One of many beloved Christmas songs filling the air these days is “Do You Hear What I Hear?” and it holds a promise, “The Child, the Child, sleeping in the night. He will bring us goodness and light...”
We American Christians are usually able to set aside our difficulties and challenges when Christmas comes around and fully celebrate “the Child”—the Son of God. We are so grateful that He lived among us not only to offer goodness and light, but also the opportunity to share in a lifetime of His love and grace.
Over the past year or two, our country has faced unusual challenges: continuing pandemic concerns, the worrisome shifting of political winds, and other trials such as floods, fires, and—most recently—horrifying tornados. Many fellow believers also struggle with financial worries and other concerns. Still, during this special season, our families and church congregations joyfully gather to sing hymns and carols, light candles, listen to children’s choirs, and worship the Christ Child who came and lived among us, and who continues to bless us with His presence.
Unfortunately, however, beyond our borders, the Christmas story is not so welcome as it is here. In much of the world, the gathering of Christians for any reason is often far from safe. A 2021 article in The Guardian reported:
Persecution of Christians around the world has increased during the Covid pandemic, with followers being refused aid in many countries, authoritarian governments stepping up surveillance, and Islamic militants exploiting the crisis, a report says.
More than 340 million Christians – one in eight – face high levels of persecution and discrimination because of their faith, according to the 2021 World Watch List compiled by the Christian advocacy group Open Doors.
It says there was a 60% increase over the previous year in the number of Christians killed for their faith. More than nine out of 10 of the global total of 4,761 deaths were in Africa.
At Family Research Council, we keep in contact with Christians in places where the decision to follow Jesus Christ is dangerous and—as The Guardian notes—even deadly. In fact, our concerns about international religious freedom have deepened dramatically in recent weeks and months. Just this week we asked friends in Nigeria, Iran, and a refugee from Afghanistan about how Christmas is celebrated in their countries.
Dr. Hassan John, Director of Communications Church of Nigeria, Anglican Communion writes:
For Christians in northern Nigeria, Christmas, especially this year, is full of anxiety and fear from the continuing attacks by Islamist Fulani militias and the Boko Haram terrorist Islamic sect. There is also anxiety for the new year for the fact that the Nigerian government has demonstrated a lack of will to stop the massacres and destruction of predominantly Christian villages by the Fulani Islamists. Many can’t reunite with loved ones because the roads are dangerously spotted with terrorists. Unfortunately, before the Christmas season is over some Christians will likely be killed or kidnapped for ransom their families cannot pay. The world will celebrate Christmas but in Nigeria, for many Christians, it may be yet another season of mourning.
Mary Mohammadi is an Iranian convert from Islam to Christianity who was jailed and physically abused for her faith. She explains:
In Iran, celebrating Christmas—like holding other Christian occasions and ceremonies such as Easter, baptism, etc.—is a crime. But we know this is a very important occasion, especially for Christians. So, despite widespread arrests and severe punishments, they secretly celebrate Christmas in their house churches every year. Yet, every year at Christmas, security forces raid house churches more than on any other days, arresting as many as 100 people in one house church.
Personally, I have not been ever able to celebrate Christmas in any year. In 2017, for the second Christmas after I believed in Jesus Christ, I was locked up in the Ministry of Intelligence security detention center, called 209. I had forgotten the date in the cell. I realized that it was Christmas Day only by seeing a Ministry of Intelligence newspaper.
The regime congratulates in the media on Christmas, but on the other hand, Christians must spend Christmas in detention, and those who have not been arrested are detained in house churches during the celebration! This represents the government’s lies and hypocrisy and propaganda.
And finally, here is testimony from a 24-year-old Afghan Christian refugee. She and her family, who were rescued from Afghanistan, must remain unnamed, and are living temporarily in refugee housing.
Up to now we never celebrated Christmas. Only between us we celebrated in my family. Here, also, no one celebrates Christmas. I hope one day I celebrate it and [can be] proud of my religion!
Thankfully, with wonderfully few exceptions, in our free country, we are free to celebrate together without fear or threat of danger. This is a great blessing—perhaps greater than we sometimes realize. Our problems are many, but the physical dangers for following our faith are few. As we hear the stories of others, let’s listen closely and remember them in our prayers.
As that familiar Christmas song “Do You Hear What I Hear?” says, “Pray for peace, people, everywhere...”