In the Gospel of John, Jesus proclaims to his followers and disciples that “If the world hates you, remember that it hated me first” (John 15:18, NLT). This statement is becoming more significant, especially in the Middle East and with the rise of Islam. Now, Christians living in African, Middle Eastern, and Asian nations are experiencing harsh persecution. With the recent rise of Islamic terrorist groups, about one in 10 Christians all over the world have experienced, or are experiencing increased persecution. The world has seen it range from isolation from friends, to genocide for their belief in Jesus the Christ.
A young woman by the name of Shafia, is a Christian living in Pakistan. When interviewed by Voice of the Martyrs, a group that is trying to expose the persecution of Christians all over the world and help those in need, she spoke about her life.
“Because I’m Christian, I face huge persecution. The Muslims kidnapped me, took me away, and locked me in a room. They raped me, they beat be also. They were forcing me to convert to Islam” (Shafia quoted by VOM).
Shafia’s brother was her pastor of her church in Pakistan. He was a leader in the Christian Community and protected his family and friends from the persecution by the Muslims daily. On Palm Sunday, many Muslims were telling him that he could not have a prayer service that day, but he stood his ground. Shafia reported him saying “I will give my life and we will make sure that there will be a Sunday service.” Later that day, some Muslims beat those that came to the service, took Shafia’s brother away, and later killed him. After his death, Shafia’s family experienced many more threats and harassment from neighboring Muslims. This is one of many stories all around the world about how Christians experience discrimination and persecution throughout their daily lives.
Early years, and Persecution, of the Christian Church
When Jesus walked this earth, He was a very controversial figure. He would make many statements that divided the Jews on who He was. Some thought He was the Christ and had come to Earth to save his people, while others believed He was a heretic who had come to destroy the Temple of God. Those who called Him a heretic went through great strides to rid themselves of Him. The Pharisees, the elders in the temple of the Jews, once planned to trap Him with a theological question by asking Him if the Jews should pay their taxes to the Romans. This was important because the Jews believed that paying the taxes was against God, but if Jesus agreed with this idea then the Romans would arrest Him. This was only one example of how the Pharisees tried to eliminate Jesus. Eventually, around 30-33 AD with the pressure from the Pharisees, Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor of Judea, ordered the execution of Jesus. He was to be executed by crucifixion, the most humiliating and painful death known at the time.
Just a year or two later, the followers of Jesus were proclaiming the news Jesus had brought to them, baptizing those who believed and telling them to spread the news as well. This not only angered the Pharisees and elders in the Jewish faith, but it also angered the Romans who lorded over the lands of Judea. Many Christians were thrown into the coliseums across the empire and fed to lions if they said Jesus was lord of all, not Caesar. The apostle Paul (known as Saul to the Jews) was hired to hunt down, imprison, and kill Christians in the lands of Judea after he called for the stoning of the disciple Steven, for preaching about Jesus. The name “Saul of Tarsus” was feared by Christians everywhere until Saul himself became a convert and believed in Jesus as the Christ and savior. After some time the Christians were able to forgive Paul and welcomed him as a brother, but this would not make all Romans and Jews fine with the Christians and their teachings.
All but one of the apostles died horrible and painful deaths for preaching about Jesus. The apostle Peter was imprisoned multiple times for preaching, and later was crucified upside down by the Romans. Andrew was tortured for two days before he died and Matthew was murdered by a swordsman sent from the King of Ethiopia. Even Paul was executed by the Roman Emperor, Nero. The only apostle that was not murdered for his faith was John, who was sent to an uninhabited island as punishment for his teachings.
Persecution of the Church Today
Although Christianity has become a major world religion today, there are still people being discriminated and harmed for their Christian faith, all around the world. As you read in the introduction, Shafia and her brother faced trouble from the community around them because of their belief in Jesus. Their story is not the only one of hardship and troubling times. The charity group known as Open Doors is working to expose the persecution that Christians face today. They have created a world map that shows the countries that have major persecution for Christians. Many of these countries vary in degree of persecution but all of them are areas where those with a faith in Jesus need help.
In Asia, is the country with the worst level of persecution for Christians, according to Open Doors. That country is North Korea with only 2% of the entire population being Christian. The North Korean Constitution guarantees freedom of religion, but never encourages this. A woman by the name of Kim Eun Jin shared her story about how it was, living in North Korea as Christian.
“Growing up, I was told by the authorities that there is no God in this world. We were ordered instead to worship… the leaders of the country. We met every Saturday morning. We met in the back room of our small apartment, we had to whisper and be very quiet. My parents often asked me to stay outside on Saturdays to make sure no one was coming while the family prayed inside.” (Kim Eun Jin)
Eventually the authorities discovered that her father was a secret Christian. His family believed that the government planted listening devices in his shop and in their home. In 1994 the North Korean government discovered that Kim Eun Jin’s father was organizing an underground Christian church. They arrestedher father and one of her uncles, the two of them likely were taken to one of the six labor camps in North Korea where they hold nearly 30,000 Christians.
“The day my father was arrested… I will never forget that day. Every morning at the breakfast table he would remind us that the government will come and arrest us for being Christians, he warned us the price we would someday pay for our faith.”
(Kim Eun Jin).
Kim and her family were able to escape that same day to the mountains. With help from a Chinese pastor, they were able to leave North Korea. She now lives in China with her husband and her daughter.
Although Asia houses the country with the most general persecution towards Christians, Africa’s Nigeria has the most murders of Christians according to Open Doors. In addition, Christianheadlines.com claims the amount of Christians killed in Nigeria by July 2016 already surpassed the amount killed in all of 2015. Many of these deaths are from the hand of the terrorist groups Boko Haram and Fulani herdsman.
“Whatever the federal government is doing, if any, is either too slow or insignificant compared with the reoccurrence of the killings; the federal government needs to step up and take bold actions to give members of the Christian community in the country a sense of security and belonging,” (Pastor Ade Oyesile, executive director of CANAN quoted by Veronica Neffinger for Christianheadlines,com)
Not only are Christians being killed for their beliefs, but over one million people have been forced to leave their homes in northern Nigeria. On October 15th, 2016, Fulani terrorists targeted a Christian village in Nigeria, burning homes, killing 48 people and injuring 326. This is not even the only instance of Christians being targeted in violent ways in just the past few years and Nigeria is not even the only African nation. On April 2nd, 2015, a Christian college in Kenya was attacked. The results included 148 people killed and 79 injured. Other attacks on Christians have been carried out in other nations in Africa including Egypt, Ethiopia, Libya, and Sudan.
Although these attacks are almost constant in Nigeria and other African nations, the most reported area of Christian persecution would have to be the Middle East. This region is home to many radical Islamic terrorist groups and is the location of many conflicts. The most well known would be in Syria where ISIS has a strong foothold and the waring conflict is causing the death of many people with a target of Christians and Jews. Al Qeada is also known for having a foothold in Afghanistan along with many other groups whose goal is to rid the world of Christianity.
But with the persecution of these groups being so prominent, it seems people forget what is happening on a day-to-day basis. As stated earlier, Shafia had been beaten and raped because of her faith in Jesus. She is not unique to this kind of treatment. On December 23rd, 2016, eight Christians were killed in Baghdad Iraq when a Muslim fundamentalist went on a shooting spree. In Syria on June 16, 2016, a suicide bomber killed three Christians and injured five more after detonating at a memorial for massacred Christians. On March fourth, 2016, in Aden Yemen, Muslim civilians stormed a Catholic retirement home, killing 16 people. The list of attacks seems to be endless and growing almost every day.
For is us to pretend that Christians are not persecuted is to be living a lie. There will not be any change unless people are aware this is happening and are willing to fight it. There is desparate need for prayer for the persecuted. But it is also very important that this information be put out to the masses. Then hopefully the people will hear, learn, and spread this horrifying truth, so that positive changes may be made.
Sherwood, Harriet. “Christians Flee Growing Persecution in Africa and Middle East.” The Guardian. Guardian News and Media, 12 Jan. 2016. Web. Dec.-Jan. 2017.
Sherwood, Harriet. “Dying for Christianity: Millions at Risk amid Rise in Persecution across the Globe.” The Guardian. Guardian News and Media, 27 July 2015. Web. 28 Nov. 2016.
“The First Country to Officially Defend Christians Persecuted by ISIS.” Gleanings | ChristianityToday.com. N.p., n.d. Web. 01 Dec. 2016.
“Islamic Terror on Christians.” Thereligionofpeace.com. N.p., n.d. Web. Dec.-Jan. 2016.
-All dates and attacks listed in paper
Neffinger, Veronica. “Nigeria: Number of Christians Killed in 2016 Already Equal to Number Killed in 2015.” ChristianHeadlines.com. Salem Web Network, 28 July 2016. Web. Dec.-Jan. 2017.
“World Watch List, Where Christian Persecution Is Worst.” Open Doors USA. N.p., n.d. Web. Dec-Jan. 2017.
“The Voice of the Martyrs.” The Voice of the Martyrs. N.p., n.d. Web. 01 Dec.-Jan. 2016.