How Can Spiritual Leprosy Be Healed?

The Persecuted Church 101

Gavin Wood | 29 Jan 2024

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The terrible disease of leprosy might seem ancient and irrelevant to us today but it still causes untold misery to many people in our day and age. What I’ve learned about leprosy is that it is actually a disease that damages the body’s nervous system. The result of this is the fact that the body does not experience pain when wounds are inflicted on it. These wounds include scratches, open sores and so on. When the individual is unaware of the presence of these wounds, they are neglected and infection takes place, ultimately resulting in serious damage to the body.

I am going to suggest in this article that much of the Body of Christ around the world seems to be suffering from what I call ‘spiritual leprosy’.

1 Corinthians 12 teaches us that, as followers of Christ, we are joined together as a spiritual body with Christ Jesus as our Head. We are told that if one part of the body suffers, every part suffers (1 Cor 12:26).

Some 365 million Christians worldwide suffer, not only for their faith but for ours as well. How is it possible that, for much of the body of Christ, we do not feel the pain of persecution with our brothers and sisters?

Since they suffer for our faith, and we are part of Christ’s body together, they need to know that they are never alone. In order for that to happen, we need to be healed from our spiritual leprosy. My prayer is that this article might be used of the Lord, in some small way, toward that end. 

The World Watch List for 2024 has recently been released. This list is produced by Open Doors International and contains the top 50 countries in the world where our faith costs the most. Five areas of persecution are evaluated for every country on the list. They are: private life; family life; community life; national life; and church life.

By means of research that is conducted on the ground in these countries, and independently audited, a score out of 100 is assigned to each nation. There is only one occasion in the past 10 or 11 years that North Korea has not been number one. The exception was in 2022 when Afghanistan was number one and North Korea was number two.

Testimonies and Stories from the Persecuted Church

Egypt

We who are infected with spiritual leprosy have no idea what it means to suffer for our Lord Jesus Christ.

My first trip to the Persecuted Church (PC) was in, or around, 2006. My wife and I were invited to travel with a team from the South African office of Open Doors. We spent an amazing 12 days in Egypt visiting Christians where and when possible. The believers we met and the testimonies they shared have changed us forever.

I consider it a privilege to share some of the stories from the Persecuted Church with you. A couple of them will be from our own experience and one will be a story we have heard from others who serve the PC.

I remember waking up very early on our first morning in Egypt—though not by choice. In the early hours, before sunrise, we heard the Islamic call to prayer blasting across this ancient city. I recall being filled with a very heavy sense of apprehension in those moments. We were in the thick of spiritual warfare and the oppression was very real. How on earth were we going to make any difference? What did we think we could achieve? Just as suddenly as I had been overwhelmed by the evil, the deception and the darkness of Islam, I began to experience a wonderful sense of peace and the presence of the Lord. A verse in Habakkuk came to mind. For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the LORD, as the waters cover the sea (Hab 2:14). This has become my theme verse as I pray for our brothers and sisters in Christ in the PC. As dark and as difficult as the task seems, we can celebrate God’s faithfulness and our victory in Christ. Jesus reigns!

One day on this trip, we went to visit a very godly man who was a senior leader in his denomination. When we met him, he was recovering from a horrific car accident in which one of the occupants had been killed. This was not a normal accident, if there is such a thing, but an orchestrated attempt on his life.The reason for the attack was that he is very outspoken for Christ and actively trains believers to share the gospel with Muslims. 

Our brother in Christ had been seriously injured, so much so that he required multiple operations in order to rebuild his broken body. I remember that he had to undergo reconstructive surgery on his right shoulder in order to regain some motion. He was asked by a member of our group if he was feeling better and if he was still in pain. He smiled and said that he still wakes up in pain when he rolls onto his injured shoulder at night. But then, he went on to say, with the same gentle, warm smile on his face, ‘Why shouldn’t I have to suffer for Jesus’ sake?’ 

Many in the PC seem to share this attitude.They accept the reality of suffering for the sake of Christ. As Paul said to Timothy ‘In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted …’ (2 Tim 3:12). 

I wonder where this places many of us, in the so-called free church. We who are infected with spiritual leprosy have no idea what it means to suffer for our Lord Jesus Christ.

I remember hearing a heart-wrenching story about a young girl, I think it was in the Middle East. She had become a Christian but, for obvious reasons, she kept her new faith hidden from her Muslim parents. One day her father found her bible and he was filled with rage. He told her that she had to sit on a mat in her room and not move. If she did, she would be severely beaten. She would only be allowed to leave the mat if she denounced her faith in Christ. Months later, she was rescued when this atrocity was discovered. This young lady had remained faithful to Jesus and stayed seated on the mat. The damage to her limbs was so significant that she had to relearn how to walk.

South East Asia

On a more recent trip to the PC in South East Asia, the group with which I travelled had the incredible privilege of spending an afternoon in the humble home of a poor family. They are believers in Christ and, despite the dangers and the intimidation, they regularly attend a local church. One Sunday after church, some of the children were playing outside the church building while waiting for their parents. Two attackers on a motorbike rode up and threw an explosive device in the midst of the children.

The scene after the explosion was horrific. One of the children died on the spot and the others were inflicted with traumatic injuries, including third-degree burns over large portions of their fragile, little bodies. The young boy we visited that afternoon had already undergone dozens of operations in order to reconstruct his face and replace gruesome burn injuries with healthy skin from the areas of his body that had not been disfigured by the bomb. Despite the fact that he had already endured so much pain, both from the attack at the church, as well as scores of operations (with more to follow), he was radiant with the love of Christ and eager to share with us.
I will never forget sitting in that cramped but welcoming home, listening to this little boy sing Bless the Lord,o my soul at the top of his lungs in English, which was not their first language, while his father accompanied him on an old guitar. This young man has become one of my heroes of the faith. His young life has challenged me in ways I am still processing. I continue to pray for him, his parents and the other families who were involved in the attack that changed their lives forever.

We must do all that we can in order that they know from their family in Christ that while they suffer for our faith, they are never alone.

The Cure for Spiritual Leprosy

We need to travel to the PC and meet with our brothers and sister in Christ. We must learn to serve them through listening to them, praying with them and for them. We need to raise awareness amongst our churches and communities about what is happening to those with whom we are called to belong to Jesus Christ (Rom 1:6). We must raise prayer and financial support for the PC. We must do all that we can in order that they know from their family in Christ that while they suffer for our faith, they are never alone.
May we, together with the Persecuted Church, pray and long for the day when the knowledge of the glory of the LORD fills the earth as the waters cover the sea.

Photo Credits

Graphic from Open Doors, edited.

Image by etanliam from Flickr, edited.

Image by Imagens Evangélicas from Flickr, edited.

Gavin Wood has been a pastor for 32 years. He is the outgoing Board Chair of Open Doors Southern Africa. Gavin and his wife, Jocelyn, have been married for 33 years and have 3 adult sons.