Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Going Beyond the Facts of Today's Persecution of Christians

As one who had dedicated most of the last decade to studying the logistical, theological, and practical aspects of the persecution of Christians on a global level, I have become increasingly less enchanted with facts, figures, and statistics. As important as they may be in understanding the scope of the persecution facing the followers of Jesus in the 21st century, it is imperative that we not lose sight of the fact that there are faces behind the figures and stories behind the statistics. Charts and maps cannot chronicle the reality of what it means to witness the horror of knowing that one's daughter is being broken and abused in a Vietnamese mental hospital because of her faith in Jesus. Statistics from the January 2006 edition of the International Journal of Missionary Research tell us that 171,000 Christians were martyred in the last year. But this will bring little comfort to the three Indonesian families who buried their teenage daughters in early November after they were killed by cowardly Muslim militants as they were heading home from their Christian school one afternoon.

To learn that the World Evangelical Alliance estimates that 200 million Christians live in societies where they daily face the threat of being imprisoned, tortured, and killed because of their identity as Christians comes as a surprise to many Canadians. But this comes as no surprise to widows in northern Nigeria who struggle to feed and cloth their children after their husbands were killed only six weeks after 9/11 at the hands of Muslim mobs. While more Nigerian Christians died in the first week of November, 2001 than in the World Trade Towers, very few noticed. And no one has established a memorial fund for their families.

Many believe that the primary persecutor of the Church today is militant Islam. While it is true that the rate of violence against Christians is growing in many Muslim nations, perhaps the most dangerous nation on earth for someone to openly confess Christ is communist North Korea. Christians there are brutalized in prisons or summarily executed if caught with a copy of the Scriptures. China's crackdown on rapidly growing and unregistered Christian groups belies the popular dogma that increased trade with a nation will inevitably lead to a greater degree of freedom and respect for human rights. Church leaders continue to be detained, tortured, and drugged in Vietnam. Sadly, as we enter the 21st century, we still find that more Christians suffer at the hands of Communist authorities than any others, just as they did through most of the past 100 years.

To most Canadians, the terms "militant Hindus" or "militant Buddhists" would be oxymoronic. But not to Christians in India and Sri Lanka who have experienced the consequences of a dramatic rise in religiously motivated persecution in recent years. State and/or federal governments in both countries have passed or threatened anti-conversion laws as a means of stifling the rapid growth of the Church. Violence against Christians is increasingly commonplace. In some places, pastors are told to stop praying for the sick, as local people learn that if you want to be healed, you should ask a Christian to pray for you.

Statistics and maps cannot tell such things. Yes, they can reveal the rapid growth of Christianity in the east African country of Ethiopia where thousands of mostly young people are experiencing the new life that comes through Christ. Charts can tell you how the evangelical church in Ethiopia has grown from 200,000 believers in 1960 to 12 million in less than forty years. But they cannot help you to hear a twenty year old woman who has been cast from her home and community and who now lives in abject poverty as a result, cry out with eyes ablaze with love, "Jesus is everything I need. I love Him so much!"

In Eritrea, the number of imprisoned Christians numbers almost 2000. This is a 700% increase over the last year. But to understand their suffering, you must look beyond the numerical figures to a metal shipping container sitting in an open field, simmering in the intense sun. Temperatures can soar above 40 degrees Celsius in the daytime, as many believers are detained in such containers with no ventilation or toileting facilities.

I could give you the statistics. As a matter of fact, I have given you most of the important ones in this article. But they are meaningless unless we remember that behind these facts and figures are members of our own family; brothers and sisters whom we are commanded to care for as if they were Christ, Himself (Matthew 25:45). We dare not be satisfied with just knowing the facts.


russn said...


Thanks for this post. It's true - there are times for statistics and graphics and times to bring it down to a personal level.

Similar topics this week for a small-group I co-lead. We talked about evangelism and focused instead of the _people_ God has already placed in our lives.

Joshua said...


Thanks for your post. I ran across your group's video, "Voice of the Martyrs: Faces of Persecution" and it was the first I had heard of your organization. I grew up as the son of missionaries in Paraguay and what we faced was not pleasant, but nothing like that. I will be in prayer for our brothers and sisters. I hope you don't mind, but I used some of this information one of my weblogs. It is at http://www.xanga.com/adopted_rebel . If you wish me to take down the information I will, though I feel it will be informative to my campus.