Meeting your persecuted brothers and sisters from around the world is a great way to hear about God’s faithfulness, and the impact that your support can have to the most vulnerable believers. That’s one of the main reasons that Open Doors hosts Standing Strong – a series of events where you can meet your extraordinary family from North Korea, Nigeria, and Syria.
You can see a full list of November’s events and locations on our Standing Strong 2019 page (and save a third of the ticket price if you book before the end of July). But don’t just take our word for how great Standing Strong is – we’ve spoken to Open Doors supporters Mervyn and Imi about their experiences at and after Standing Strong, below.
When did you first attend Standing Strong, and how did you find it?
Mervyn: Although my wife and I have been supporters of Open Doors for many years it was only in 2017 that we attended a Standing Strong conference. I was still in recovery from major open heart surgery some 12 months earlier.
After going we wondered why we had never been before. The stories from our persecuted brothers and sisters (and indeed those of Open Doors partners) were at times harrowing but also truly inspirational.
Imi: About 5 years ago, I went to my first ‘Standing Strong’ event. When I was younger, I used to read about crazy stories of persecuted Christians around the world; from torture to imprisonment, discrimination to family disownment. Now, I was hearing these crazy stories not from the pages of a book but from the mouths of my brothers and sisters.
What did you learn about God at Standing Strong?
Mervyn: My favourite part of Standing Strong was hearing the testimonies. Stories are vitally important because you enter into and personalise their experiences. And it showed me that God is faithful. Even in the midst of the worst persecution we still have a faithful God.
Imi: I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. I heard a North Korean believer talking about her imprisonment in a labour camp. At school, I’ve sat in history lessons learning about Nazi Germany, thinking ‘if that sort of thing was going on now, I’d never let it happen’ but I found myself listening to near unthinkable stories that were still happening at that very moment. In every story I heard, as Hae Woo says, I saw the worst of humanity, yet the best of Christ.
Not only did the reality of such continued, if not growing, persecution hit me but also the reality of God’s power within it all. At Standing Strong, we get a little glimpse of heaven. We get the privilege of seeing what God is doing on earth. And for that, it’s something I wouldn’t want to miss.
Mervyn reaching the Arctic Circle
Were there ways that Standing Strong changed you?
Mervyn: At Standing Strong 2017, there was one moment that changed many things for me. It was after hearing the testimony of a Nigerian pastor who was physically bowed under the weight of responsibility for the churches under his care. At that moment I thought and prayed: what can I do to change things?
And then it came to me, why not follow a long-held dream to ride a motorcycle to the Arctic Circle but with a wider purpose, ride for my persecuted brothers and sisters in Christ. At that moment the Highley to Hammerfest challenge was birthed.
I rode 5,907 miles through the hottest European summer on record through nine countries and raised over £10,000. But it didn’t finish with that challenge. I am now a volunteer speaker for Open Doors because God laid on my heart at that Standing Strong conference that the stories from our persecuted family needed to be told.
Why would you recommend that other people attended this year?
Mervyn: I would recommend people attend Standing Strong because the stories from the persecuted church of faith overcoming fear are inspirational and can be, as in my case, life changing.
Imi: Expect to be encouraged and challenged… but be ready to hear from some of the astonishing family that you maybe never knew you had!