Last month’s attack on Nairobi’s Westgate Mall opened the world’s eyes to a global tragedy we’ve ignored too long: radical Muslims are slaughtering Christians throughout the Middle East. To the point where that region of the world—the birthplace of Christianity and the Church—may soon be emptied of Christians.
Al-Shabaab—the group responsible for the attack in Kenya—singled out non-Muslims for death, asking people to recite passages from the Koran. The 67 people who were murdered, along with the 240 others who were wounded, were mainly Christian.
The very next day in Peshawar, Pakistan, as Christians were leaving All Saints Anglican Church, two suicide bombs exploded, killing 85 church members and injuring another 120. “There were blasts and there was hell for all of us,” Nazir John, who was at the church with at least 400 other worshipers, told the Associated Press. “When I got my senses back, I found nothing but smoke, dust, blood and screaming people. I saw severed body parts and blood all around.”
Egypt is witnessing the same level of violent attacks. In August, 38 churches were destroyed, 23 were vandalized; 58 Christian homes were destroyed; and 85 shops owned by Christians were destroyed. The Coptic Pope was driven into hiding. Six Christians were killed and seven more were kidnapped. It’s the nation’s worst persecution in the last seven hundred years.
Syria’s Christians are under constant threat as that nation’s civil war spirals out of control. The Assad regime provided a level of security for the Syrian Church, but as rebels have overrun more territory, Christians are increasingly targeted for death, robbing and harassment. Estimates vary, but several hundreds of thousands of Syria’s 2.5 million Christians have already fled their homeland, with many more to follow.
The situation is the same in Iraq. International human-rights lawyer Nina Shea testified to Congress in 2011 that two-thirds of Iraq’s Christians have disappeared, either murdered or fled for their lives. Her testimony reads like a litany of attacks throughout the region: “In August 2004 … five churches were bombed in Baghdad and Mosul. On a single day in July 2009, seven churches were bombed in Baghdad … The archbishop of Mosul, was kidnapped and killed in early 2008. A bus convoy of Christian students were violently assaulted. Christians … have been raped, tortured, kidnapped, beheaded, and evicted from their homes”
In Persecuted: The Global Assault on Christians, authors Paul Marshall, Lela Gilbert and Nina Shea write, “Christians are the single most widely persecuted religious group in the world today. This is confirmed in studies by sources as diverse as the Vatican, Open Doors, the Pew Research Center, Commentary, Newsweek and the Economist. According to one estimate, by the Catholic Bishops’ Conferences of the European Community, 75 percent of acts of religious intolerance are directed against Christians.”
As a local pastor, I wrestle with this horrific situation. These are brothers and sisters in the Lord, and their unfolding tragedy can’t help but to impact my life and the life of my church. But what can we do? What should we do? Here are some steps I think every church should be taking right now:
- All Christian response to anything begins with prayer. We come to God—in his fullness as Father, Son and Holy Spirit—to ask for divine comfort, care and deliverance for those who are being persecuted.
- Get informed. There are a number of organizations and resources to learn what’s happening across the world. Voice of the Martyrs (www.persecution.com) is a great resource.
- Pressure our lawmakers to confront this situation with the full force of American influence. The silence of Washington regarding persecuted Christians across the world is deafening and shameful.
- Find ways to support and connect directly with persecuted Christians. Local churches have to be creative to do this, but it’s possible. Our congregation has personal relationships with several Christians from the Middle East who have undergone severe persecution, and learning first-hand from them about their experience—and their amazing faith—has blessed many of our people beyond telling.
- Embrace a more biblical perspective of church. The fact is that here in America, our approach to church in general is often superficial and materialistic. We’re an exception to the biblical and historical experience of believers. Christians and regional churches in other parts of the world undergoing persecution are a jarring reminder of reality.
- Increase our missions outreach to the Muslim world. The fact is that God loves Muslims, and they need the gospel of Jesus as much as all of us do. As hard as it may be for many of our people to grasp the nature of missions to the Muslim world, the fact is that the ultimate answer to violence and hatred on any level is the love of Jesus.
- Anticipate the Lord’s return. Biblical prophecy points to just this level of persecution as one of the key events as history moves towards its conclusion and the Lord returns to bring his Kingdom to completion.