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article imageOp-Ed: Remembering the persecuted on the International Day of Prayer

By Shawn Kay     Nov 11, 2012 in World
New York - Between 200 and 250 million Christians throughout the world live daily with the threat of religious persecution. The global Christian community seeks to raise awareness for the plight of persecuted Christians through the International Day of Prayer.
The day of November 11 is known to many Christians throughout the world as the International Day of Prayer.
Some 200 to 250 million Christians in over 60 nations globally live under the threat of religious persecution.
Persecuted Christians are followers of Christ who face varied and severe hardships, discrimination, imprisonment and even death. They suffer harassment, assault and kidnappings while others may be targeted for attack by terrorists simply because of their faith. Persecuted Christians come from every race, gender, age and denomination of Christianity.
When it comes to the actual persecutors themselves, the culprits include the usual suspects of tyrants, communist regimes, Muslim-governed nations, terrorists and the garden variety wild-eyed Islamic or Hindu extremist.
The Holy Bible itself has been deemed an illegal document by some nations who make no effort to hide their religious intolerance towards followers of Christ.
The Holy Bible.
The Holy Bible.
Screen Capture
In some nations it is illegal to simply be a Christian.
In countries where churches and the Christian faith have been outlawed, Christians hold secret worship services in what are known as house churches – an underground network of clandestine houses of worship.
House churches afford believers the opportunity of attending worship services and fellowship while also circumventing the anti-Christianity laws of an oppressive government.
Because many of the nations engaged in the persecution of believers consider Christianity to be a national security threat, those governments tend to view Christians as criminals on par with terrorists or spies engaged in sabotage and espionage.
Some of those offending nations include China, Sudan, Cuba, Egypt, Iran, Pakistan, Vietnam, and Eritrean among others.
The threat to Christians in many of these nations is extraordinary with many subjected to horrific violations of their human rights and dignity.
Christians living in Western nations, including the United States, are very fortunate in the sense that they are free and safe to openly worship without fear of discrimination, violence or arrest and imprisonment.
For most Christians living in the West, persecution is not a part of their daily lives.
However, for millions of Christians globally, persecution is a very real part of their lives.
Indeed, the world can be a very dangerous place if you are a Christian.
While every region of the world contains some form or varying degree of persecution ranging from public harassment and institutionalized governmental discrimination to outright violence, some areas of the world are particularly notable for the level of danger they pose to believers.
The Middle East currently remains the most dangerous region in the world to be a believer while many Christian advocacy groups consider North Korea to be the single most dangerous nation to be a follower of Jesus.
The ultimate purpose of the International Day of Prayer is to raise awareness on the issue of Christian persecution while also letting our brothers and sisters in Christ know that we have not forgotten them and that they are in our thoughts and prayers as we battle on their behalf to expose and defeat the injustices being perpetrated against them.
Below are some recent real-life cases of persecution in nations that are considered by many Christian advocacy groups to be amongst the most dangerous in the world to be a follower of the faith:
Nigeria: Christians in this country have been relentlessly targeted for violence by the Islamic-based terrorist group, Boko Haram.
This past summer, the terror outfit perpetrated several attacks against churches that left scores of parishioners dead.
On June 3, at least 15 people were killed when Boko Haram detonated a car bomb at a church in Nigeria’s Bauchi state.
The terror group struck again on July 17, when it successfully launched a series of car bombing attacks that simultaneously targeted three churches in Kaduna state. At least 50 people were killed in that attack.
In August, Boko Haram struck yet again when terrorists belonging to the group went on a shooting spree at a church in the northern state of Kogi. According to local officials the attack claimed 19 lives.
In one of its most devastating attacks on the Christian community, Boko Haram terrorists killed 40 people during a series of church bombings on Christmas day in 2011.
Boko Haram seeks to overthrow the current Nigerian government and establish an Islamic state governed by the strictest interpretation of Sharia (Islamic) law. The group also desires the forced conversion, expulsion or death of all Christians currently residing in the nation.
U.S. and European officials suspect that the terror group may have links to al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb, an offshoot of the main al-Qaida organization based in Afghanistan.
Somalia: Al-Shabaab, an Islamic-based terrorist-insurgent group, has as its primary and immediate goal to seize control of Somalia with an eventual long-term goal of turning the entire East Africa region into an Islamist state ruled under the strictest interpretation of Sharia Law. Al-Shabaab has long targeted Christians and has issued public statements in which it has repeatedly threatened to eradicate Christianity in the Somali state.
Somalia is 99% Muslim and one percent Christian. The hundreds of Somalis who comprise that one percent are “secret believers” that attend church services in house churches.
The year of 2012 saw al-Shabaab make the tactical decision to move beyond Somalia’s borders and target Christians on a regional level.
In a bid to terrorize Christians in neighboring nations, al-Shabaab has spent the past months launching waves of suicide bombing attacks against churches in Kenya while also targeting Ethiopia.
In a rather chilling and deeply perverted twist on the age-old jihadist tactic of suicide bombing, the terror group has been employing young men who are recent converts from Christianity to Islam to stage the deadly attacks on Kenya’s churches.
In a statement to BosNewsLife on this latest and dreadful phenomenon, Rev. Wellington Mutiso, head of the Evangelical Alliance in Kenya had this to say:
It is the recent converts who (are) being used to bomb churches. It is not members of the Somali, Boran, or Swahili communities, which have many Muslims, but the other tribes which have been known to follow Christianity …
Rev. David Gathanju, head of the Presbyterian Church of East Africa, was quoted as saying:
We are now meeting frequently to discuss ways of handling the trend.
He went on to say:
We feel those who are attacking us are ‘our own’ who have recently converted. That’s why it is difficult for the security to identify them.
The terror group is also suspected in an attack this past September on Kenya’s Polycarp Church. In that attack, two masked men tossed a grenade into a church courtyard killing two children and seriously wounding two others.
Further compounding security concerns for Christians in Somalia and its neighboring nations is a communiqué released this past Thursday by al-Qaida leader Dr. Ayman al-Zawahiri to al-Shabaab.
Ayman al-Zawahiri  leader of al-Qaida  in a propaganda video produced by the terrorist organization.
Ayman al-Zawahiri, leader of al-Qaida, in a propaganda video produced by the terrorist organization.
Screen Capture
International Christian Concern has expressed worry over the message in which terror kingpin al-Zawahiri encourages al-Shabaab to increase the lethality of its attacks through the use of truck bombings against both military and civilian targets in Somalia and throughout the East Africa region.
Boko Haram has already used car and truck bombs to devastatingly lethal effects in its attacks on the Christian community in Nigeria.
Syria: the threat of persecution against Christians has loomed large amidst the backdrop of the ongoing civil war between the regime forces of president Bashar al-Assad and anti-government rebels.
The current conflict has left that nation’s Christian population trapped in the middle, on the run and paralyzed with fear.
The Christians of Syria have remained largely neutral in the conflict, refusing to support either the Assad regime or the rebels. Thousands of Christians have spent the past several months moving from city to city, seeking safe havens form the fighting.
However, their neutral stance in the conflict has not kept them from harm.
The rebels, whose leadership and ranks are largely comprised of Islamists, have occasionally set their sights on one of their long-time favorite targets - Christians.
Aidan Clay, the Middle East Regional Manager for International Christian Concern told World Net Daily,
“[Christians] vividly remember what happened in Homs earlier this year when most of the Christian community fled the city, often by force. A similar story is beginning to unfold in Aleppo where there have been several bombings in Christian-majority neighborhoods, a few Christian kidnappings and an Armenian church that was reportedly set on fire by rebels on Monday.”
Clay also states that fears of abuse and persecution by Islamists have led Christians to flee en masse from Aleppo and any other Syrian cities where rebels have successfully seized control from government forces.
The current Syrian civil war has its roots in the Arab Spring uprisings which has toppled otherwise secular dictatorships in several countries throughout the Middle East and replaced them with governments ruled by Islamists while also causing great upheaval and distress to millions of Christians throughout the region.
Syrian Christians deeply fear the outcome of a victory by the rebels which will likely involve the overthrow of the Assad regime and the possible rule of the nation by Islamists.
Iran: severe restrictions on religious freedoms have forced millions of Christians in this nation to live as “secret believers,” practicing their faith in underground house churches.
The Iranian regime, a nation which has Islam as its state religion, views the nation’s house church movement as a national security threat and has ordered officials to increase efforts to uncover and shutdown these clandestine houses of worship.
Christian converts from Islam face arrest upon discovery by authorities. They may be subjected to torture and lengthy prison sentences or even the death penalty if they do not denounce Christianity and reconvert to Islam.
Christians are sometimes released without having to denounce Christianity and reconvert to Islam but are kept under very close surveillance by authorities and may face discrimination in their daily lives with regard to employment opportunities, education, housing and government services.
Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani, a church leader in the Iranian town of Rasht, was arrested in autumn 2009 for operating a house church and sentenced to death on charges of apostasy. However, in an extraordinary turn of events pastor Nadarkhani was acquitted of the charges against him and released from prison this past September.
Tragically, in that same month Iranian officials arrested as many as 40 Christians in a series of raids in the city of Shiraz.
According to the Farsi Christian News Network (FCNN), the arrests were confirmed in the semiofficial media of Islamic Republic.
Saudi Arabia: one million Christians live in this nation though all are foreigners from Philippines, Britain, Europe, U.S. and other nations with temporary work permits granted by the Saudi government.
Christianity is outlawed here and something as simple as owning a Bible or a crucifix is an arrestable offense.
Not a single church exists in this nation.
Though foreigners cannot practice or display their faith openly, they are allowed to worship inside their homes.
Foreigners living in the Saudi state who defy the law and openly practice their Christian faith or evangelize to Muslims could be arrested and imprisoned or deported from the country and barred from ever returning.
According to the Saudi government there are officially no actual Saudi citizens who are Christians.
However, Christian advocacy groups have reported that not only are there Saudi Christian citizens living in the state, but that their numbers have increased steadily over the past decade.
There are currently an estimated 500,000 Saudi men and women who are secretly practicing the Christian faith.
However, unlike their Christian counterparts hailing from overseas with temporary work permits to live in this Islamic nation, the penalties for actual citizens of Saudi Arabia discovered to be Christians are far more severe.
Saudi citizens who have converted from Islam to the Christian faith typically face the death penalty (beheading by sword) on charges of apostasy if discovered by authorities.
Due to the fact that they face severe penalties, many Christian Saudi citizens are secret believers who gather to worship at house churches.
Christianity is viewed by the ruling royal family as a threat to national security.
The city of Mecca in Saudi Arabia
The city of Mecca in Saudi Arabia
Screen grab
Believers also face the looming threat of honor killings by members of their own families if discovered as a Christian.
Such was the case with Fatima Al-Mutairi, a 26 year-old Saudi citizen who was killed by her brother in August 2008 after she had converted to Christianity from Islam. Her brother and other family members became suspicious of her after statements she had made during a discussion with relatives on the subject of religion. .
Seeking to confirm suspicions that Fatima had turned away from Islam, her brother accessed her laptop without permission and discovered a Christian cross on her screen as well as a blog and several articles she had written on Christianity under the screen name of “Rania.”
When confronted with the material Fatima openly admitted to her family that she was indeed a believer. Hours later, her brother cut out her tongue and then burned her to death.
He was briefly detained and questioned by police for several hours before being released without any criminal charges against him.
The Christian Saudi community remembers Fatima as a martyr.
Pakistan: while Christians are allotted a notable degree of religious freedom, they face severe opposition from militant Islamic groups, including torture and death.
Christians also suffer institutionalized discrimination from the state itself.
They are deprived of employment and educational opportunities and often live in severe poverty.
The anti-blasphemy laws passed by the government in 2010 remain a problem for Christians.
The laws carry the death sentence for anyone who insults Islam and have been used to persecute Christians.
Several Christians have been falsely accused of blasphemy under the law and sentenced to death.
In March 2011, Shahbaz Bhatti, a Christian who served as Pakistan’s Religious Minorities Minister spoke out against the laws and was shot dead in Islamabad.
Pakistan is home to the world’s second largest population of Muslims. It’s state religion is Islam.
India: while this nation is a democracy that grants its citizens the right to religious freedom, Christians are frequently targeted by Hindu extremists.
These extremists have carried out a series of attacks on Christians that have ranged from threats, beatings, rapes and even murder. In other attacks they have burned down churches, businesses and the homes of Christians.
Extremists have not only stepped up violent activity against Christian citizens of India, but have also increasingly targeted foreigners in the nation conducting missionary work.
Persecution against Christians is at its most severe in India’s Orissa state.
Because of the looming threat of violence stemming from religious intolerance, large numbers of Christians in this nation are “secret believers” who practice their faith in house churches or underground churches.
The lead Hindu extremist groups responsible for targeting or inciting violence against Christians nationwide are: Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), the Vishwa Hindu Parishad and the Bajrang Dal. Most of India’s Hindu extremist groups are also legitimate political parties that have been elected to some prominent positions in government.
The BJP in particular is the most powerful and by far the most influential of all the Hindu extremist groups in India.
Government officials in India are currently mulling the passage of what is known as “anti-conversion laws.”
Hindu extremist political parties, whom also happen to be brainchild behind these laws, are slyly promoting this piece of legislation as an additional safeguard to the nation’s long standing right to religious freedom.
However, advocacy groups are not fooled and have expressed concern over the controversial set of laws.
As you may have guessed yourself from merely reading its name, the aptly-titled “anti-conversion laws” will make it exceedingly difficult and possibly even illegal for Hindus to convert to Christianity (as well as any other faith). Even more, Christians or persons from other religious faiths who evangelize to Hindus could face criminal penalties.
In a statement to the Christian Post (CP), Dr. Sajan K. George of the Global Council of Indian Christians (GCIC) said of the anti-conversion laws
“This is a clear example of tinkering with the rights guaranteed to the Christians. Anti-conversion laws do not stand the test of constitution of India, inconformity with the spirit of constitution. The law in question has direct bearing upon the main aspect of religious rights to preach, profess and practice Christianity,”
George also expressed concerns that the laws would have an adverse impact on Christians or for anyone wanting to follow the teachings of Christ as well as give extremists a basis to continue to discriminate and abuse converts who tend to be from the lower end of the socioeconomic ladder, commonly known as the caste system in India.
While India does not have a state religion, most of its citizens are adherents of Hinduism, thus this particular faith tends to feature prominently in the social and political affairs of this nation.
North Korea: Christian advocacy groups have long considered this nation to be the most oppressive in the world towards followers of the faith.
Open Doors, has ranked North Korea number one for ten straight years (including this year) as the world’s worst persecutor of Christians in its annual World Watch List.
Communist ideology combined with the megalomaniac leanings of a dictator, forms the foundation of North Korea’s government, which severely restricts the religious freedom of its citizens.
The government here only allows the worship of Kim Jong-un, the country’s head of state and his late father and grandfather Kim Jong Il and Kim Il Sung, respectively. Christianity (and other religions) is viewed as a threat to the stability of the state.
The homes of suspected Christians are frequently searched. If officials uncover a Bible or other material affirming Christian faith the entire family – children included - are sentenced to life imprisonment and hard labor at a prison camp. Tragically, many inmates at these prison facilities perish from extreme physical exhaustion brought on by forced hard labor. They are literally worked to death.
Countless thousands of other Christians have met equally tragic fates through starvation in prison or executions.
There are currently 400,000 Christians in North Korea. According to Open Doors as many as 25% of those believers are imprisoned in labor camps because of their faith.
Mexico: at least 90 members of a church youth group were robbed and assaulted by a band of heavily armed criminals this past July during a spiritual retreat at Colibri Park just outside of the city limits of Mexico City and the town of Ixtapulaca.
The bandits rounded up the campers and stole personal possessions from them as well as two vehicles. Several teenage girls were sexually assaulted during the hours-long incident while other campers were horribly beaten.
Within days, authorities arrested 17 persons – 15 men and two women – in relation to the horrid incident. Police told the media that victims were able to identify at least 11 of the arrested offenders and that almost all had stolen goods from the campers’ in their homes. Among the arrested were two police officers and a former military officer.
Authorities have vowed to seek life sentences for all of the arrested criminals.
Officials claim that the crime is not linked to organized crime, specifically the violent drug cartels whose drug war against the Mexican government and each other has claimed the lives of 50,000 in the past 15 years.
The corpse of a police chief after a successful assassination by drug cartel gunmen Mexico s Michoac...
The corpse of a police chief after a successful assassination by drug cartel gunmen Mexico's Michoacan state.
Reuters - Screen Grab
However, Voice of the Martyrs has documented past incidents were criminal gangs, including suspected drug cartels have directly targeted Christians, usually through ransom payments that are sought from churches in exchange for the safe release of pastors and other church officials they have abducted. Some of these kidnap victims were unfortunately executed when the church was unable to meet ransom demands of the captors.
International Christian Concern also notes, “Devoted Christians have often been singled out for attacks by violent groups in the country for a variety of reasons…”
Rehabilitation programs for drug addicts that are operated by churches are believed to be another possible reason why the drug cartels have targeted Christians.
Last Sunday I celebrated my one year anniversary as a Born Again Christian. My walk with Christ was not always easy but the challenges I had to face in my first year as a new believer certainly pale in comparison to the persecution my Christian brothers and sisters currently endure.
Those who know me personally are very well aware of my passion and the special place the persecuted church holds in my heart, especially the persecuted church in the Middle East.
It is important that we as Christians in the West do not forget our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ who suffer persecution just as Jesus did.
The Christians of the West must pray and pressure their respective governments for protection of persecuted Christians globally.
Even more, we must be prepared to act independently of our governments if they are unable to or simply unwilling to protect the universal human right of religious freedom that is granted to all of humanity under the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
We must be prepared to act by utilizing the full range of our God-given talents and resources as well as through our voices and our writing, making ourselves heard and the plight of the persecuted known to the media and the general public.
We must also support the continued work of charities and organizations that are in the trenches and specialize in assisting the persecuted church, including such advocacy groups as International Christian Concern, Voice of the Martyrs, Open Doors and similar entities.
And most important of all, we must continue to keep the persecuted church in our prayers.
The inability or unwillingness of our governments to act is absolutely no excuse for the Christian community of the West to remain complacent in the face of this ongoing crisis.
Lastly, let us not only pray for an end to the suffering and persecution of our brothers and sisters in Christ but also for those who perpetrate that persecution as well.
Let us pray that the Lord will do a work so great in their hearts that they will repent and seek forgiveness before finally coming to Christ themselves.
Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of Heaven. - Matthew 5:10 NIV
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of DigitalJournal.com
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