01 March 2011
Sharing our faith but not our freedoms
As the Alliance partners with Open Doors on its World Watch List, we look at life for believers facing persecution around the world...
On 31 October, three-year-old Adam left home with his parents to attend Our Lady of Salvation Church in central Baghdad, as usual. But they were never to return, as the place of worship - a refuge for members of the congregation - became a place of massacre.
Al-qaeda gunmen stormed the church, with explosives strapped to their chests. Following a stand-off and a siege in which Iraqi security services attempted to free the 100 hostages within the church, Adam watched his parents murdered before himself being killed. The family was among the 58 Christians slaughtered that day.
The massacre was seen as one of the worst attacks on Christian Iraqis in recent years, but was symbolic of an atmosphere of increasing hostility towards believers over the past 20 years.
There are now fewer than 350,000 Christians in Iraq - just a third of the number that were living there at the start of the first Gulf War in 1991. The exodus is down to the rise in organised violence by an extremist militia, particularly in the capital Baghdad and the northern city of Mosul.
In total, some 90 Christians were martyred in Iraq in 2010. It's this rise in acts of violence and a sense that extremists are trying to rid Iraq of Christians that has led to the country jumping nine places to number eight in Open Doors' World Watch List.
The Evangelical Alliance has this year partnered with Open Doors, promoting the List and the organisation's Handbook of Prayer which is included in this issue.
The World Watch List tracks the shifting conditions under which Christians live in societies around the world that are hostile to the faith.
This year it shows that in many Islamic countries persecution is increasing. Islam is the dominant religion in eight of the top 10 countries listed. Iran's growing house church movement is coming increasingly under threat, while Christians in Afghanistan may only worship in secret; and in Saudi Arabia, converting to Christianity is illegal. North Korea is however unrivalled, taking top spot as the country in which Christians undergo the most persecution. Believers risk being killed if they are found in possession of Christian materials. In May last year, a group of 23 Christians were discovered. Three of them were then publicly executed, while the others disappeared within the infamous Yodok Prison camp.
"The fact that in the previous year more than 2,200 Christians were killed on account of their faith and millions more are routinely persecuted in defiance of international law, should stop us in our tracks," says Eddie Lyle, CEO of Open Doors UK.
It's the rapid deterioration of religious freedom and the violent manner of threats on Christians within Iraq that has this year been of deep concern to Open Doors. Here, in this country of violence and conflict, believers fear for their lives on a daily basis and many are opting to flee the country.
But it's the steadfast faith of the believers themselves which provides encouragement. One eight-year-old Christian girl told the Foundation for Relief and Reconciliation in the Middle East (FRRME) when praying in the New Year: "I lift 2011 to the Lord. I pray that people will not kill us. I hope they will love us, because Jesus taught us to 'Love each other as I first loved you'."
FRRME's President Canon Andrew White (pictured, left), who leads St George's Church in Baghdad, is also hopeful and chaired a crisis summit of religious leaders in Iraq in Copenhagen in January in a bid to put an end to the sectarian violence gripping the country. "The international community is awakening to the fact that all is not entirely well in Iraq. As I stand at the front of the church each week, I think of those we have lost. I remember them when I see their families," he says.
"I try to think how to protect them but I cannot; bombs can hit us from below and rockets from above. There is no total protection. But I will stand firm here, because I am sure my Lord has called me to this place."
Instead of despairing about the situation, Open Doors' Eddie Lyle has challenged British believers to get involved and make a difference. "As Christians in the UK and Ireland we need to renew our efforts to pray and pledge our unconditional support to those who share our faith but not our freedoms."
Open Doors is one of a number of Christian organisations, including Release International and Christian Solidarity Worldwide, which serve the persecuted church around the world.
The Alliance is an enthusiastic partner of the World Watch List. "Promoting international religious liberty and wider human rights has been foundational to our mission as the Evangelical Alliance. The persecution of Christians in various parts of the world is of grave concern and world leaders must be continually challenged to raise the importance and urgency of protecting religious liberties everywhere," says General Director Steve Clifford.
"Open Doors has a tremendous record in doing this and in providing accurate and up-to-date information so that we can pray for the persecuted church in an informed way. The Evangelical Alliance is an enthusiastic partner with them in these crucial tasks."
See the Open Doors Handbook of Prayer included in this edition of idea or visit www.opendoorsuk.org/worldwatch
WWL 2011: Top 50
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|World Watch List 2011
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