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I had a disturbing conversation last week. It was with a man who told me, rather shamelessly, that he travels to southeast Asia to visit brothels. Let that sink in. He’s an American man, a fairly typical middle-aged guy, who travels across the country to buy sex from children enslaved in brothels.  He could be someone you passed on the street today.

What sort of person would do that? More than you might think. I told this man that the girls he visited in these brothels were most likely slaves, kept there against their will.  I explained that I’ve actually visited villages in northern Thailand where these slaves come from: their families are told the children will work a good job in the city and send money home, then the children are never heard from again.  They become the forced prostitutes that this man uses. To all this news he responded with a defensive self-pity, “I’m lonely.”  What sort of person would do that? A desperately lonely person.

But that loneliness doesn’t instantly translate into the heinous acts this man was engaged in. There’s a pattern that goes on for a while before that behavior goes to such extremes. As this article by Benjamin Nolot says, “What kind of culture is producing so many men who are eager to buy women and children for sex, contributing to a $32 billion per year human trafficking industry? I believe the answer is the kind of culture that produces and perpetuates a $100 billion per year pornography industry.” According to Philip Zimbardo’s Ted Talk,  the porn industry is the fastest growing industry in America:  For every 400 movies made in Hollywood, there are 11,000 pornographic films. The more that men consume this material, the more they develop an “arousal addiction” which actually re-wires their brains.  And this has social implications: This arousal addiction actually damages the work and social skills men would otherwise be developing.

In other words, pornography use reinforces poor social skills. Loneliness begets loneliness.  Who’s consuming this material? Mostly lonely men. Who’s traveling across the globe for sex tourism? Mostly lonely men who’ve learned to feed their loneliness with the false-intimacy of explicit images.

I believe that dedication to truth is a spiritual discipline which can transform our lives. Here’s a case where it can transform the world. If men who struggle with the temptation to use porn reminded themselves of these facts, they’d find the temptation easier to resist. If all such men recognized the total falsehood of any “intimacy” they receive from either porn or prostitutes, the sex industry might just  collapse. That’s a lot to ask, but it’s not too much to pray for.

I want to tell that lonely man more of the truth about pornography and human trafficking. I want to tell him that his loneliness points to a real need for intimacy that can’t be met in any of the places he’s looked for it. I want to tell him that the real way out of his loneliness is to give up his perversions and seek real relationships. I want to tell that man he needs to repent. I was too angry to say it when the conversation took place last week, but today I would tell him that if he repents he can be forgiven for those sins. And I want to tell that lonely man that there is a community of other forgiven sinners out there who would welcome him, show him the love he truly needs, and help him free the slaves he used to abuse. Lord have mercy.

The media’s focus on Iran recently has helped make the world more aware of Youcef Nadarkhani, a man who has been sentenced to death there for apostasy.  Like the case of Asia Bibi in Pakistan, Pastor Nadarkhani’s situation is a rare example the media shining light on the suffering that thousands of anonymous others face because of their faith.  When Christians in more comfortable situations come across such news, our first impulse is to pray. But it’s worth stopping to ask how should we pray for people like Youcef?

Read this letter which was written in January 2011 by Nadarkhani a few months after he was condemned to die. Notice that it has the tone of a New Testament epistle. Notice also that Youcef doesn’t ask for us to pray that his life would be spared or that he would be freed. Instead, he speaks honestly about the suffering of the Christian life:

The Word of God tell[s] us to ‘expect to suffer hardship’ and dishonor for the sake of His Name.  Our Christian confession is not acceptable if we ignore this statement, if we do not manifest the patience of the Lord in our sufferings.  Anybody ignoring it will be ashamed in that day.

Perhaps our first prayer for Pastor Youcef should be that he would “manifest the patience of the Lord” in his suffering.  If and when Nadarkhani is executed, he will join the “multitude which no one could count, from every nation, and all tribes and peoples and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, and [with] palm branches in their hands, crying out in loud voice and saying ‘Salvation to our God who sits on the throne and to the Lamb.” This image from Revelation 7 is often used to speak of the ethnic and cultural diversity  of the Church.  But a few verses later, the individuals in this multitude are identified as confessors and martyrs, “the ones who come out of the great tribulation” of persecution.  Before the throne of God in heaven stand and will stand people from every tribe, language, and nation who have suffered for their allegiance to Christ.

Revelation was a book written to communities facing persecution, and the letters to the Churches in chapters 2 and 3 show us what Jesus desires for communities of His followers during persecution. For example, in the letter to the Church in Smyrna, Jesus says “Do not fear what you are about to suffer.  Behold, the devil is about to cast some of you into prison, so that you will be tested, and you will have tribulation for ten days. Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life” (2:10).  It’s understandable and good that we would pray for freedom, healing, and comfort for our persecuted brothers and sisters. But the book of Revelation and Pastor Nadarkhani’s letter suggest that we should first and foremost pray for their perseverance. As the letters to the Churches in Revelation 2 and 3 suggest, we should pray for fearlessness and faithfulness. As is true for all of us, their ultimate freedom, healing, and comfort will come on the day when “they will no longer hunger, nor thirst anymore, nor will the sun beat down on them, nor any heat; for the Lamb in the center of the throne will be their shepherd, and will guide them to springs of the water of life; and God will wipe every tear form their eyes” (Rev. 7:16-17 NASB).

If that’s how we should pray, we also need to know who we should lift up in this way. The following websites and resources all provide relatively accurate and up-to-date information regarding specific instances of persecution.  I’ve found creating a list on Twitter to follow the latest news on persecution from around the world to be a helpful reminder to pray. However we arrive at such news, having specific instances, people, or locations in mind is necessary to pray effectively for our suffering brothers and sisters in the faith.

Christian Solidarity Worldwide – An international organization based in the UK which raises awareness of persecution and advocates for religious freedom and human rights.

Compass Direct News – Breaking news on the persecuted Church around the world.

Open Doors USA – Provides Bibles and Christian literature for persecuted believers, provides leadership development and community development for persecuted believers, and raises awareness about presecution.

Operation World – Encyclopedic resource with detailed information about every country on earth and a guide to praying for the proclamation of the Gospel in each nation.

Voice of the Martyrs – News, resources, and other suggestions on how to pray and raise awareness about the persecuted Church.

The Apostle Paul’s letter to the Colossians ends with the words, “Remember my chains” (4:18 NIV). The letter to the Philippians also references his chains, saying “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 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” (Phil. 1:12-14 NIV). Let us remember those who are in chains today, and pray that their chains would indeed advance the gospel with courage and fearlessness.