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