Multitudes of Christians around the world are persecuted—sometimes brutally—because they won’t forsake Jesus and, instead, risk their lives so that others may know Him. We need to learn what they’re going through so we can pray for them, but they offer a great gift to us—a revelation of what it truly looks like to be wholeheartedly devoted to the One who gave Himself for us. Decision recently discussed this with Jeff King, president of International Christian Concern.
Q: How would you describe the degree and amount of persecution you’re seeing around the world?
A: The simple answer is it’s widespread. It’s intense. In the context of the last 15 years, it’s definitely getting worse.
Q: Where is it most severe?
A: Most Christians are familiar with the church receiving persecution from the old communist world—in Cuba and the old Soviet bloc, Vietnam, China and North Korea. The good news is the persecution in almost all those places is decreasing, apart from North Korea. The bad news is it’s rising in the Muslim world, to the point where Islam is the greatest persecutor of Christians today by far. The reason we see persecution growing is because radical Islam is growing everywhere.
Q: How bad does it get?
A: It’s everything from torture, murder, rape, abduction, Christian girls forced into marriage, tortured imprisonment, all the nasty things you can think of, and it’s happening on a pretty broad scale. The hot areas are Egypt, Pakistan and Nigeria. In Northern Nigeria, they’ve attempted to cleanse that whole area of Christians, and they’re doing it. There have probably been 10,000 people murdered there in the past 10 years, and the majority of those are Christians.
Q: What are some specific examples of persecution?
A: There was an Indian missionary we helped just a couple of years ago. Radical Hindus came to him because he had been very successful reaching Hindus with the message of Jesus. So they came armed, and they gathered him and his wife and took the two of them outside of the hut on their farm. The radicals told the man to renounce Christ and to stop spreading Christianity. But he said, “I can’t do it.” They raised a machete above his head and told his wife, “Tell him to turn away from Jesus or we’re going to kill him.” She said, “He has found life and he has found the Truth. He cannot turn away.” And, with that, they brought the machete down on his head and killed him right in front of her.
We support indigenous missionaries in the toughest places in the world and are blown away by their example. There was a Nigerian pastor who was captured by Boko Haram (an Islamic jihadist militant terrorist organization) along with some other pastors in a big attack. The attackers brought the pastors together and said anybody who wants to live has to convert to Islam. A number of the pastors did. They figured that a false confession of belief in Islam was better than death, so they pretended to convert. But this one brother said, “No, I’m not going to do it. Jesus died for me and I cannot turn my back on Him in this hour.” So he told the other pastors, “Tell my wife and my children that I died well.” And that’s just what happened, because they took him apart with machetes.
Q: How do these brothers and sisters seem when you speak with them?
A: One thing that always marks them is joy. It’s the mark of the Holy Spirit. I have been to any number of little house churches buried in the backwoods of different countries. It’s not in every country, and it’s not every time, but it’s a common experience. I will walk into some little house church where people have been praying for hours. When I hit that door, it’s like you hit a brick wall of the Presence of God. There’s just this powerful sense of anointing. I don’t want to judge, but I don’t experience that much in America.
Believers in those other countries are so devoted. They really put time in with God … In the West, we’re busy and we’re distracted. I’m no shining example. I deal with these people and I’m convicted. They act as a mirror to us. We look into that mirror and say, “If that’s a Christian, then what am I?”
Q: With all the divisions and doctrinal debates in the church in America, how unified are Christians in persecuted areas—especially since Jesus prayed, before He went to the cross, that we would all be one (John 17:20-26)?
A: Unity is one of the byproducts of persecution. In Egypt, there was always a strong division between the orthodox—the Coptic—and the evangelical. But in these last years as they’ve suffered so tremendously, they say, “We’ve all been thrown into prison together, all of us.”
Q: How can we be more like them?
A: With the persecuted, there’s no fear left. The world has lost its grip on them. Here in the West, we’re too in love with this world. We live in a moral cesspool and need to hate it rather than embrace it. We make do with just a little bit of God. We love position, standing, wealth and things like our home and our 401k. The effect of persecution is it cuts all those bonds. When you’re persecuted, you don’t have position, you’re a loser, you’re one of the outcasts, your wealth is usually destroyed and your children can be taken from you. You either fold and walk away from Christianity or you fold on the world and go all-in with Christ. God has an upside-down economy. He’s not interested in the size of your house or the size of your bank account. He’s interested in the size of your heart for Him. Once we give up on the world and have Christ as our true treasure, then the Holy Spirit can do an amazing work with us. Then we’re crucified with Christ and we can truly live for Him. ©2013 BGEA