Despite its commercial success, Valentine’s Day wasn’t conceived in a brainstorming session at Hallmark’s corporate headquarters in Kansas City. According to Common Prayer, the story goes something like this:
A Christian priest in Rome, Valentine was known for assisting Christians persecuted under Claudius II. After being caught marrying Christian couples and helping Christians escape the persecution, Valentine was arrested and imprisoned. Although Emperor Claudius originally liked Valentine, he was condemned to death when he tried to convert the emperor. Valentine was beaten with stones, clubbed, and, finally, beheaded on February 14, 269. In the year 496, February 14 was named as a day of celebration in Valentine’s honor. He has since become the patron saint of engaged couples, beekeepers, happy marriages, lovers, travelers, young people, and greetings.
Globally it’s estimated that 200 million Christians currently live under persecution — that’s 1 out of every 10 Christians worldwide. And in the most hostile environments, the threat of martyrdom is constant. In fact, Gordon-Conwell’s Center for the Study of Global Christianity estimates that 100,000 Christians now die every year because of their faith — that’s 11 believers every hour. Let that sink in. What that means is that by the time I finish researching and writing this post more than two dozen Christians will have been killed.
Knowing that Christians are the most persecuted people on the planet, what can we do? First of all, we can pray fervently for our persecuted brothers and sisters around the world. Intercession is the most powerful form of advocacy. There is nothing else like it. We can also give generously to organizations that are serving the persecuted church.
Our own efforts to plant churches among the unreached peoples of India have been met with intense resistance. Many of our pastors, their families, and the congregations they serve have experienced persecution. Some are living through it right now. Pastors Marsel and Pradeep come immediately to mind. These men and their families are suffering immensely because of their faith. It’s an almost unimaginable existence, one that we can barely fathom in the West, but they press on, unbroken. When I met them last November, I held back tears as they shared their stories. Persecution, and what it means to endure in the face of it, became so much more real to me that day. It was something I’ll never forget.
This Valentine’s Day, as you enjoy the company of those you love, remember to pray for those who are being persecuted — Marsel, Pradeep, Sirendra, and millions of others, each of whom is our brother or sister in Christ. Like the humble priest who came to the aid of those who were suffering under Claudius, do what you can. It wouldn’t hurt to take a few of those dollars you’re going to spend on chocolate or flowers and make a donation to an organization that serves the persecuted church.
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