“Please tell Christians around the world how thankful we are for standing by our side when we are going through such hard times in Egypt. We’re so grateful not only for the financial and practical support we receive as we face our crisis, but also for the prayers and spiritual support we feel.”
Those are the words written by Egyptian priest Mina* in August following brutal attacks against Egyptian Christians by Muslim Brotherhood fanatics. The Muslim Brotherhood blamed Christians, in part, for having a hand in the ouster of Mohammed Morsi as president.
Pastor Mina and many others of the estimated 100 million Christians around the globe who are persecuted for their faith in Jesus Christ desperately need our prayers. Christians are the most persecuted faith group in the world and are oppressed in over 60 countries.
Let’s take a look at the increased suffering and pressure on believers in the Middle East. According to a study by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life released last December, Christians now make up only 4 percent of Middle Eastern inhabitants. A century ago the number was 20 percent.
The Pew report adds that although Christianity was birthed in the Middle East, just 0.6 percent – fewer than 13 million – of the world’s 2.2 billion Christians live in the Middle East and North Africa. The region is 93 percent Muslim.
The flight of Christians – due to the devastating effects of war, extreme persecution, loss of homes and jobs and other factors – in such places as Iraq and Syria is alarming. The number of Christians in war-torn Iraq is now estimated at 330,000, according to Open Doors. That’s down from an estimated 1.2 million at the beginning of the 1990s. An Open Doors Middle Eastern worker says if the current rate of emigration continues, there could possibly be no Christians left in Iraq by 2020.
In Syria where Christians make up 8 to 10 percent of the population, believers have been tortured, raped, kidnapped and targeted for murder by some Muslim rebel extremists, who are now pouring into the country. As a result, over 2 million – including Christians and Muslims – have been forced to flee into refugee camps in such places as Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey. There are an estimated 4.2 millions Syrians who are displaced inside Syria, some with nothing but the clothes on their backs while living in tents.
I would like to introduce you to Hanna. She is a Christian woman living in Damascus with her husband. She and her husband have two young daughters. Hanna works in a school. She has been blogging for the last few months about what daily life is like in the dangerous city of Damascus.
She writes: “The schools have started again, so we get back to the uncertainty. We are getting up early to pray and fast whenever our daughters are not at home. Every day when I walk to the school where I work I hold my breath. Every minute something can happen. Many streets are closed, and when you walk the streets you see the traces of the battles – little fires all over the streets. Also in our house you see the traces of the war. We already noticed a bullet hole in our guest room, but recently I also discovered one in the room of my girls.
“Attacks on churches happen a lot now. They are also targeting Christians. Many of them are killed or kidnapped. When they are kidnapped, they ask their families for ransom or they force them to convert to Islam. Women are often raped. The people that return from such incidents are traumatized. One of the men I know that came back from a kidnapping didn’t speak a word since he came back. He is crying a lot. Nobody knows what happened to him.”
We as Christians in the West need to answer these cries. Why? Because it is biblical to stand in the gap for followers of Christ: “When one member suffers, all members suffer with it…” (1 Cor. 12:26). Also, Heb. 10:33 states: “Sometimes you were publicly exposed to insult and persecution; at other times you stood side by side with those who were so treated.”
Frankly, the time to stand side by side with our brothers and sisters in Christ is now! We can not and must not be silent. The extinction of Christians in the Middle East must not happen on our watch.
Foremost, pray for and with persecuted Christians; this is their No. 1 request. The International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church (IDOP) on Sunday, Nov. 3 (also observed by some organizations and churches on Nov. 10) presents an excellent opportunity to join millions of others who are lifting their petitions to the Lord on behalf of brave followers of Jesus. You can encourage and mobilize your pastors, small group church leaders, families and friends to pray on Nov. 3, as well as all year long.
Believers in the United States can request a free Open Doors IDOP prayer kit that includes a prayer event leader’s guide, several powerful videos, four PowerPoint presentations, resources for worship music and scriptural passages about persecution. The prayer kit can be ordered at www.OneWithThem.com or call 888-5-BIBLE-5 (888-524-2535). Voice of the Martyrs, International Christian Concern, Gospel for Asia and other advocacy groups are also offering prayer resources.
Even in the midst of suffering, Christians such as Hanna and her husband are bringing the Good News of salvation: “Every time we go to church, the church is full; people come together in times of despair. We also see new faces every time. Many of the new faces are people with a Muslim background who are refugees. They say: ‘We have lost everything: our house, our job, family members. But we have gained the most important thing and that is the knowledge that Jesus is our Savior.’ Recently 30 people in our church were baptized. Three or four of them were from a Muslim background. The situation is hard, but we are living by faith.”
Jerry Dykstra is media relations director for Open Doors USA, based in Santa Ana, California, the American arm of Open Doors International, a worldwide ministry supporting persecuted Christians since 1955.
Publication date: October 17, 2013