Lela Gilbert is Senior Fellow for International Religious Freedom at Family Research Council. This article appeared on National Religious Broadcasters on November 2,2021.
Today’s America is facing moral and political divisions that especially challenge our Christian communities. During these times of increasing uncertainty, we need to be aware of dangers that could affect our families and the future our faith.
However, a clear-eyed look beyond our American borders reveals another and even more urgent reality: internationally, Christians are facing immediate, dire, and dangerous circumstances.
“The Guardian,” a politically liberal British publication, published a worrisome statement in a January 2021 article:
“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.”
Of course, very few of those international Christians look like us, speak our language, or worship as we do. We may not immediately relate to them.
Meanwhile, hidden in numerous Muslim countries, are millions of new converts to Christianity from Islam. Sadly, according to radical Islamism, their conversion is grounds for execution.
Random dictatorships and abusive regimes mistreat Christians for reasons of insatiable power and control. But today, surging dangers to Christians are due primarily to two specific causes: radical Islam and communism.
For example, consider the country that is listed by Open Doors as the worst persecutor of Christians in the world: North Korea.
North Koreans are required to “worship” the Marxist-Maoist Kim family in a peculiar, quasi-religious system. North Korean Christians—estimated at some 400,000 people—face particularly horrendous persecution. Torture. Starvation. Rape. Slave Labor. Public Execution. All this for simply possessing a Bible or otherwise practicing Christianity.
China is another serious persecutor, and it cooperates with North Korea’s oppression by sending fleeing Christians back across the common border, likely to torture and death. No higher authority–God–is permitted in either country.
Under Xi Jinping, China is increasingly abusive to Christians. Meanwhile, we see what’s happening to China’s millions of Uighur Muslims—either kept or killed in brutal concentration camps or barely surviving incapacitating surveillance, including facial recognition software, DNA identification, phone tracking, and a social credit system. These technologies are also used to track, capture, and abuse Christians and other religious minorities.
And speaking of global menaces to religious minorities, Iran is another danger-zone.
Iranian Christians – particularly converts from Islam – are identified as enemies of Iran’s Shiite mullahcracy and as threats to national security. Arrests and behind-the-scenes violence against Christians are rampant.
Yet an underground movement comprised of converts from Islam is growing miraculously, even while severely repressed. These new Christians have zero rights, yet their courage is astonishing.
Mary Mohammadi is exemplary. A convert, imprisoned twice and badly abused, she insists on speaking boldly on social media about her strong faith and resulting disenfranchisement. She explains that she has chosen to take up her cross and follow Jesus. Please pray for her safety.
At the same time, as “The Guardian” reports, African believers are at high risk across that vast continent.
Nigeria seems to have declared war on its Christians. Voice of America reports that 50,000 believers have been murdered there since 2018. The two specific sources of abuse are Boko Haram (now aligned with ISWAP) and Fulani Jihadists. Along with massacres, kidnapping and rape have been added to the deadly brew.
In 2019, 14-year-old Leah Sharibu was kidnapped along with more than 100 female students. All the Muslim girls were released, but Leah refused to deny her Christian faith. She remains captive today and has reportedly given birth to two babies, fathered by her captors. She so needs our prayers.
Canon Hassan John serves with Anglican Archbishop Ben Kwashi of Jos, Nigeria—a hotspot in the violence. He wrote this week,
“The attacks here in Nigeria have persisted. Villages are attacked…at least seven in the last four weeks, and the refugees are over 30,000 from local reports. I believe that the government has lost control of the situation and is both compromised due to its radical Islamic posture, and lack of competence to stop the Fulani militias. The government still refuses to designate the militias as terrorist groups.”
Beyond Nigeria, ISIS and other Sunni terror groups are terrorizing millions more African Christians. One day last year in Mozambique, 50 innocents were beheaded on a soccer pitch. Today in Libya, 17 Coptic Christians are missing. In Uganda, Burkina Faso, Algeria and beyond the violence never stops.
And then there’s Afghanistan.
When Open Doors listed Afghanistan as the world’s second worst persecutor of Christians, it seemed farfetched. What Afghan Christians?
But we’ve recently learned that as many as 10,000-12,000 Afghan Christians have been worshipping within a very secretive underground church movement. Virtually all are converts from Islam.