When I see the intense challenges Christians face in the Middle East, I can't help but reflect on my own faith. Many Christians, particularly those of us in the West, take our religious freedoms for granted - like being able to own a Bible (or several!), freely attend a house group or Sunday church service, talk openly about our faith without fear, post Bible quotes to our Facebook walls and listen to Christian music.
How many of us would still try to meet with other Christians if we might get beaten up, lose our jobs or even get killed for doing so?
Open Doors have released their annual World Watch List for 2017, showing the countries around the world where Christians are at the highest risk of persecution - and most countries of the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) have made the list.
Persecution in the region ranges from state-sanctioned killings and violence against Christians, to destruction of church buildings, ostracisation by friends and family members and discrimination in education and employment.
The MENA countries where persecution is highest include Sudan, Yemen, Syria and Iraq.
We know from our work, particularly in the Gulf, that Christian converts from Islam face extreme measures - often at the hands of their family and friends rather than the state. This is why we take such great care to conceal the identities of believers who give their testimonies in our Arabian Dawn series, as many of them are living out their faith in secret and would be at risk of violence and isolation if their true identity was revealed. We recently filmed the testimony of a Kurdish believer who bravely decided to show his true face and voice in the video, and subsequently he had to flee the country he was living in.
We must always remember the amazing, terrifying and traumatic sacrifices others make for their faith, and pray for them, support them and advocate for them in any way we can.
How to respond:
- Pray for individuals who are being persecuted, that they would remain strong in their faith despite persecution, and that in cases where they are isolated, they would find access to online media like I Believe But and Arabian Dawn. Pray that they would experience the love, peace and joy of God amidst their sufferings.
- Support charities like Middle East Media who are providing resources for Christians suffering persecution. Many believers, particularly in Islamic countries, are unable to meet together physically, so virtual and online support systems become even more vital. Would you consider giving to us to support our programmes for the Gulf such as I Believe But, so we can continue to equip, disciple and encourage secret Arab believers?
- Pray for the nations of Sudan, Syria, Iraq and Yemen where persecution is at its most extreme. Pray that 2017 would be a year of peace rather than escalated conflict. Pray especially for Christians of Iraq and Syria, that they would be able to return to their homes in safety and that their countries could start to be rebuilt.
- Read up on the realities of persecution around the world - Open Doors has a range of resources on the persecuted church, including this excellent report on persecution and global displacement which makes a fascinating, terrifying, encouraging and sobering read.
- Pray for Christians in places where there isn't persecution, that they would see the witness of the persecuted church and take their own faith more seriously.