A day of prayer for the persecuted church is observed on the second Sunday in November. It is intended to raise awareness of the mistreatment of Christians around the world.
It is widely estimated that more Christians have been martyred for the faith in the last century than in the previous 1,900 years combined. If recent events are any indication, that may well be true. Yet Christians in the West, who seemingly have everything they need, are largely unaware of it.
I can’t say that I thought much about Christian persecution, other than in a historical context, until recently. Like many people, I was familiar with the well-known story of missionary martyr Jim Eliot, dramatized in the movie The End of the Spear. Yet I considered persecution a relatively rare event in the modern world.
I was wrong.
According to Pope Benedict XVI, Christians are the most persecuted group in the world. And a report by the World Evangelical Alliance states that over 200 million Christians are denied fundamental human rights solely because of their faith.
Here are a few things you may not know about the persecution of Christians.
It Is Happening Now
In Nigeria the death toll caused by the extremist group Boko Haram is said to have reached 3,000 since it started its reign of terror in 2009. Christians have been targeted by the group as they attempt to carve out an Islamic state in Nigeria’s northern region.
In October 2011 Christian in the city of Homs, Syria, was killed after the civilian population was evacuated due to widespread fighting in the region, according to the Vatican’s Fides news agency.
In August 2012 a Christian tailor was beaten and his home and business burned by a mob in Egypt after he accidentally burned the shirt of a Muslim customer.
Persecution is not an occasional or random occurrence. It happens daily and is sometimes carried out systematically. Christians are at greater risk of persecution now than ever before.
It Affects People You Know
We in the cozy, clean American suburbs are unlikely to face direct persecution, but it affects people we know.
One of my clergy colleagues is a native of Egypt. He has Christian family members still in-country who live in fear for their safety.
Seven people I know are serving as missionaries in two countries where there is no religious freedom and proselytizing is a criminal offense. “Please don’t every put my name on the church Web site,” one of them told me. “I could be arrested if anyone knew I’m sharing the gospel along with teaching English.”
If you know Christians who live or have family members in places such as North Africa, the Middle East, Pakistan, Central Asia, Southeast Asia, or China, you know Christians at risk of being harassed or jailed—or worse—for their faith.
It Isn’t Just for Martyrs
Martyrdom makes the news, but every day Christians are persecuted in other ways that seldom gain international attention. Many are harassed, discriminated against, denied civil rights, or jailed for the faith, identity, or religious activities.
Your Could Be an Unwitting Contributor
In 2010, 58 Christians were killed by gunmen in an attack on a church in Iraq. Survivors tell of religious taunts, random killings, and a gunman slaughtering hostages en masse as the Iraqi army stormed the church to end the siege.
Sadly, the attack may have been motivated by outrage over an American pastor’s announced plans to publicly burn a copy of the Qu’ran.
Persecution is never justified, yet we must recognize that we live in a global community where our actions can have far-reaching consequences. If we want Christians to be treated with respect in other parts of the world, we must offer that same dignity to people of other faiths. Intolerance begets intolerance, even on Facebook.
You Are not Helpless
All of this may make you feel helpless about plight of persecuted Christians. It is half a world away, and there’s nothing we can do about it, right? In fact, there are things we can do to affect the situation.
Raise Awareness of persecution by sharing what you know with others.
Advocate for relevant legislation.
Pray for Christians facing persecution.
Persecution is not a subject for historical study or a distant problem with no bearing on our lives. It happens every day somewhere in the world. You are not uninvolved, and you are not helpless.