For Christians living in situations of persecution, Good Friday sums up their experience of being crucified with Christ. But after Good Friday comes Easter Sunday, the glorious day of resurrection and the empty tomb. Persecuted Christians live with the sure and certain hope that their suffering will end in glory.
A joy-filled Easter to all my readers!
In the centuries following Christ’s death and resurrection Christianity was strong in the southern tip of the Arabian Peninsula, known today as Yemen, and it was ruled by a line of Christian kings. Its Christian heritage did not survive the influx of Islam after Muslim forces conquered the area in the 7th century AD.
There are an estimated 3,000 Christians in Yemen among a population of 20 million. Many of them are foreigners. There is believed to be a very small number of secret Yemeni believers. Although apostasy from Islam is legally punishable by death in Yemen, the penalty is not known to have been carried out in recent years.
Today we are thinking about those who have died for their faith.
Since Jesus’ sacrifice of love, many Christians have stubbornly clung to this love even unto death and thus in turn have borne witness to its reality and power.
In the West we may think of martyrs as being associated with turbulent times in our history and therefore a thing of the past. There are however many people who die or are murdered for adhering to their faith even now in the 21st century – in some parts of the world.
As you remember Christ’s sacrifice, remember also those who have died for their faith – and remember too their relatives who may in many cases struggle financially to survive.
Languages: Vietnamese, Thai, Khmer, Chinese, many local languages
The consititution of Vietnam guarantees freedom of religion and belief but the reality is quite different. Beatings, starvation, torture are common for the many Christians imprisoned for their faith.
Vietnam has been under communist rule since 1975. While the growing Catholic Church enjoys a limited amount of freedom to gather, worship and train new leaders, Protestantism is seen as an import from the West (especially America) and a danger to communism. About two-thirds of Protestants belong to ethnic minorities and are particularly vulnerable to persecution by the government – often on trumped-up charges.
Languages: Uzbek, Russian, Tajik, Kazakh
Even though it is officially a secular state Uzbekistan is considered to be one of the worst of the central Asian countries in terms of religious freedom. The government places severe restrictions on all religious activities – registration is required for churches but is difficult to obtain. Christians are not allowed to share their faith and church leaders have been arrested on false charges.
Languages: Turkmen, Russian
To have a place to meet is vital for a community of believers. Yet in Turkmenistan this issue poses one of the biggest challenges for the Church as the government controls, obstructs and prevents the building, buying or renting of religious meeting-places and places of worship. Churches can obtain a meeting place only if they are registered; yet despite the fact that the number of members required for registration was reduced from 500 to only five in 2004, few Christian communities have actually managed to register. Many officials who approve registration are dismissed from their jobs.
Christians had hoped that their conditions would improve after the death of former President Niyazov who created a cult centred on himself, wrote a sacred book, Ruhnama, and legally required all places of worship to have a room set aside for reading it. However, promises to respect human rights have (so far) come to nothing. There are still severe restrictions on all religious activity and Christians can be fired from their jobs or evicted from their homes because of their faith.
Languages: Turkish, Kurdish
Present-day Turkey was known to the Romans as Asia Minor and is the area in which the seven churches of Revelation are located. After Jesus’ death and resurrection Christianity spread rapidly here and there were (now famous) communities in Ephesus and Galatia. The capital, now Istanbul, used to be called Constantinople and was the capital of the Christian Byzantine Empire.
Today this rich heritage is largely confined to ancient ruins. Christians now make up about 0.12% of the Turkish populaton and Christians are seen as foreigners in the Turkish state – despite it being a secular state since 1924.
There is apparently a negative portrayal of Christians in the press and media which does not help Christians who are trying to live out their faith.
Western media reported the attacks in April 2007 on 3 Christian workers who were murdered (2 Turks, one German leaving young families) by extremists pretending to be interested in Christianity.
Today we are thinking about Evangelists
In many countries, Christian evangelists are serving faithfully in their own contexts, sharing the Gospel with those of other faiths, despite hardship, hostility and persecution. Some may see much fruit, and often their ministry is made easier because they do not face the same language and cultural barriers as foreign missionaries. Yet others may find their mission field hard and barren if they are serving amongst a people-group that is very prejudiced against Christianity.
Pray that the love of God may show in their lives and draw many people to him.
Languages: Arabic, French
Until the 7th century AD Christianity was widespread throughout the region of today’s Tunisia. It produced famous Christian thinkers and leaders such as Tertullian and Cyprian. But five centuries later, Christianity was extinguised after Arab tribes had conquered the land and established themselves as rulers.
Today Christians make up less than 2.5% of Tunisia’s population and only a few hundred are indigenous Tunisians rather than foreign residents. Within this small number is a wide range of theological beliefs making unity difficult to achieve. Furthermore, many Christians are isolated and fearful of persecution. They also have a big problem when choosing a marriage partner if they do not wish to marry outside the faith. With so few believers and even fewer to admit openly that they are Christians, it is difficult to find someone to marry.
Languages: Swahili, English, Nyamwezi, local languages
The Muslim/Christian ratio in the Tanzanian population as a whole is almost 50/50 and the government safeguards religious freedom.
Zanzibar, just off the coast, is a semi-autonomous island where the Christian population is just 1%. These people are under constant pressure to convert and Christian children are apparently kidnapped to force them to convert.
The mainland is facing an on-going debate about whether to introduce shari’a alongside the existing secular law.
However, in spite of many difficulties, it seems that the Christian population is increasing and the Church is exhorted to respond in a Christ-like way to every challenge, showing love and compassion to Muslims and Christians alike.