The beginning of the Church Age was tumultuous. Once the Day of Pentecost came and the apostles began to preach and teach with power, the forces of the enemy began to persecute. The enemy here is not the Jewish Scribes, Pharisees, Sadducees, or even the Roman government at the time, but rather the forces of hell that were unleashed to try and squash the fledgling Church. The religious leaders were certainly guilty, as was the Roman Empire, but they were only the tools the Kingdom of Hell used.
The apostles Peter and John, were brought before the authorities as soon as Peter had preached his great Pentecost sermon which brought 3,000 new converts into the newly formed Church. They were commanded not to speak in the name of Jesus again, beaten, and set free, but that was only the beginning! The first recorded Christian martyr in the Scriptures was a deacon named Stephen. He was brought before the Jewish authorities, accused of blasphemy, and stoned to death. In about AD 44, the first of the apostles lost his life because of his faith in Jesus Christ. James, the brother of John, son of Zebedee, was killed with the sword at the order of King Herod.
Soon afterward, the apostle Peter was thrown into prison and he looked to be the next of the apostles to be killed. In Peter’s case, God had a much different plan and He sent an angel to set him free. The Christians that were holding a prayer meeting on Peter’s behalf were so shocked that Peter had walked up to the door that they thought he was Peter’s ghost instead of the man himself!
As one reads the fourth book of the New Testament, The Acts of the Apostles, what is found in the 28 chapters, is story after story of how the Church grew. But, as it grew, the believers faced almost constant persecution. Many lives were lost. Many more were thrown into prison. Yet, in the thirty years that Doctor Luke documented, from 33-63 AD, there must have been many tens of thousands who became believers in Jesus Christ. Within the first three centuries the numbers were in the millions. How many were martyred? There is no official number, but many of the Roman Caesars went out of their way to persecute the Christians, and the numbers were great.
The persecutions have continued through the centuries, in large part, through an increasingly corrupt Papacy in the Roman Catholic Church. Yet the Church continued to grow. It is reported that there have been more Christians martyred in the last century than in all the previous nineteen combined. But, the worse the persecution gets, the faster the Church grows! This is very much the case today in the Middle East.
Today, as I write this update, I first want to make another urgent call for prayer. Four of the House of Blessing leaders in Iraq left the Fallujah area and traveled to the Kurdistan area to encourage the new believers that are taking HOB’s intensive School of Ministry course. After having a good visit with them all, praying for them and with them, they headed back to the Fallujah area where they have been ministering. As they were traveling back, they were ambushed and captured by ISIS militants. This just happened and so, of course, there is no word yet on their condition or where they are. Their names are Serker, Bari, Sirwan, and another man whom we have always known as Rami’s father. This man had at one time been a head shiekh but became a believer about three years ago when he saw God heal his son, Rami, and another man. Both, along with House of Blessing’s founder Pastor R had nearly been stoned and beaten to death by ten Hezbollah militants. All three men were paralyzed in their legs after the attack. When Rami’s father saw God heal both these men, he, and the 80 people gathered with him, became believers in Jesus Christ. This man became a great help to the work of the ministry and in time became one of the leaders.Today however, he and the other three men are in the hands of ISIS. We really need to pray for them!
I will mention here also that the nine missionaries captured a few days ago by ISIS are also still missing with no one having heard anything about them yet. All 13 of these men need our earnest prayer. As we all know, ISIS is one of the most brutal terrorist organizations on earth today. For those of us who live free, the days go by quickly due to our full schedules, but for those in captivity, especially for their faith in Jesus, the days must be excruciatingly long. We must pray for them! There is a command in Hebrews that applies here:
Remember the prisoners as if chained with them—those who are mistreated—since you yourselves are in the body also. (Hebrews 13:3)
In other HOB news, eight of their missionaries were killed in the last two or three days by militants in Ramadi. It’s extremely dangerous everywhere in the Middle East, but especially for those who are serving Jesus Christ. They are the #1 target. In Iraq, they have a great need for another shipment of Bibles. Let’s ask the Lord of the harvest to provide the 2,000 that are needed at this time.
Pastor R told me this morning that the evangelism work is going well in Iran. Presently, the School of Ministry has 35 students who are working their way through the course. They are looking forward to finishing and then beginning the work of evangelizing in earnest. The missionaries there are also sharing communion with all that have become believers and the healings are happening just as they have been in Iraq, Kurdistan, and Syria.
It seems that the most critical area today continues to be in Syria. The desperation of the circumstances of the displaced people is unimaginable. There is little or no food, and shelter is very difficult. Due to the heavy bombing campaigns, the situation has become even worse. Now, winter has hit in full force. I received information today that the UN has been able to provide quite a few full truckloads of food, but Bashar al-Assad’s forces take about 70-80% of it for themselves. This is apparently common practice. This leaves at the most 30% for an enormous number of people who have absolutely nothing. About twenty of the people around Sister Mufiedah literally starved to death in the last few days. They were not able to keep them alive long enough to help them prepare for eternity. Very tragic.
Sisters Hafizeh and Ferial are continuing to serve communion to those that become new believers in the area where Sister Mufiedah is working. More and more of the people are becoming believers and then as they take communion with the ingredients that the Lord has given, many are healed. As they begin to worship the Lord, the Holy Spirit continues to fall, baptizing everyone with an enduement of power for ministry, just as in the Book of Acts. They saw about 400 added this last week! What a miracle it is!
Sister Mufiedah and her band of widows continue to minister to the injured. These last few days, another 40 were healed through her ministry, and they also became followers of Jesus Christ.
I will close this update by adding one more request. Pastor R continues to be in an area that is experiencing a lot of bombing. The smoke is so bad that he has a difficult time breathing. He does have some oxygen, but the smoke is still not doing his health any good. He never complains about anything, but after I ask him, he will finally let me know that he is not really doing all that well. So, if you have not already done so, please pray for this man. He has been faithful to the point of death…several times, and continues to be. His one goal is to do all he can to reach just one more…then, one more, etc.
I pray God’s richest blessings on every single one of you! Be encouraged, be strong, be faithful, and finish well! It seems we’re going HOME very soon!
House of Blessing; 3206 SW 45th Street; Redmond, Oregon USA, 97756