“Continue to remember those in prison as if you were together with them in prison, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering” (Hebrews 13:3).
In certain areas of East Africa, following Jesus is a death or prison sentence. Islamic extremist groups target for death anyone who is rumored to have left Islam and become a Christian. And in places like Eritrea with intricate prison networks, Christian converts, including Somalis, are often imprisoned.
Eritrea is internationally known for its egregious human rights violations. The country has imprisoned Christians, often without charges or a trial, in inhumane conditions, such as small metal shipping containers. Eritrea is estimated to be holding between 1,200 and 3,000 people on religious grounds.
Pastor Ogbamichael Teklheimanot was part of those numbers. For eleven years, he was imprisoned in Eritrea’s Mitire Camp, infamously known as a military concentration camp. And because he refused to renounce his faith in Christ, Ogbamichael was subjected to particular abuses reserved for outlawed religious groups. In June 2018, he was released.
How do we pray for prisoners like Pastor Ogbamichael? Below Open Doors, a global ministry working to strengthen persecuted Christians around the world, offers practical ways we can put head and heart to Hebrews 13:3.
One Body, one Church.
This isn’t “us” and “them.” The free church and the persecuted church. Throughout Scripture, we are reminded that we are one church, one body, one family. When you understand and truly grasp that persecuted believers are part of the church, body, and family you belong to, remembering the prisoner becomes part of your DNA.
God has called us to lift up and keep lifting up our family. It is part of being a disciple and a disciple maker. Many ex-prisoners tell us they could feel the prayers of the body of Christ—and it strengthened them to continue on.
A word study in Scripture.
God has a heart for those facing persecution for His name and He shares His heart for them in His Word. Use your Bible and go online to do a word study using words like “persecution,” “suffer,” and “trials.” Remembering the prisoner starts with seeing God’s heart—and praying to be broken by what He cares about.
A set time.
Open Doors Founder Brother Andrew reminds us: “Our prayers go where we cannot . . . there are no borders, no prison walls, no doors that are closed to us when we pray.” Make a commitment to pray for Christians imprisoned for their faith. Set a daily alarm on your phone or make a habit of praying while you eat breakfast or brush your teeth. You can also subscribe to the Open Doors mobile prayer app that alerts you to specific prayers and situations from persecuted believers around the world. Often, these alerts center on praying with prisoners.
In their shoes.
Take a minute to envision what Pastor Ogbamichael and others like him went through each day for 11 years. Try to put yourself in their shoes. What would it be like to be isolated and cramped in a shipping container.
Think about the suffocating heat of East Africa. The pangs of hunger and the pain of isolation within metal walls. Think about waking up on a hard floor knowing you will be beaten that day. And then the sting of the wounds—knowing that you did nothing criminal to deserve this punishment.
Each time you pray for prisoners, try to envision and “feel” what they’re going through. Here are a few practical ways to do that:
- Visit a prison and pray with inmates. Yes, it’s likely out of your comfort zone. But visiting a prison will give you a tangible experience of what our brothers and sisters are facing (although prison conditions in America are often vastly better than what persecuted believers are facing in places like Eritrea, North Korea, and Iran).
- Read about Christians who are jailed. Get to know these men and women who are just like you. But because they follow Jesus, they’re now behind bars. You’ll be inspired by their faith and their stories of how God has used them right where they are. The Open Doors website has numerous stories—just do a search for “prisoner.” You’ll read about Mojtaba (he led others to Christ in prison), Yousef (he’s in Iran’s infamous Evin Prison serving 10 years), Shamiram (she’s awaiting her appeal and faces a five-year sentence for training church leaders), Ebrahim (he recently lost his mother), Hea-Woo (she started a house church in a latrine in a North Korean prison camp), etc.
This week, take some time to read about Christians imprisoned for their faith, imagine their circumstances and then pray. Pray “as if you were together with them.”