By Carl Stagner
Before this year’s General Assembly resolution about prayer for the persecuted church ever passed, the next International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church was already on Pastor Mark Martin’s radar. Maiden Lane Church of God in Springfield, Ohio, had already made the November observance an annual occurrence, but this year’s event took on a life of its own, raising the bar for years to come. Leading up to the first weekend in November, Maiden Lane Church of God transformed their activities center into a prayerfully interactive art exhibit, wholly dedicated to the persecuted church across the globe.
“When we first began observing the International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church,” Pastor Mark explains, “we would simply acknowledge it and have a time of prayer. But each year it has grown in emphasis and we’ve moved it to the point that it’s the focus of our entire Sunday. This year, it just so happened to take on a grand scale!”
That grand scale came in the form of an art exhibit, portraying images and brief biographies of fourteen martyrs of the faith. “Faces of the Martyrs: An Interactive Art Experience” is the personal collection of Christian artist Julia Armstrong, whose masterpieces hadn’t ever “gone mobile” until this point.
“One of Julia’s family members attends our church,” Mark explains. “I’d never heard of her or her work, but was told about her collection of art depicting Christian martyrdom. I thought it sounded interesting and reached out to her. In our conversation, the moment I realized the significance of what she had done, I instantly asked her if there was any way she could come and bring her exhibit to Maiden Lane on the International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church. She’d never done this kind of thing before, and previously only had the collection on display back in college when she’d completed the work for her education. At the time, I had no idea how we were going to pull this off, but I knew we had to try!”
At Maiden Lane Church of God, each portrait was suspended from the ceiling of the gym, rather than on easels. Spotlights were hung from the ceiling to illuminate only the art, while the rest of the room remained dark. As a result, the faces appeared, quite appropriately, as lights in the darkness. Pastor Mark Martin credits members of the congregation who have an artistic gift for determining how to so effectively display Julia’s work.
From 9:00 until the 10:30 Sunday morning worship service, and following the service until 1:00 in the afternoon, the art exhibit was open to the public. But it was more than an art exhibit; it was an interactive prayer experience unlike the church had ever experienced. From portrait to portrait, visitors walked through the space, reading about each martyr, following a printed prayer guide, reflecting on the experience through journaling, and praying for the persecuted church around the world. A table was set up for guests to learn about the ministry of Voice of the Martyrs. Prayer bracelets and prayer commitment cards were available to inspire and challenge visitors to keep praying for the persecuted church beyond this special day. The opportunity to make a donation was also given, and the funds collected will provide Christmas care packages for children in the persecuted church. Pastor Mark can’t describe adequately how excited he is that an estimated 90 percent of those in worship on November 3 also participated in this prayer experience. The Spirit moved, tears flowed, and feedback indicates that lives were forever changed.
During the worship service, in addition to prayer for the persecuted church, Pastor Mark interviewed Julia about her art and her heart. He delivered a message called “The Sin We Must Not Commit,” based on 1 Samuel 12:23, “As for me, far be it from me that I should sin against the Lord by failing to pray for you” (NIV). Songs also supported the theme and mood of the meaningful morning.
“Prayer is the pulse of the church,” Mark concludes. “If our prayer life is missing, we don’t have a pulse. If you don’t have a pulse, you’re in danger of dying. When it comes to praying for the persecuted church, I’m reminded how, in some ways, the American church has tended to live in a bubble. It’s like we’re not as aware as we should be with what’s happening in the broader body of Christ around the world. They don’t need to hear from us as much as I think we need to hear from them. I think they have something we need to know about what it means to follow Jesus. Being more aware that we’re part of a global family is important, even as our global family is suffering. When one part suffers, the rest suffers, too. This year’s observance of the International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church turned out ten times better than we could have imagined. From a discipleship standpoint, it has been one of the most impactful things we’ve ever done.”
Pastor Mark Martin and Maiden Lane church will post an images and corresponding bio of the martyrs depicted by Julia Armstrong on Facebook each day for the next fourteen days. Follow along at www.facebook.com/MaidenLaneCOG.
Missed the opportunity on November 3 to pray, as a congregation, for the persecuted church? Observe the International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church any Sunday in November! Learn more here about the 2019 Church of God General Assembly resolution on prayer for the persecuted church.