Monday, December 31, 2007

Persecution Stories of 2007

Well, it's New Year's Eve and like many others, I find myself thinking back over the past twelve months and I consider the numerous stories of persecution that we have covered in our monthly newsletter and weekly prayer/news service. A lot of water has gone under the bridge.

Last year, I suggested that the rising persecution of Christians in India was the most predominant story of 2006. Another year has come and gone and this, unfortunately, has not changed. No other country so dominated our weekly Persecution and Prayer Alert than India did. In the 52 weeks of 2007, we released 75 separate stories on India. What a tragedy that the world's largest democracy is also increasingly one of the most dangerous places for Christians to live in, as evidenced by the recent violence in Orissa state over Christmas.

Two other stories also demanded a fair bit of attention in 2007.

The first was the kidnapping of twenty-three Korean Christian hostages in Afghanistan on July 19 by the Taliban. Two of the male leaders were later killed before the remaining hostages were released on August 30 after the South Korean government reportedly agreed to follow through on their plans to withdraw their troops from Afghanistan by the end of the year and also to prevent South Koreans from engaging in missionary activity in Afghanistan. In response, I wrote at the time that it seemed that the only real concession that the South Korean government was prepared to publicly make to the Taliban was the religious freedom of its own citizens. I warned that this decision to withdraw missionaries from Afghanistan and to prevent others from going there is a violation of religious freedom. It is telling Korean Christians, 'You can obey Christ's commission but not in Afghanistan.' This no government has the right to do, even in the name of protecting their citizens. We were also concerned that this concession by the South Korean government could further endanger the safety of Christian missionaries of all nationalities in other countries like Afghanistan where Christianity is viewed with hostility. I wrote, "Religiously motivated militants may conclude, having seen the Taliban successfully drive out South Korean missionaries in this manner, that kidnapping missionaries in the hopes of negotiating similar concessions by other governments concerned over the safety of its citizens is a legitimate and potentially successful strategy." This last concern seemed justified when the Taliban announced upon releasing the last hostages that they planned to kidnap more foreigner after having won such a significant victory. Said, Taliban spokesman Qari Yousef Ahmadi, "We will do the same thing with the other allies in Afghanistan, because we found this way to be successful.''

The other concern that arose out of this case was the condemnation that the sending church received from the Korean public. Several South Korean church groups immediately agreed to abide by their governments decision to prevent further missionary activity from their country into Afghanistan. Some family members of the kidnapped apologized to the Korean people for the inconvenience that their relatives caused by going to Afghanistan. Korean mission leaders suggested that this incident may mark a "maturing" by the Korean missions movement. Perhaps, I noted at the time, but not if Koreans start to emulate the practice of many western missions groups who refuse to go where their governments say it is too dangerous and who flee countries whenever things get potentially hazardous.

The second story was the martyrdom of three Christians, Necati Aydin (35), Ugur Yuksel (32) and Tilmann Geske (46), a German national, in Malatya, Turkey on April 18. The alleged killers had apparently pretended to become Christians in order to gain the trust of the believers before ambushing them. The three men were then bound and tortured for more than two hours before being killed. Their throats were cut and their bodies marred by multiple stab wounds. According to the newspaper Hurriyet, one of the suspects declared during police questioning, "We didn't do this for ourselves. We did it for our religion. May this be a lesson to the enemies of religion." The trials of the accused continue into the New Year, as accusations of alleged collusion of public officials in the torture and murder swirl.

There were, of course, other significant events in 2007 and I am always hesitant to draw attention to some and not others. The killing of Christianah Oluwatoyin Olusase, a Christian teacher at the Government Day Secondary School in Gombe state, Nigeria on March 21 touched us deeply here at The Voice of the Martyrs; so much so that we started a memorial fund in her memory. The violence in northern Nigeria continues to be a source of major concern. Declining religious liberty in many of the former Soviet states of central Asia became a greater priority to us in 2007 and will continue to be into 2008. And China's crackdown on religious dissidents in advance of the 2008 Olympic Games continues and must not be ignored as we approach what I believe will be the most propagandized Olympics since 1936 in Berlin.

And so we enter a New Year. May this be a year when many of us will resolve not to forget our brothers and sisters who live and die for the faith that we, too, confess. May this be the year we resolve to do something that will let some of them know that they have not been forgotten.

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