Perhaps most Australian and Western Christians would not have known it, but Sunday November 14 was the International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church. Hopefully some churches did take part in this. The good news is that we set aside one day to pray for our persecuted brethren. The bad news is, we tend to forget about them for the rest of the year.
The global persecution of Christians is currently greater than at any other time in church history. Indeed, a new report just out by a charity group finds that “Christianity is the most persecuted religion in the world, and violence against Christians continues to rise.”
This is how one site covers this story: “The 2010 report on religious freedom by Aid to the Church in Need said that religious freedom has declined globally and faces greater threat today than two years before – especially for Christians, according to Rome Reports. The ACN, a Catholic organization, publishes a religious freedom report every two years. Its 2010 report said seven out of ten people, or some 200 million, are affected, Rome Reports said.
“The ACN report includes information from 195 dossiers covering 194 countries, 21 of which have hardly any freedom of religion at all. Two kinds of religious persecution were noted: First, social persecution by members of other religions, and second, persecution by political policy, Rome Reports said.
“Peter Sefton Williams, CAN chairman said social persecution is acute in some Muslim majority countries, mentioning ‘Places like Saudi Arabia where it’s impossible for any Christian or any non-Muslim group to organize and to have open public prayer. We think of places like Somalia, or we think of Sudan,’ according to Rome Reports. Williams said political discrimination and oppression of Christianity and other minority faiths prevails in China, North Korea, Vietnam and Cuba, all communist countries, to name a few, according to Rome Reports…. The report also cited a decline in religious freedom in the U.S. and Europe due to secularism.”
There are numerous groups which help Christians facing persecution. Barnabas Fund for example works extensively in this field. Just today I received their latest email, and here in abbreviated form is what they have highlighted:
PAKISTAN – CHRISTIAN WOMAN SENTENCED TO DEATH UNDER “BLASPHEMY LAW”
There is international concern over the case of Aasia Bibi, a Christian who has become the first woman to be sentenced to death under Pakistan’s controversial “blasphemy law”. Aasia was arrested in June 2009, accused of making derogatory remarks about Muhammad after a disagreement with fellow women field-labourers. The dispute started when Aasia fetched some water and the others refused to drink it because she was a Christian. The complaint was made by a local cleric who was not present during the quarrel but heard about the matter afterwards from the other women. The 45-year-old Christian mother of five strongly denies the charges against her, but on 8 November she was sentenced to death, sparking an international outcry.
IRAQ – MASS EXODUS OF CHRISTIANS FEARED AFTER HORRIFIC VIOLENCE
Christians in Iraq are reeling after a series of targeted anti-Christian incidents. The violence started on Sunday 31 October when militants took hostages at a church in Baghdad. The ensuing gun battle with the security forces left more than 50 people dead. Two days after the siege the Islamic State of Iraq – an Al-Qaeda front group – claimed responsibility, saying, “The killing sword will not be lifted.” The group said that Christians everywhere were legitimate targets and threatened further violence to “all Christian centres, organisations and institutions, leaders and followers”. On 27 November it was reported that twelve suspected militants had been arrested in connection with the attack at the church.
One week after the 31 October incident, at least four people were killed and dozens injured following a series of co-ordinated attacks on Christian neighbourhoods in Baghdad. Roadside bombs and mortar shells targeted homes and a church in six districts across Iraq’s capital city.
CAUCASUS, RUSSIA – THREE CHURCHES TORCHED
Three churches were torched by arsonists in Karachayevo-Cherkessia republic in the early hours of 1 November. One church was almost completely gutted, but all three buildings were saved by the immediate intervention of church members who, after alerting the fire brigade, began fighting the flames themselves. No one was hurt in the attacks. The fires have been described by a senior church leader as “well-orchestrated provocation”. He added, “The intention is to destabilise inter-religious harmony, but they will not succeed.”
ERITREA – NEW CLAMPDOWN ON CHRISTIANS
Security forces in the Southern Region of Eritrea have started a forceful new campaign to clamp down on Christians in the area. The security forces found a list of people who are involved with the underground church in Eritrea, and this list is now being used in the hunt for Christians and their families. It is estimated that up to 40 men and women have been arrested, and the search continues.
Christians are extremely vulnerable in Eritrea, which is one of the world’s worst persecutors of Christians. Many Christians are arrested and imprisoned for their faith; several have died as a result of torture, disease and malnutrition. This latest spate of arrests follows a meeting in October where the governor of the area, Mustafa Nur Hussein, ordered an “end of year purge” on Christians in the Region. This has taken Eritrea’s Christians by surprise; the governor was previously considered more understanding and relatively fair in his handling of complaints on behalf of Christians in the area.
CHINA – FOURTH ARREST IN A MONTH FOR CHRISTIAN LAWYER
Dr Fan Yafeng, a prominent lawyer and leader of the Chinese Christian Legal Defence Association in China, has been arrested for the fourth time since mid-October. Dr Fan, who is also a house (unregistered) church leader, was forcibly removed from his home late in the evening on 24 November. He was detained and interrogated for several hours by police about allegations of illegally “engaging in activities under the guise of a social organisation”. Following his arrest, the authorities returned to the home and brought Dr Fan’s wife and three-year-old son to the police station for questioning. According to ChinaAid, the officers who carried out the interrogation ignored the obvious distress of the young child, who “lay on the ground, rolling around in agitation and crying loudly”.
LAOS – CHRISTIANS THREATENED BY FORMER NEIGHBOURS
Christians have been threatened with death if they move back to their homes in Katin village, Saravan Province, Laos – even if they are moved back by the authorities. Eleven Christian families endured months of harassment, threats, confiscation of livestock and property, and detention before being expelled from their village in January. Following their expulsion they lacked adequate shelter, food or water. The families were told they would be allowed to return only if they abandoned their Christian beliefs.
This of course is just the tip of the iceberg, and is just the latest in ongoing persecution of Christians worldwide. And add to this the relentless war against Christianity in the West, as the forces of secularism, Political Correctness, and various activist lobby groups seek to silence the churches, and you have a pretty bleak picture.
But Jesus promised that the gates of hell would not prevail against his church. We need to stand firm here in the West, and we need to pray for our persecuted brethren worldwide. There are plenty of organisations dedicated to helping these suffering believers, so why not join some of them?