The suffering church
It is impossible to know the joy of Easter without the suffering of the cross. Before resurrection comes death, and at the heart of Christianity is a message of blood and sacrifice. This is true with respect to the Lord Jesus and true also for his people, the church.
Does it seem strange that people who talk of love, joy and victory are also preoccupied with death and suffering? We are convinced there can be no proper appreciation of the wonderful life of the Lord Jesus Christ without a clear understanding of his death. The truest measure of love is sacrifice, and victory in a Christian’s life always comes at a cost.
Our Saviour taught his followers to expect hardship. He said, ‘The servant is not greater than his lord. If they have persecuted me, they will also persecute you … They hated me without a cause’ (John 15:20, 25).
Most dangerous place on earth
Let us not imagine that suffering for Christ was confined to ancient times. The continuing power of the cross stirs up continuing opposition to the cross – and against those who preach the Christ of the cross. As a result, Christians worldwide are today facing increasing levels of persecution.
Recently the international charity Open Doors produced its annual World Watch List report of the worst 50 nations for persecuting Christians. The report is compiled from a specially-designed questionnaire covering various aspects of religious freedom.
Now in its seventh year, the new report shows that it has become much harder to practise as a Christian in many parts of the world, especially in the Middle East. However, North Korea is still by far the most dangerous place on earth to be a Christian.
Evangelical Times recently highlighted the latest cases of intolerance towards Christians in the UK. These included the nurse who was suspended by North Somerset Primary Care Trust for offering to pray with a patient, and the churchgoer who was struck off her local authority’s register of approved foster carers after the sixteen-year-old Muslim girl she was looking after converted to Christianity.
Also in recent months the persecution of Christians in China, Pakistan and India has been detailed. Such examples support the comments of Eddie Lyle, chief executive of Open Doors (UK and Ireland), who declared at the launch of the report, ‘The persecution of Christians is now a worldwide issue’.
Mr Lyle continued: ‘The increase of persecution against Christians is a disturbing global trend … The plight of Christians … can no longer be ignored. Our response must be a determined one; combining a tenacious commitment to advocacy and a readiness to demonstrate sacrificial Christian love by turning the other cheek’.
The following notes and statistics are drawn from Open Doors’ World Watch List and provide information for prayer and support. While we do not know the names and faces of the sufferers behind the numbers, they are known to the Lord and we are humbled to remember his promise to walk with his people every step of their pilgrim way (Matthew 28:20; Hebrews 13:5-6).
List of shame
North Korea has topped the list for seven years in a row. There is no other country in the world where Christians are being persecuted so relentlessly.
The Wahhabi kingdom of Saudi Arabia holds a solid second place, ranking equal with Iran, a country also ruled by Shariah law. Islam is the official religion in Afghanistan, Somalia and the Maldives; the countries in the fourth, fifth and sixth positions.
Afghanistan rose from seventh to fourth place. The country moved up on the list as a result of increased pressure from the Taliban movement dur-ing 2008. Seventh place Yemen, slipped from sixth position to seven but there was no major change in the lack of religious freedom for Christians there during 2008. Nor was there any change to the status of religious freedom in Laos; the country is still number eight on the list.
Two new countries have entered the top ten – Somalia and Eritrea. For Eritrea the total number of points did not change compared to last year, but other countries dropping out of the top ten made it go up. The deplorable situation of Christians in this country justifies its position. In Somalia the number of incidents against Christians increased dramatically in 2008, explaining its rise from twelfth to fifth.
With Uzbekistan in tenth place, Islam is the majority religion in seven of the top ten countries – Saudi Arabia, Iran, Afghanistan, Somalia, Maldives, Yemen and Uzbekistan. Two countries have communist governments – North Korea and Laos. Eritrea is the only dictatorial country in the ten highest countries.
Watch, pray and preach Christ
The Open Doors’ list in summary is:
North Korea; Saudi Arabia; Iran; Afghanistan; Somalia; Maldives; Yemen; Laos; Eritrea; Uzbekistan; Bhutan; China; Pakistan; Turkmenistan; Comoros; Iraq; Qatar; Mauritania; Algeria; Chechnya; Egypt; India; Vietnam; Burma/Myanmar; Libya; Nigeria (North); Azerbaijan; Oman; Brunei; Sudan (North); Zanzibar Islands; Kuwait; Cuba; Tajikistan; United Arab Emirates; Sri Lanka; Jordan; Djibouti; Turkey; Morocco; Indonesia; Palestinian Territory; Bangladesh; Belarus; Ethiopia; Syria; Tunisia; Bahrain; Kenya (North-East); Kazakhstan.
Closer to home, the conclusions from the World Watch List – that persecution is increasing worldwide – are backed up in a new book being published by Open Doors. A time to speak tells the stories of Christians in the UK who have been persecuted for their Christian faith.
Brethren, we must watch, pray and preach all the more triumphantly the unsearchable riches of Christ!
For the full report by Open Doors, containing the method of rating the countries and various trends, variations and comparisons see: http://www.opendoorsuk.org/news/pr_090213_wwl09.htm.