secret sanctuary

On Tuesday this week, one of Open Doors’ inspiring volunteer speakers came to lead us through their insightful and inspiring Secret Church resource. We can’t recommend it highly enough – it’s a powerful kinaesthetic experience which both inspires prayer for the persecuted church and challenges you in your own walk. We asked a few of the people who were at our secret gathering to share what spoke to them most about it – here is what they said:

secret sanctuary landscapeFiona:

I found Tuesday morning utterly amazing and incredibly special!

To be drawn into a small, secret cluster with all the trimmings of church – and all the baggage that sometimes comes with that – taken away gave a heightened sense – even more than ever – about what’s important. Our love for Jesus is everything. Our core business, values and even USP if you like – came through with real clarity. We are here to worship; to pray; to support each other.

We have incredible fellowship and community at the Sanctuary – it is one of the most precious things about it. And the sense of that was really reinforced on Tuesday morning as I looked around at each precious person there… and then I thought about what it would be like to risk it all to continue to prioritise meeting together if we were being persecuted…

I had to leave early to go to another meeting and I found that very upsetting – there was no time to check in with people and to share our lives and stories as we usually do… but then I realised, if we were being persecuted and really meeting secretly, probably we wouldn’t have had time for that anyway.


‘For the first time in three years of coming to the Sanctuary, I experienced real fear…

‘I couldn’t speak, my tongue wouldn’t move, my heart was racing… I felt sweaty and anxious.

‘Who was going to come in next? Were they going to ‘raid’ our Sanctuary meeting? There was a lady sat next to me I hadn’t met before… what were her motives… was she safe?

Thank you God for opening my eyes – which have been ‘wide open shut’ for so long – to the real dangers that millions of persecuted Christians face for simply wanting to know you, wanting to just hold your word, your truth, your Bible in their hands, thoughts and hearts.

Sweet Jesus, please bless and protect them and encourage them, sustaining them in the midst of their tremendous faith and courage in you.’


Experiences like this are so rich – thank you Open Doors.

Of course none of us can empathise with what it really feels like to be in the situation so many of our brothers and sisters are in. But taking part in secret church provides a powerful taste which brings revelation, builds connectivity with our persecuted family and fuels heart-felt prayer for them, for us and for the church in the west.

There is too much to say really, so I just want to share two brief things that struck me particularly given our context and story at the Sanctuary:

1 – While our visiting speaker set up, I was charged with putting the sign pictured at the start of this blog outside the front door. Even just in play-acting for an hour or so, it was very painful to see it there. God has been so gracious to us – and we have worked so hard – to overcome our fear and to blaze out his love and life through our window.

Thousands of people now see all that it contains… and the thought of losing the chance to be an open witness, such a short time after finding the courage to really be one, well I have no words for that feeling, but it gave me new resolve to make the most of every opportunity our location gives us. And to do all God asks us to do where we are for as long as we can.

I also worried about stupidly prosaic things of course too – like would people think we were actually shut and be very confused!

2 – Half way through the meeting, a man I had never met before entered the space. He came in and called out in a loud voice (which broke across our whispered conversation and prayer, where we were gathered in the far corner of the space behind a blackout curtain) ‘I’m looking for a secret vigil’.

Later, after the meeting had officially finished, he introduced himself. He was from a local church and had heard about the meeting from others connected with the Sanctuary.

Normally, we are thrilled to welcome new people, and after the meeting – when he introduced himself – of course we felt as usual… but a new person coming into the earlier context was not comfortable. It reminded me of past experiences of people who had come into our space but not been for us. The memory, and associated feelings of fear, were hard to deal with in that context.

I have faced comparatively minor persecution in my journey so far. But even the small stuff (on a global scale) can be very difficult to deal with. Am I ready for more?

And now just one more, third thought which is universal to everyone’s experience… we started of holding hands and singing Amazing grace in whispers so we wouldn’t be heard, and then finished by singing it at the top of our voices. And it was so very powerful. Wherever you are, whatever you’re facing; the truth is the same and his beautiful, transforming presence is the same.


I was struck by how nothing is secret from God (see Jeremiah 23 :23-24).

How wonderful to know that wherever we pray from, wherever we gather, in whatever circumstance we find ourselves in – God is with us and knows our hearts and our desperate situations.

So I felt encouraged rather than depressed as we listened to stories from North Korea where people die, are tortured and speak of nine years spent in prison for their faith as if it were an every day part of being a Christian.

 I know the voice of God in the Bible is powerful, comforting and encouraging but this was emphasised when we were asked to think of passages we know by heart to share with others (as this is how many people on the persecuted church teach one another).

How infrequently do we, in our comparatively easy situations, commit bible verses to our memories and hearts – even though we are taught to do so in Deut 11:18-19 or in Joshua 1:8 -9.

As I thought of verses that I could use to encourage and comfort Christians in difficult situations two portions of scripture came to mind: Zephaniah 3:17-20  and Isaiah 43:1-3.

 As I read the bible passages I’ve used in this blog and pray for the persecuted church across the world I am challenged to try and commit them fully to memory.

I am attending Open Doors’ day of worship in Birmingham on Saturday (to celebrate their 60the anniversary). As I stand there in solidarity with Christians who have no bible and risk all by owning portions of it – or those who smuggle paper or electronic versions into countries where there is no freedom to read the word of God, I feel as though I should ingrain the words I’ve used in my heart.

I actually feel closer to the word of God as I imagine having to depend on my memory rather that taking for granted the ability to open a bible whenever I need to.

 I thank God for all the words of worship songs that come straight from the bible that encourage me as I sing them randomly throughout the day! And I thank God for the freedom to sing them at will.

The greatest prayer I found myself praying on Tuesday though was not directly for the persecuted church at all; but for the church in our country…

Our comfortable, open, easy-to-attend church that is in decline, where values are slipping and people feel unwelcome.

My hope and prayer is that the people in persecuted churches pray for us as much as we do for them; that we learn and are inspired by them. And that through praying for each other ashes will be transformed into beauty across the world as we realise anew how dependent we need to be on the transforming power of Jesus in our lives and become reliant on the words of the bible for bringing new believers to Christ rather than on gimmicks and activities that are two-a-penny in our ‘free’ society.


I think the thing that struck me most again was the seriousness with which we must take our faith – and how much our brothers and sisters in nations like North Korea show this to be true.

If we truly believe that Jesus is our Saviour and that a life in him is the only true life, then that surely has to be the most important thing in our lives. A daily commitment to follow…. Everything else flows out from this.

The persecuted church have to choose every day to take their faith this seriously – because the cost to them is a constant reality that they can’t forgot or just gloss over; because it’s literally life or death.

For us, the lie of our comfortable, non-threatened lives tells us that we can forget and we can gloss over it. But actually in doing that we lose one of the greatest joys of our faith. The chance to experience now the fullness of Christ – his grace, his hope, his light in our lives and an awareness of his presence with us at every moment.

So I’m challenged and humbled again to take my faith more seriously, to rejoice in the freedoms I have (that mean I can access as many versions of the Bible as I want, meet with fellow Christians publicly and without fear, sing songs of praise at the top of my voice) and to truly live the life of faith that Jesus offers to us all.

If this post has inspired you to take part in Open Doors’ Secret Church resource – you can find everything you need to get started here.

If it’s inspired you to pray for the persecuted church:

– Visit our search by issue page and take a look at the list of resources provided there to help you – you’ll find written prayers, creative prayer ideas and songs.

If it’s inspired you to think about your own faith:

You might find this resource, reflecting on the beatitudes, a particularly helpful follow-on.


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