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The Rise of the New Persecuted Church

The numbers show Christian persecution is not a thing of the past. What can the Western Church do to help?

Last week, 33 individuals who were attempting to establish an underground church were sentenced to death. The missionary who was assisting them has been imprisoned for months, and his fate, like all of those he has come in contact with, is still perilously undetermined.

Officially, their crimes are related to “attempting to overthrow” the regime of dictator Kim Jong-un. But in North Korea, where the lines between state-allegiance and cult-like devotion to government leaders is so blurry that it may no longer exist, the crimes of being a Christian and opposing the regime are one and the same.

A growing martyrdom

If the government goes through with the executions, the 33 people will be joining a growing group of martyrs who have paid a price for their faith that’s almost completely unknown in most parts of the West. They represent a dramatic divide within the Church—in the very same Body of Christ, there are those who daily risk death for their faith and those whose biggest daily risk is taking it for granted.

In the very same Body of Christ, there are those who daily risk death for their faith and those whose biggest daily risk is taking it for granted.

In 2013, the number of Christian martyrs globally doubled over the previous year, with the organization Open Doors reporting the deaths of 2,123 Christians.

A representative of Open Doors told Reuters, however, the actual number could be much higher: “This is a very minimal count based on what has been reported in the media and we can confirm.” The news agency noted that some religious watchers say that their were as many as 8,000 Christians killed for their faith last year.

Victims of conflict

While American churches squabble over doctrinal debates and celebrity pastor faux pas, in many places in Africa and the Middle East, thousands of Christians have found themselves in the middle of conflicts where they are easy targets in attacks that aren’t merely idealogical—they are literally a matter of life or death.

Aside from Saudi Arabia, where practicing a religion other than Islam is outright banned, many of the countries highlighted in the Open Doors report are marred in conflict or government instability.

In Nigeria—where even attacks on school children receiving non-Islamic education are becoming common—1,403 Christians were killed for their faith from 2011 to 2013. In other developing countries such as the Central African Republic, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Somalia, where anti-Christian religious ideology can go unchecked by weak or complacent law enforcement, Christians have been frequently, and openly, targeted.

Perhaps the worst of the conflict areas last year was Syria, where a civil war that has been raging for three years has devastated the population, displacing millions, killing hundreds of thousands and leaving much of a generation without access to an educational resources or basic social services.

Christians in the country—who make up roughly 10 percent of the population—have been faced with especially difficult circumstances. With the brutal regime of President Bashar al-Assad on one side and an opposition that’s partly composed of radical Islamic factions, Christians are literally caught in the middle of a bloody fight with no end in site.

Early in the conflict, churches were destroyed, Christians were targeted in violent attacks and kidnappings were commonplace, but now the persecution has taken on a more organized turn through extortion campaigns. A recent Public Radio International investigation found that the practice of “jizya” (taxing Christians for “protection”) is “being revived in Syria.”

The alternatives to paying the tax are grim. Nadim Nassar, a Syrian pastor living in London, told PRI, “Imagine the minorities in Syria, which are part of the social fabric of the society, are asked either to pay a levy, a tax—an Islamic tax—for their protection, or become Muslims, or get killed.”

These are not empty threats. In Syria alone, Open Doors reported that 1,213 were killed because of their faith—that’s more than were killed around the world in all of 2012.

How we can help

For Christians in the West, the problem can seem too big or too far away to be worth engaging in. But for those of us who can largely practice their faith openly, without the fear of violence, there are ways to help fellow believers facing seemingly insurmountable opposition. Here are a few of the organizations helping persecuted Christians.

For those of us who can largely practice their faith openly, without the fear of violence, there are ways to help fellow believers facing seemingly insurmountable opposition.

Liberty in North Korea, raises awareness about the plight of those subject to the dictatorship of Kim Jong-un and aids those attempting to escape the country.

Among their advocacy efforts, Open Doors USA also organizes letter-writing campaigns where Western Christians and connect and encourage fellow believers facing persecution.

Groups including ChristianAid and WorldVision are aiding Christians and refugees affected by the Syrian crisis.

The group Voice of the Martyrs also has a number of resources for individual Christians and Western Churches to help Christian communities around the world through prayer, aid, awareness and advocacy.

There’s also the Biblical reminder to pray—both for those facing persecution (“Continue to remember those in prison as if you were together with them in prison, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering,” Heb. 13:3) and those who persecute them ( “But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous” Matt. 5:44-45).

6 Comments

Jessi Cone

1

Jessi Cone commented…

There's also the International Christian Concern who does a lot, like rebuild burned villages, supports widows, provides emergency relief, discipleship resources for local pastors, and more. They are based out of Washington D.C.

I Live In The Round

1

I Live In The Round commented…

Thank you for bringing light on the North Korean Christians. We appreciate the links as well. It is frustrating to feel helpless in our comfort while so many suffer. -Ashley from www.liveintheround.com

Charles Prescott

1

Charles Prescott commented…

As to the Syrian Christians -They may have their reasons, but they aren't neutral. They have been on Assad's side for a long time.

John Moore

2

John Moore commented…

Christians persecute here and are persecuted over there. Sure, the persecution of gay people in America is not as harsh as the persecution of Christians in North Korea, but we ought to consider the basic principle: Persecution is bad. You need to reflect on your own eye motes while you're pulling logs out of other people.

Clara Tenny

32

Clara Tenny commented…

I have nothing to give but I really wish I could go there and suffer with them....It's not fair that I should live in a peaceful place while my brothers and sisters are suffering...

Rudy Cavazos

16

Rudy Cavazos replied to Clara Tenny's comment

We should mourn with those that mourn (logically speaking, "share with others in their experiences.") ... Being so well connected with so much in the world can be a strain because I have a need to share in joys and sufferings - but the world is so big and so this heart-logic of mine can lead to strain if I do it my way. Kind of makes one feel guilty for living a safer life. Which may sound odd but I understand what you're saying here. This is where I say "God, I cannot bear the weight of the world, but let me bear what share I can handle.". (for some of you already thinking, no it's not a matter of wanting to take the place of God and carry this burden; having been made One with Him, we share in His sufferings - sufferings meaning things we allow - in this case, to bear up the burden. As we live out His heart on the earth.)

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