for our cities. I want to do as much as I can to increase the understanding.”
Open Doors has been working to support persecuted Christians since 1955 and today works to help believers in over 60 countries. You can contact the Open Doors team through their website on www.opendoorsuk.org or connect on Facebook at OpenDoorsInIreland.
THE CHALLENGE OF A LIFETIME
Stephen Kyle, a driving instructor and father of two from Bangor, Co. Down, first felt God giving him a heart for the persecuted church at the Bangor Worldwide Missionary Convention. Hearing Canon Andrew White speaking about the challenges facing Christians in the Middle East, he said, “I was appalled at what my brothers and sisters in Christ were going through for their faith. The Lord has placed on my heart a love for the persecuted church.”
So Stephen decided to take on what he described as ‘the challenge of a lifetime’ and cycle from Northern Ireland to Turkey to raise money for Open Doors to support persecuted Christians.
“The Bible tells us to love our brothers and sisters in Christ,” he explained. “What would we do for our biological brothers and sisters? How much more should we do for our brothers and sisters in Christ? Many of them receive help from Open Doors, but this help comes at a financial cost. So I decided to try to raise some much-needed funds.”
Setting off from Bangor on 19 April, the journey took him through Ireland, France, Italy and Greece before he finally arrived at his destination in Turkey on 30 May. It certainly wasn’t an easy ride – camping in freezing temperatures, cycling in the pouring rain, punctures, knee injuries and angry dogs were all challenges that Stephen had to face along the way. He also found it difficult spending so much time alone – he says, “I normally like my own company, but even I was starting to go a bit mad spending day after day by myself!” He particularly missed his wife, Michaela.
But it wasn’t all bad – Stephen’s favourite part of the trip was cycling through the beautiful Verdon Gorge in the south of France. He also says, “I have to give thanks for the people that the Lord placed along the way.” He experienced the kindness of many strangers during the trip: Some friendly Canadians in a VW camper van took pity on his poor camping skills and gave him food; an Italian hotel owner, who was in a good mood after his football team won the Italian league, insisted on driving Stephen around; but he says the Greeks were the friendliest people he met.
Stephen says, “It was hard work, but Christ gave me the strength. It was absolutely worth it.” So far he has raised over £13,500 – his JustGiving page is still open (search for Stephen Kyle) for anyone who would like to support his efforts.