Pilgrims and Persecution, Revisited

I can’t help it. As the leaves turn beautiful colors and fall all over our yards, I maintain a mental image of Pilgrim hats, whole deer and turkeys roasting over open fires and both Pilgrims and Native Americans having musket-shooting and tomahawk-throwing contests.

It’s Thanksgiving season!

I will never forget what I have read about the first two winters of those Pilgrims who came to the shores of America seeking religious freedom. King James kept his promise and “harried them” out of England in 1620. During the first winter over half of their small number perished from malnutrition and exposure to the elements. The second winter, though not one of their number went back to England, and even with an influx of new people right as the winter began, not one of them died. When they sat down to a Thanksgiving feast the next fall, every plate had on it five kernels of corn. This is what had sustained them on the worst days during that most recent winter of deprivation. They determined never to forget how God had preserved them through such an ordeal. I would have to admit that I don’t subscribe to some of the views of these religious pilgrims, but their determination to forge a new life under the lordship of Jesus in a New World is still a stirring inspiration to my heart.

It seems to me perfectly fitting, given this early history of immigration to America, that we should not only turn aside to give thanks to God for His blessings this past year, but that we should also pause this month and remember our brothers and sisters in Christ who are suffering for their faith around the world. The International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church is set both for November 1 and 8, 2015, in the Americas. On these Sundays, we are called upon to remember those who, like our American Pilgrim ancestors, are presently being persecuted for their faith in Jesus Christ. Whether under the regimes of modern Communists or the rigid tyranny of militant Islam, these fellow-Christian-pilgrims need to know that they are not forgotten. As I see it, we must remember and pray for them, “as though (we ourselves) were suffering” (Hebrews 13:3).

Pilgrims and persecution have a strong connection in our history. We must never forget this. Especially this year, our brothers and sisters in the Middle East are being harried out of their homes and homelands by militant Islamists who will stop at nothing to eradicate any viewpoint that opposes their narrow interpretation of religion. Many whose families have lived for centuries in the same region have had to flee for their lives, or face imprisonment and torture, rape and slavery, or death. Even while we thank God for our heritage of freedom, however tenuous it may seem at times, we must remember these members of our extended family in Christ. They need our prayers, just as we need theirs. To some extent, as followers of Jesus, we are still all “aliens and strangers in the world” (1 Peter 2:11, NIV).

Smiley Mudd