ISSUES AND OBSERVATIONS
open Doors, a charity that serves persecuted Christians worldwide, creates a “World watch List” every year that contains the top 50 countries where it is most difficult to be a Christian.
North Korea has been number 1 on the World Watch List for 14 years, and in 2016 its position remains the same. Eritrea, the “North Korea of Africa’, is the 3rd most difficult place to live as a christian – this is the first time that it has entered the top 5 countries on list. Other countries include Iraq, Afghanistan, and Syria.
“Islamic extremism remains by far the most common driver of persecution: in 8 out of the top 10, and 35 out of the top 50 countries, it is the primary cause. A rise in Islamic extremism sees Pakistan at its highest position ever, and Libya entering the top ten for the first time.
But it's not just about Islam. A rise in hardline Hindu nationalism in India has seen churches and pastors attacked with impunity. It enters the top 20 for the first time.
open Doors records show that worldwide there were over 7,000 Christians killed for faith-related reasons in 2015- almost 3,000 more than the previous year. (These are conservative estimates and exclude North Korea, Syria and Iraq, where accurate records do not exist.) Around 2,400 churches were attacked or damaged – over double the number for last year. In terms of violence against Christians and Christian property, Nigeria and central African Republic top the 7 ist.
And the world has watched aghast as millions of refugees risk the hazardous route to Europe from the Middle East and the Horn of Africa. Their number includes tens of thousands of Christians fleeing war and persecution.
And all the time, beneath these 'headline' events, there is constant, low-level, localized persecution. Christians are driven out of their communities, refused burial, denied jobs or education. churches are torn down because of local opposition or mob rule. For millions of Christians, the everyday persecution happens in their village, or even among their family. '
(Source: www.opendoorsuk.org/persecution/trends. php)
Christians in these countries face unthinkable persecution. There are stories of families being told to renounce their faith and if they refuse, they are forced to watch as their children are crushed to death by a steam roller. others are held in metal shipping containers in the scorching heat of the day, not eating or seeing sunlight for days; they are being held like animals until they renounce their faith, pay a huge amount of money, leave the country, or die.
And yet many Christians refuse to give up their faith.
They won't give in to persecution because they believe that Jesus has had too great an impact on their lives. They believe they have a beautiful eternity waiting for them, and in the words of Paul, “to live is Christ and to die is gain' (Philippians 1:21). These followers of Jesus believe that their “present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed' in them (Romans 8:18). They know that ‘what has happened to [them] has actually served to advance the gospel' (Philippians 1:12) as people see the incredible resilience and strength that comes from within as they look towards a solid hope of a world that is yet to come.
In Northern Iraq, ISIS militants are marking Christian homes and businesses with the Arabic letter nun – “3”, or "n". This refers to Nazareth (the birthplace of Jesus) and any home or business marked with this letter conveys the powerful accusation that the occupants are Nazarenes, i.e. followers of Jesus (rather than Islam) ISIS are telling Christians that they either pay a tax, convert to Islam, leave, or be killed.
This sounds all too familiar to the marking of Jewish homes and businesses with the Star of David during World War II. Is history repeating itself? Are we ignoring the reality of what is happening across the world, despite remembering the Holocaust every year and promising to not let it happen again? What if it was happening on our own doorsteps? Would we pay more attention then?
The Experiences of Helen from eritrea
These are some of the experiences of a woman named Helen who was locked in a metal shipping container for two and a half years, all because she followed Jesus and refused to recount her Faith. She was beaten and tortured regularly.
What if Helen had been born in another country?
One with religious freedom?
Do we take our religious freedom for granted here in the West?
Christians are part of the same family; a family that follows Jesus and shares the same Father. As Paul writes, “If one part suffers, every part suffers with it' (1 Corinthians 12:26). He later writes, ‘continue to remember those in prison as if you were together with them in prison, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering.” (Hebrews 13:3)
Believers around the world are standing up to actively fight for the rights of those being persecuted for following Jesus. Charities like open Doors, The voice of The Martyrs, and I am N are relentlessly pursuing religious freedom, serving persecuted Christians empathetically and generously. They will continue to do this great work until the fight is won.
But perhaps one of the most powerful acts involves brothers and sisters uniting in prayer across the globe for those who are being persecuted for their identity in Christ. We pray for an end to the violence, for peace, and for forgiveness.
But more than that, we pray that our brothers and sisters will stay strong in the faith, despite all of the sufferings that they are facing. Because when there is no longer any fear or power in death, and you know that your God is holding onto you and will never let you go, it really is true that “to live is christ and to die is gain' (Philippians 1:21). There will come a time when God “will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things [will pass] away.' (Revelation 21:4)
Alice is a writer at Unashamed Impact. She is an 18 year old English girl living in a small village in Shropshire, and has been a follower of Jesus for about 5 years. Hopefully she will be going to study music at the University of Birmingham in October 2016, and has dreams of working within the Church for her lifetime. Alice is a creative, and this shows in her music, photography, writing, and artistic flair. She thinks God is calling her to worship ministry and evangelizing through speaking and writing, and she longs to share Jesus with as many people as possible from all parts of the world.