We are told Christianity in the UK is under pressure. Surveys citing changing social attitudes and declining church attendance are often used to forecast Christianity’s expiry date. However, there’s a much bigger threat to Christianity than half empty churches.
I’d like to introduce you to a group of dynamic, resolute and devoted Christians who are really under threat. I’d like to introduce you to the persecuted church. These are the Christians who are standing at the cliff edge – and they need your help.
In the 1950s a Dutch Christian named Andrew made a visit to Poland to visit Christians living under Communism. The suppression of the church in that country led him to begin a ministry smuggling bibles into the Soviet Union to stand with his Christian brothers and sisters.
In 1982 his ministry, Open Doors, began a seven year prayer campaign for the Soviet Union. In 1989 the Berlin Wall fell, and slowly but surely the Church in Eastern Europe began to flourish again.
However, as quickly as the wall came down, persecution found a new home, and in the 1990s Open Doors began to support Christians in the Middle East and Asia.
The reality is that persecution is versatile. It changes its shape to suit its needs. Whether it’s in the form of a paranoid dictator in North Korea, a blasphemy law in Pakistan, a terrorist in Nigeria or a mob in India, it’s all-pervasive, it’s on the rise and it’s escalating fast.
Open Doors’ research team estimate that in the 50 countries on Open Doors’ World Watch List, where it’s most dangerous to live as a Christian, there are currently over 200 million brothers and sisters experiencing high levels of persecution. This means they are facing imprisonment, kidnapping, beatings and even murder. However, persecution is more than just physical violence. It’s also the harassment and discrimination that gets in the way of people living their lives.
The past eighteen months have produced two major trends which are fuelling this persecution. Firstly, persecution is both a major – and dangerously underestimated – factor in the global displacement crisis. Across the world, 53 per cent of refugees come from Somalia, Afghanistan and Syria – two, three and six on Open Doors’ 2017 World Watch List. Overall, 8 out of the top 10 refugee producing countries listed by the UNHCR feature in the World Watch List. In all of these countries, being a Christian heightens the pressure they are under from other, more obvious, drivers of displacement such as conflict and food shortages.
For instance, it is estimated that half of the Christian population are now refugees either inside or outside Syria’s borders. But there is hope in the midst of this chaos. Individuals such as Pastor Edward and his wife Rana are examples of this hope. Working in Damascus, they see it as their duty to remain in Syria in order to support those most in need. Through the support of Open Doors, they feed over 2,000 families, providing both spiritual and practical support to a suffering community. You can stand with them by signing and sharing the Hope for the Middle East petition, calling for equality, dignity and a role for Christians in a future Middle East.
The second major trend is found in Asia, where in recent years ethnic nationalism has reared its ugly head. There are now approximately 60 incidents of beatings, churches burnt, pastors imprisoned and converts harassed every month in India. This is the world’s largest democracy – and it’s progressively becoming a country that’s inhospitable for Christians. Around 39 million of India’s 64 million Christians are currently facing direct persecution.
But Christians in India are getting creative in the face of growing violence. Open Doors’ partners have organised a rapid response team of over 1,000 volunteers across India who can remove Christians from violent situations, or ensure a crime is properly recorded by the police. Please pray for this network who enter dangerous situations to support their brothers and sisters.
As this year rolls to an end, persecution shows no signs of slowing down in 2018. However, Christians are also strengthening their resolve to support their persecuted family.
Will you join them?
This post is part of our series encouraging us to stand alongside our persecuted brothers and sisters, curated by Open Doors UK.
* This article features an image of Brother Andrew, founder of Open Doors, in Poland in 1955 with his VW Beetle that he used to smuggle Bibles and other materials to Christians behind the Iron Curtain.