Soho

Lord Nelson Hadley always prided himself in being a man in control of his faculties. He was more analytical than emotional when it came to the affairs of the heart.  And being ultra conservative, he was staunch in his stance against abortion, premarital sex, same sex marriage, drug use and other practices that were contrary to his religious and moral beliefs.  He was never married.  Marriage was something which he held in very high regard and he wanted to get it right because he didn’t want to end up divorced like some of his friends.  He wanted to take his time and make sure that he married the right woman.

Over the years, he dated several high society women. Currently, he was dating Agatha Sullivan, the youngest daughter of Ted Sullivan, retired Supreme Court Judge.  Agatha was a beautiful, accomplished woman and a philanthropist.  They met at a charity ball two years ago.  She shared his faith and his political views.  He enjoyed her company and cared deeply for her.  His family and close friends highly regarded her and thought she would make him a very suitable wife.  He began to seriously and prayerfully consider marrying her.  And then, he met Regina Davis…

Their meeting reminded him of David’s and Bathsheba.  Like David, he was where he shouldn’t have been.  It was around noon and he was hungry.  He was in the mood for spicy food so he decided that he would go to a familiar Caribbean restaurant in Soho.  Besides, it was a nice change from the upscale establishments he frequently went to where the food was sometimes bland.

He didn’t notice her until after he had given his order to the waitress.  After closing the menu, he glanced up and his gaze fell on her.  She was sitting two tables away, alone and she looking at him.  She wasn’t the sort of woman he would be attracted to although, she was attractive.  Perhaps it was the excess makeup or the fact that she was wearing too much jewelry.  Yet, he couldn’t tear his eyes away.  He was like a moth drawn to a flame.

They stared at each other for a long time and when the waitress came and placed the plate in front of him, he barely glanced up at her.  He didn’t touch his food right away.  He found himself wondering who the woman at the table was and for a maddening moment was tempted to invite her to join him.  Then, she smiled at him and his heart skipped a beat.  Without thinking, he smiled back.

His response seemed to be all the encouragement she needed and his heart began to pound when he saw her get up from her table and walk over to him.  She was wearing a blue long sleeved sweater which hugged her and a pair of faded jeans which fitted her snugly.  She was medium height and looked to be in her late thirties.  She stood behind the chair opposite him, her manicured hands resting on the back.  She seemed a bit nervous and cleared her throat.

“Lord Hadley, I’m sorry that I was staring at you,” she said.  “It’s just that I went to a fundraising event last week with a friend and saw you there with Agatha Sullivan.  I wanted to come over and thank you both for your generous donations to the Olive Davis Community Center but something came up and I had to leave.”

This close, she was even more arresting and he found it hard to stop staring.  “Do you work at the Olive Davis Community Center?”

She nodded.  “Yes, I’m the Director.  The center was founded by my grandmother Olive Davis who wanted to help the youth to stay off the streets.”

“What’s your name?”

“Regina Davis.”

He saw that she wasn’t married.  “It’s nice to meet you, Regina,” he said, holding out his hand.  She moved around the chair and closer to him so that she could shake his hand.  Her hand felt so soft and very small in his.  “The Olive Davis Community Center is doing excellent work in the community and we wanted to show our support.”  Am I sounding like a politician?

“Please thank Miss Sullivan for me.”

“I will,” he promised.

She hesitated and then said, “Well, let me not take up any more of your time.”

“I would like to stop by your center some time,” he heard himself say and he knew that the reason for deciding to drop by had nothing to do with the center itself.  He was just using it as an excuse to see her again.

She smiled.  “That would be great,” she said and reaching into her handbag, she took out a business card which she handed to him.   “Here’s my card.  Call me when you plan to stop by.”

He took it and put it in the breast pocket of his jacket.  “Thank you,” he said, his eyes meeting hers.  He wanted to ask her to stay but decided that it would be unwise to do so.

“Goodbye, Lord Hadley,” she said.  After a lingering glance, she turned and walked out of the restaurant.

He sat there for a long time, watching the door through which she had left and feeling like a heel because all he could think about was how badly he wanted to see her again.  By the time he left the restaurant he had made up his mind that he would stop by the community center the following week.

On Monday morning, when he called her to let her know that he was going to stop by on Wednesday afternoon, she sounded very pleased to hear from him.  The sound of her voice did things to him and he wondered if he sounded as breathless as he felt.  His heart was racing and his hand gripped the phone tightly to stop it from trembling.  What on earth is the matter with me? he asked himself after he hung up.  He was acting like this over a woman he met just last week when he was contemplating marrying another.  Perhaps, he should call her back and tell her that he couldn’t go but the desire to see her again was too strong.

Wednesday came and he was both nervous and excited.  He keep looking at his watch.  When it was time to leave, he quickly shut down his laptop, got up, pulled on his jacket and left the office.  On the drive over, he kept asking himself why he hadn’t mentioned to Agatha that he was going there today.  He had conveyed Regina’s message to her but left out the part about stopping by the center.

Regina was waiting in the reception area when he got there and a bright smile came over her face as she quickly closed the distance between them to greet and shake his hand.  She looked lovely in a cream pantsuit which flattered her figure and he noticed that she wasn’t wearing that much makeup or jewelry.  “It’s so good of you to come,” she said, after introducing him to Jasmine, the receptionist and they were walking down the hallway to begin the tour which she had promised him over the phone.

“I’m sorry that I didn’t think of it before.”  That was true.  He remembered how Agatha had mentioned visiting the center to get a better perspective of how it was operated and to meet the staff and maybe some of the youth whom they were helping but they never got around to it due to conflicting schedules.  Again, he felt guilty about not arranging for a convenient day and time for them to come together.  Pushing these feelings aside, he concentrated on what Regina was telling him about the center and the different programs.

“We offer services to women, children, youth, immigrants and the homeless.  We have programs for teenage mothers, at risk youth, parenting workshops, health and cooking programs.  Last year we launched a food bank which helps people from all ethnic and educational backgrounds and low in-come families.  My grandmother, Olive, believed strongly in helping people from all walks of life, especially the vulnerable, needy and faceless in our communities.  She was a God-fearing woman who was determined to show God’s love to everyone, no matter who they were.  She always said, ‘Love is not about feeling, it is about doing.  Jesus was always doing’.  I thought that was a great saying to put as part of our mission statement.”

“I think your grandmother would be proud of the work you are doing,” he said, genuinely impressed by what he saw and it made him want to do more.

She smiled.  “Thank you.  This center means a great deal to me because not only is it here to help many people and to make a difference in their lives but it keeps my grandmother’s dream alive.”

When the tour was over, they went to her office where they spent a little while longer talking about the center.  “I was wondering if you would be willing to come and make a presentation to my church one Saturday.  It may encourage members to get involved.”

“I’d love to,” she said.  “Just let me know when.”

“Thank you.”  He stood up.  “I must be going.”

She followed him to the entrance.  “Thank you again for coming, Lord Hadley.”

They were alone.  The receptionist had left for the day.  “Please call me Nelson,” he said quietly.  Heart thudding, he asked, “Will you have dinner with me tomorrow evening at that restaurant where we met?”

She nodded.  “Yes.  I could meet you there, if you like, because I live about ten minutes away.”

“All right,” he agreed.  “I will be there for seven.  Goodnight.”

“Goodnight.”

The next evening when she got there five minutes before seven, he was there sitting at the same table as the last time.  He rose to his feet and held out the chair for her to sit.  His eyes traveled over her, admiration shimmering in their depths.  She was wearing a red long sleeved dress and heavy makeup.  Big, gold earrings dangled from her ears and this time, her nails were painted bright red.  He was wearing a charcoal grey suit, matching tie and black shirt.  After they ordered dinner, she asked, “Are you a Seventh-day Adventist?”

“Yes.”

“I asked because you mentioned that your church service was on a Saturday.  My grandmother, Olive was a Seventh-day Adventist.  As you can tell, I’m not one.”

“You are referring to the makeup and the jewelry.”

“Yes.  If I were to show up at your church like this, they would probably run me out.  With the exception of my grandmother, I always thought that Adventists were intolerant and judgmental.”

“Most of us may come across that way because we are passionate about the Bible and its application in our lives.” Right now if one of the members were to see me with you they would have a conniption.  Agatha had gone to church with him on a couple of occasions and they welcomed her but he suspected that it was because of her Adventist background.

“When I come to your church I will be makeup and jewelry free, I promise.”

“Thank you.” He turned the topic on to other things.  Dinner turned out to be a very pleasant experience and he was sorry when it was over.  He took her home and walked her to her door.  Outside, they faced each other.  His heart was pounding wildly against his ribs.

“Wouldn’t you like to come in?” she asked.

“I shouldn’t,” he said weakly.  His mind yelled, Run but his body was screaming, Stay.

She turned and unlocked the door and pushed it open.  “Just for a nightcap,” she said.

Temptation cast itself like a net over him and drew him into the flat.  When the door closed, he knew he was in deep trouble.  Desire seized him in an iron grip and blindly, he reached for her and pulled her roughly against him.  His mouth found hers and devoured it like a ravenous lion, pressing her up against the door, groaning when he felt her eager response.  Hands tugged at clothes until they were discarded on the ground by their feet, nails clawed at bare skin as they moved like two drunken people toward the hearth where a cream shaggy rug was spread.  There, in front of the electric fireplace, they made wild and passionate love, beginning what was to be a torrid love affair.

They saw each other as often as it was possible and spent most of their time at Regina’s flat.  They went out occasionally and were careful to avoid the places where they might run into familiar faces.  The only place they frequented was the Caribbean restaurant in Soho.  It became their favorite haunt because it was where they met.

On the Saturday when she was invited to speak at his church, they were careful not to give themselves away, always acting circumspect around each other, especially since Agatha was there.  After the service, as Nelson watched the two women chatting over potluck in the church basement, he couldn’t help comparing them.  As usual, Agatha looked regal in her lime green suit with matching hat, shoes and purse.  She was a very beautiful woman with thick chestnut hair and bright blue eyes yet it wasn’t she who make his heart skip a beat whenever he was around her.  His gaze shifted to Regina.

She was wearing a below the knee black and white dress with long sleeves.  Her face was devoid of any makeup and she was not wearing any jewelry.  She had kept her promise.  She looked incredible.  He had to be careful not to be caught staring at her.  After the afternoon program, she left.  That evening, he went to her flat and didn’t go back home until the following afternoon.

It wasn’t long before his affair with Regina began to affect other areas in his life.  He found it difficult to concentrate on his work and when he was in sessions, he found himself thinking about her.  When he was with Agatha, he was distracted and when she inquired about it, he was evasive and said that he had a lot of things on his mind but assured her that it was nothing for her to be concerned about.  Whenever he read his Bible and came across passages talking about fornication, he was filled with conviction.

Finally, it was yesterday when he had resolved, I must end my relationship with Regina.  With a set expression on his face, he had closed the Bible and gotten up from behind the desk in his study and left the room, determined to push all feelings aside and do what his faith and conscience dictated.

He had gone over to her flat, with every intention of ending their affair but when she opened the door, pulled him inside and pushed him up against the door, after slamming it shut, his resolve weakened.  He blushed now as he remembered how she had dragged off his jacket, tossed it on the floor before ripping open his expensive white shirt, sending the buttons flying.  His body reacted when he remembered how she had buried her face in his heaving chest even as her fingers loosened his belt.

They had ended up making passionate love right there on the rug in front of the door. All the reasons he had come up with for ending things between them went straight out of the window.  His mind and senses were dulled by the desires which consumed him. The guilt of his hypocrisy and his duplicity which had plagued him all the way to Regina’s flat that evening had taken flight in the face of his insatiable hunger for her.  He spent the night with her.

He came home a couple of hours ago after another one of their explosive trysts.  Now that he was alone, all the guilt and self-recrimination came flooding back and he sank down on the bed, burying his face in his hands.  And to make matters worse, he didn’t even remember that Agatha and he were supposed to attend the opera that evening.  If she hadn’t called an hour ago, he would have stood her up.  He spent all day, trying to figure out what to do.  Regina was like a drug that he was addicted to.  He wanted more and more of her.  The carnal feelings she aroused in him were terrifying and foreign to him.  In all of his forty-two years, he had never felt like this about any woman.

That evening as he got dressed, he couldn’t stop thinking about Regina and as he buttoned his shirt, he thought of the shirt he had to discard because she had ripped off the buttons.  He closed his eyes briefly as an intense longing filled him, making him whisper her name as he remembered the rapt expression on her face as he made love to her that morning.  Frustrated, his eyes flew open.  Get a hold of yourself, Nelson, he chided himself.  Dragging on his jacket, he left the bedroom.  He had no idea how he was going to get through the night being in the company of one woman while thinking of the other.

Regina sat on the sofa, an opened book on her lap but she wasn’t reading it.  She couldn’t concentrate.  All she could think about was Nelson.  They were worlds apart and moved within different circles.  He was a Lord and in a relationship with a cultured woman.  There was no question that one of these days they were probably going to get married.

Regina closed her eyes at the thought and painful jealousy filled her.  She had no doubt that Nelson wanted her.  It was evident whenever they were together but she wished that he felt more than desire for her.  I wish he were in love with me like I’m in love with him.

She opened her eyes and tossed the book aside, rising to her feet.  She had to face facts.  There was no future for her with Nelson.  The only option was end their affair.  She couldn’t continue sharing him with Agatha, dreading the day when he would announce their engagement.  Still, the thought of never seeing him again was just too unbearable for her.

Tears sprang to her eyes.  She felt helpless–trapped.  Why did I have to be in the restaurant that day when he came in?  Why did I have to fall in love with him?  Why? Why? Why?  A sob escaped her lips and the tears fell.  Dear God, please help me, she begged silently.  Just then, the phone rang.  Brushing the tears away, she hurried to answer it.  “Hello?”

It was Andrew, her nephew.  He was in the area and wondered if she would like to go to the movies and then grab a bite afterwards.  She readily accepted his invitation.  It would take her mind off her problems and it would be nice to catch up since it had been a while since they saw each other.  After she hung up, she showered, got dressed and left to meet him in the lobby.

It was while they were sitting at a traffic stop when Nelson spotted Regina coming out of the cinema with a tall, athletic young man.  He watched as she looked up at him and laughed when he said something before she slipped her arm through his as they started down the sidewalk.  Nelson’s face suffused with color.  Red, hot jealousy surged through him and he knew that if Agatha weren’t in the car with him, he would have jumped out and gone after them.  He wouldn’t have cared who saw him.  He sank back against the seat, his head spinning.

“What’s the matter?” Agatha asked, touching his arm, making him start.  When he turned to look at her, there was concerned expression on her face.  “All you all right?”

He stared at her for a long moment, trying to figure out what to do.  Should he be honest with her and tell her that he was upset because he had just seen Regina with someone else?  And what would he say if she asked him why seeing the Director of Olive Community Center with another man should matter to him?  Or should he just tell her that he wasn’t feeling well?  How could he do that when he knew that for weeks she had been looking forward to seeing Verdi’s opera, Un Ballo in Maschera?  He didn’t want to ruin her plans.  “I’ll be okay,” he finally said, with a forced smile before he turned away to stare out of the window.

It was after eight by the time Regina let herself into the flat.  She put her keys on the table in the foyer before heading straight for the sofa where she plopped herself down.  She reached for the remote and switched on the television.  It was nice going to the movies with Andrew, grabbing pizza afterwards but she couldn’t stop thinking about Nelson.  I wonder what he’s doing right now.  The flat seemed lonely without him.  She hugged the cushion tightly, wishing he were there with her.

Finally, the opera was over and it was time to leave.  He had no idea how he sat through it when all he wanted to do was leave and head over to Regina’s flat.  During intermission, he had excused himself and gone toward the bathroom but instead of going inside, he went somewhere quiet to call her.  There was no answer and when he tried her cell, it was turned off.  Frustrated, he dragged his fingers through his hair, wondering where she was.  He returned to the balcony and sat down just as the lights dimmed.

Now as he sat in the car as it merged into traffic, heading to the Sullivan estate, he thought, she should be home by now.  Is she alone or is he there with her?  Unable to stand it any longer, he turned to Agatha, “Agatha, I have a confession to make…”

Regina woke up with a start.  Somehow, she must have dozed off.  Sitting up, she was about to turn off the television when she heard the doorbell.  Scrambling off the sofa, she rushed to answer it.  It was after ten.  Peering through the keyhole, her heart skipped a beat when she saw who it was.  Eagerly, she unlocked the door and flung it open.  The smile that lit up her face faded when she saw the expression on his.

Stepping aside, she let him go in before locking the door and turning to face him.  “Don’t I get a hug or a kiss?” she asked, longing to put her arms around him and kiss him.  He looked very handsome in the black silk suit, matching tie and white shirt.

“I called you earlier but there wasn’t any answer.  I tried your cell phone but it was turned off.”

She frowned.  “What time did you call?”

“I called during the intermission which was around five minutes past seven.”

“Intermission?” she inquired.

“Yes, I was at the opera.”  He was a walking contradiction of emotions.  Jealousy, anger and desire churned inside him.

She pursed her lips.  So that was where he was tonight and it explained why he was all dressed up.  “You went to the opera with Agatha.”

“Yes.  Regina–”

“Did she enjoy it?”

“I’m sure she did.”

“What about you?”

He almost lost it.  “No, I didn’t enjoy it,” he muttered tightly, his eyes dark and stormy.  “And do you want to know why I didn’t enjoy it?”

She looked wary now.  “Why?” she asked in a small voice.

“Because of you.  Are you seeing someone else?” he demanded thickly, almost beside himself with jealousy.

She stared at him, her eyes wide.  “Of course not,” she said, shaking her head.

“Then who was the young man I saw you leaving the cinema with this afternoon?  I saw the two of you when Agatha and I were on our way to the opera.”

“That was Andrew.  He’s my nephew.”

“Your nephew?” he repeated.  “That young man I saw you walking down the sidewalk arm in arm was your nephew?”

“Yes!”  She turned and abruptly walked away, returning a few minutes later with a framed photograph.  She showed it to him.  It was of her, another woman and the young man.  “That’s his mother, Beryl, my older sister when we were at our parents’ home in Florida last year Christmas.”

He closed his eyes, slumping against the door as relief washed over him.  “I was out of my mind with jealousy when I saw you with him,” he told her.  “If Agatha weren’t with me, I would have jumped out of the car and come after you.”

Regina put the photo on the table besides her keys and then she reached up and slowly unbuttoned his jacket.  “It seems like we both had a miserable night,” she said quietly.   “I was over there on the sofa wondering what you were doing and missing you like crazy and you were at the opera with Agatha thinking that I was cheating on you.”  His jacket was off and on the floor.  Next, she started on the buttons on his shirt.  He opened his eyes then and what was in them matched what she was feeling.

“I told Agatha about us,” he admitted, staring at her bent head.  “I couldn’t continue lying to her and to myself.  I ended our relationship tonight and then I came straight here.  I love you, Regina.  Seeing you with Andrew today only made me realize that I can’t be with anyone else.”

Her hands paused as she raised her eyes to his face.  “I love you too but what about your family and friends and your church?  What will they think about you being in love with a sinner?”

“We’re all sinners, Regina but the good news is that we have a Savior who loves us.”

“You know, when I was at your church, the members made me feel very welcome.  Do you think they would mind if I started going regularly?”

He shook his head.  “No, they wouldn’t mind at all.”

“Good.” She bent her head and resumed unfastening the buttons.  The shirt soon joined the jacket on the floor.  When he was standing half-naked before her, she reached up and pulled his head down to hers.  His arms went about her waist, holding her tightly against him as he kissed her back.

A year and a half later after she was baptized and became a member of his church,  they got married.  The service was held there and the reception at the Park Plaza County Hall and among the guests was the staff from the Caribbean restaurant where this all began.

“[Soho] is all things to all men, catering comprehensively for those needs which money can buy. You see it as you wish. An agreeable place to dine; a cosmopolitan village tucked away behind Piccadilly with its own mysterious village life, one of the best shopping centres for food in London, the nastiest and most sordid nursery of crime in Europe. Even the travel journalists, obsessed by its ambiguities, can’t make up their minds.” ― P.D. James, Unnatural Causes

For Nelson and Regina, Soho was everything to them because it was the place where they met and fell in love.

 

Sources:  Agincourt Community Services Association

Advertisements

Mr. Thornber

“Mr. Thornber,” his name spilled involuntarily from her lips.

“What the blazes are you doing in here, Miss Roth?” demanded the gentleman.  “You should be outside taking  a turn in the garden.  It is a very pleasant afternoon.”  In a few strides he closed the distance between them.  He stopped abruptly beside her, facing the fire, removing his gloves and warming his enormous hands which seemed to fascinate her at the moment as she replied to his inquiry.

“I was out in the garden earlier , Sir.  And yes, it is a very pleasant afternoon.  I was rather reluctant to come back inside but my duties to my pupil demanded that I do so.”

He turned to look at her and she met his stare, wondering if he had any idea of how delighted she was to see him.  The days he had been away had dragged.  The house seemed so empty and boring without his presence.   She had no idea that he would return today.  She hadn’t heard a carriage arrive and perceived that he had probably come by way of his horse.  She had seen him once on the black steed and thought what a fine figure he made…

“What have you been up to while I was away?” his inquiry jolted her back to the present moment.  She could feel her face grow red and hoped that he would attribute it to the fire.  She moved away from the fireplace and went back to the chair she had vacated before he came in.  She sank thankfully down into the soft cushions.  She hoped he did not think her rude from walking away like that.  As he crossed the room to where she was, she saw nothing in his countenance to indicate that he did.

He promptly took a seat in the chair nearby, his arm resting casually on the book on the table beside him, his head turned slightly to the right so he could look at her.

With her hands clasped in her lap as she returned his gaze, she replied, “Nothing outside of the ordinary.  When I am not teaching, or outdoors, I spend most of my time here reading.”

“What sort of books do you like to read?”

“Fiction, mostly but I like History and Philosophy__”

“Philosophy?” He looked surprised.  “Why should you like Philosophy?”

“Sir, do you wonder that I should like Philosophy because of my gender?”

“My surprise in your choice of discipline has nothing to do with your gender, Miss Roth.  You just don’t seem like the philosophical type.”

“I beg to differ, Sir.  Philosophy is an activity that I like to engage in.  I like to question assumptions, beliefs and current presuppositions.”

He looked intrigued.  “I suppose you are familiar with Plato, then?”

“Yes, Sir.”

“Tell me, Miss Roth, do you agree with his claim that ‘until philosophers are kings, or kings have the spirit of philosophy, cities will never have rest from their troubles’?

Before she could answer, he got up from his seat.  “I should be very interested in hearing your answer.  After you have had your dinner this evening, I should like for you to join me in here.”

Did she detect a tender expression on his face?  Before she could be certain, he was gone as quickly and suddenly as he had arrived.

Sighing, she reached for her book but didn’t open it for several minutes.  Her mind preoccupied with their conversation and his question about Plato.  She would have to think about it.  She looked at the clock.  Three hours before dinner.  She longed for the time to advance quickly so that she could enjoy his company once again.

 

Photo:  British (English) School; Portrait of a Gentleman; Royal Albert Memorial Museum; Sources:  Art UK ; CUNY Education; American Art

Persecuted for Their Faith

Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, For theirs is the kingdom of heaven – Matthew 5:10

I have been aware of how much the church has been persecuted in different parts of the world through emails from Voice of the Martyrs Canada.  I have read many heartbreaking stories but I will share two of them.  A Christian woman named Mariam was expelled from her home by her husband who had militant Muslim views because she refused to renounce her faith.  At the time Mariam was pregnant and due to give birth soon.  She had to be cared for by church members.  In 2012 when she became a Christian, her Muslim family provoked an attack, forcing her to live on the streets.  Mariam is from the Ivory Coast which has seen an increase in violence since November 2010.

In Pakistan a teen died after being set on fire.  He was approached by two men who asked him about his religion.  After Nauman told them that he was a Christian, they proceeded to beat him.  He tried to run away but they followed him and doused him with kerosene and set him on fire.  Unfortunately, his attackers wore masks so there is little hope that they will be caught.  And it doesn’t help that the authorities show little interest in further investigation.

I thought that what these people experienced in their countries was bad but Ivory Coast and Pakistan are not even part of Gospel for Asia’s list of the top 10 countries where Christians are persecuted.  Life for Christians in these countries is simply horrendous.  First up is North Korea.

North Korea is the worst persecutor of Christians in the world. Christians are tortured, imprisoned and murdered. Private, non-state-sanctioned religious activity is prohibited. Anyone discovered engaging in clandestine religious activity is subject to arrest, torture or even public execution – Voice of the Martyrs – North Korea.

Yang was a Christian woman who became a follower of Jesus while she was still living in North Korea. Watch her incredible story of pain and hope.

“These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world” – John 16:33

Saudi Arabia, the birthplace of Islam is known for being one of the worst places when it comes to women’s rights and religious freedom.  According to VOM Canada, it is one of the most oppressive nations in the world for Christians.

Religious freedom is nonexistent, and leaving Islam is punishable by death. Non-Muslims are not permitted to become citizens of Saudi Arabia, and no places of worship other than mosques are permitted in the country. All non-Muslim religious rituals and materials are banned. Converts from Islam to Christianity are rare, and converts have been executed for the offense. Anyone who performs mission work or converts a Muslim faces jail, expulsion, lashing, torture or execution. Non-Muslim worship, even private worship for foreign Christians, is prohibited, and Saudi religious police have been known to raid homes where expatriate workers were worshiping – Voice of the Martyrs – Saudi Arabia.

In September 2014, a house church in the city of Khafji was raided and 28 people were arrested, including children. Bibles and musical instruments were also seized. The worshippers, mostly expatriate workers from South Asia, were held overnight and released the following day, apart from a leader of the group who was held for another night – Church in Chains.

Can you imagine receiving 200 lashes and two years in prison if you are from Saudi Arabia and 300 lashes and six years in prison if you are from another country?  In 2012, two men, one Lebanese and the other Saudi Arabian were charged with brainwashing a Saudi woman into becoming a Christian.  These charges were levelled against them by the woman’s family.  The woman, known as the “girl of Khobar” is living in Sweden where she has been granted asylum.  She wasn’t brainwashed, she chose to become a Christian (Church in Chains).  Watch as she and another Saudi share their testimonies.

“Therefore if the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed” – John 8:36

The Islamic Republic of Afghanistan does not recognize any Afghan citizens as being Christians, nor are Afghan citizens legally permitted to convert to Christianity. Although there are no explicit laws that forbid proselytizing, many authorities and most of society view the practice as contrary to the beliefs of Islam. There is only one legally recognized church in Afghanistan and it is located within the diplomatic enclave, and not open to local nationals.  Muslims who change their faith to Christianity, are subject to societal and official pressure, which may lead to death penalty. However, there are cases in which a Muslim will adopt the Christian faith, secretly declaring his/her apostasy. In effect, they are practising Christians, but legally Muslims; thus, the statistics of Afghan Christians does not include Muslim apostates to Christianity – Wikipedia

I read that the growing number of Christians in Afghanistan is causing great concern among the Muslim leaders and they are calling on President Hamid Karzai to “limit the number of aid workers and Christian missionaries coming to Afghanistan” to keep Afghanis from converting to Christianity.”  Apparently this all started when a TV station in Kabul reported the conversion of several Afghans to Christianity and broadcasted photos of them praying and being baptized.  This sparked an outrage and a call to convict believers under the Sharia Law which decrees that anyone who leaves Islam and converts to another religion that person will be executed – Christian Headlines.  The Afghan Christians have no church building where they can go because the last one was destroyed two years ago.  They are completely underground now and are risking their lives to meet in homes.

This is my comfort in my affliction, For Your word has given me life – Psalm 119:50

The situation of religious freedom for Christians has seriously deteriorated under the influence of the establishment of the Islamic State in large parts of Iraq. In June 2014, a strict version of Islamic law was implemented in the area the militants of Islamic State hold. Christians were forced to convert, flee or pay a tax for religious minorities. As a result, many Christians fled. Moreover, the broader Iraqi society is turning more Islamic, with increased social control on women wearing a veil and observance of Ramadan. Christians most affected by persecution are converts from Islam. However, in areas held by radical Islamic groups all Christians are under great pressure – Open Doors USA

A family of four was forced to flee Iraq because of militants and a man for questioning the Quran.  Read their stories.

Fear not, for I am with you; Be not dismayed, for I am your God.  I will strengthen you, Yes, I will help you, I will uphold you with My righteous right hand’ – Isaiah 41:10

Last year a Somalian believer was dragged outside of her home and murdered by a group of armed men. Anyone who tried to rescue her was shot at.  Her parents witnessed this terrible tragedy.  If a Somali was discovered to be a follower of Jesus, that person was going to face certain death not only in Somalia but in neighbouring countries where they are forced to flee as refugees.  According to one VOM source, “In Somalia, they kill you if they just find a piece of literature” (VOM USA).  My thoughts are with this young woman’s family and I pray that they are leaning on Jesus and trusting Him to strengthen them each day.

And those who know Your name will put their trust in You; For You, LORD, have not forsaken those who seek You – Psalm 9:10

Maldives is one of the least evangelized countries in the world. The 0.2% figure for Christians refers to expatriate Christians. Citizens of the Maldives are automatically Muslim, and non-Muslims may not become citizens. The open practice of any religion other than Islam is forbidden. Maldivian believers are carefully watched. They suffer ostracism, mockery, incarceration and even torture. Christians cannot meet or read the Scriptures openly. Expatriate believers have been expelled, especially after sharing their faith – VOM Canada.

Citizens of the Maldives who convert to Christianity lose their citizenship and risk torture. Expulsions of Christians occurred several times in the last 10 years (Wikipedia).

In his presidential campaign the current President of Maldives, Abdulla Yameen promoted himself as a saviour of Islam. “Think for yourselves, do you want Islam in the Maldives or do you want to allow space for other religions in the Maldives,” he said in an election speech.  In his speech on Maldives Conversion to Islam Day, he told the citizens, “We should also be very vigilant of foreign influences attempting to weaken our religious faith” (The Diplomat).  Clearly, things for Christian believers in Maldives is not going to change any time soon.  Let’s lift them up in our prayers that they will remain strong and steadfast until the Lord returns.

But may the God of all grace, who called us to His eternal glory by Christ Jesus, after you have suffered a while, perfect, establish, strengthen, and settle you – 1 Peter 5:10

It has been said that Mali has always been a dangerous place for Christians.  Christians who have fled are afraid to return and those who return find their properties occupied by Muslims.  There is no normal church life for Malian Christians in the north and those living in the south feel threatened by the Islamic groups in the north (source:  Open Doors).  Read about a pastor who escaped a deadly plot in Mali.

For the eyes of the LORD are on the righteous, And His ears are open to their prayers; But the face of the LORD is against those who do evil” – 1 Peter 3:12

Imagine risking your life to tell others about Jesus in a country where religious freedom is on the decline. Watch this compelling video of a Iranian woman named Padina who was about to commit suicide but God intervened.

“I am the light of the world. He who follows Me shall not walk in darkness, but have the light of life” – John 8:12

Yemeni citizens are not allowed to convert to Christianity (or other religions). Converts from an Islamic background may face the death penalty if their new faith is discovered. Converts from Islam also encounter opposition from extremist groups, who threaten “apostates” with death if they do not revert to Islam. Proselytizing of Muslims is prohibited – VOM Canada

How frustrating it must be to have to hide your new faith or face possible death if it is discovered.  Please pray that your Yemeni brothers and sisters will be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus (2 Timothy 2:1).

Be of good courage, And He shall strengthen your heart, All you who hope in the LORD – Psalm 31:24

I received a prisoner update of an Eritrean man named Mussie Eyob who has been in prison since 2011. He was arrested because of his faith and his desire to share the Gospel with others.  Mussie became a Christian in 2008.  Three years later, while he was living in Saudi Arabia, he went to a mosque where he spoke about Christianity.  He was arrested on February 12, 2011.  It is a capital offence to proselyte in Saudi Arabia.  Praise God, He intervened through the appeals from various human rights groups and individuals.  Mussie was deported to Eritrea.  You can read his story here and see how you can reach out to him and his family.

It is ironic that as the people of Eritrea celebrated 24 years of independence in March 2015, religious freedom for Christians is still a concern.   According to the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), the greatest shortcomings in religious freedom are felt by minority groups such as evangelical Christians.  So once again, in 2015,  USCIRF holds to its position that Eritrea is to be designated as a “country of particular concern” under the International Religious Freedom Act.

In the wake of their independence, Eritrean Christians had to flee to Ethiopia to escape their hardships where they continue to boldly share their faith.  “They are actually seeing many from (various) religious backgrounds — Muslim and Orthodox — enter into a personal relationship with Jesus” says Greg Musselman, a spokesman for The Voice of the Martyrs Canada.

“Today, you’ve got anywhere between 3,000 to 4,000 Christians there who are imprisoned in shipping containers or military camps because of their faith.”  Can you imagine dealing with torture, acts of cruelty, random arrests and detention without charges? Musselman believes that these practices are as a result of the government’s belief that evangelical Christianity is “western” and is linked with the CIA (ERITREA: Refugees Boldly Testify of Christian Faith; Source: Mission Network News).

It is encouraging to know that despite the ban on their religious activities, the imprisonments and persecutions, the Eritrean Christians are holding on.  They have this assurance that they are not alone and that they are fighting the good fight which will carry them through these fiery trials.

“Do not fear any of those things which you are about to suffer. Indeed, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested, and you will have tribulation ten days. Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life – Revelation 2:10

If you are moved to pray for the Christians in these countries, find out how at this link.

“Remember those in prison as if you were their fellow prisoners, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering.” Hebrews 13:3

Sources:  Gospel for Asia; Voice of the Martyrs Canada; Open Doors; Church in Chains