An Algerian Christian faces five years in prison for the crime of sharing his faith with a Muslim. Authorities claim that Karim Siaghi insulted Mohammad, something he denies.
His appeal is being heard in Oran, a costal city just 600 miles away from where Augustine once presided as bishop. There has been a lot of history a between that moment and this, much of it going against Christians, but for me that geographic realization only underscores the tragedy in Algeria and beyond. Where the faith once thrived, now Christianity is practically a crime.
Several stories of late point to the precarious position of Christians in Africa and the Middle East, while the faithful face horrifying circumstances in other parts of the world as well.
Syrian Christians targeted
As conditions in Syria worsen, Christians are under particular assault. Two car bombs detonated in the Damascus suburb of Jaramana November 28. Thirty-eight were killed and more than eighty were injured. Jaramana’s population is heavily Christian and Druze.
Five weeks prior, the Christian neighborhood Bab Touma was rocked when a car bomb detonated outside two churches, killing ten and injuring more than sixteen. The Bab Touma bomb exploded on a street that connects to Straight Street, which is mentioned in the ninth chapter of Acts and figures in Paul’s conversion.
Agenzia Fides reports that before the shooting there were about 160,000 Christians in the city of Homs. Now there are just a thousand.
There seems also to be a targeting of Christian ministers. In late October Orthodox priest Fr. Fadi Haddad was tortured and killed while trying to negotiate freedom for a kidnapped parishioner. His tormentors gouged out his eyes. Around the same time a pastor and his family were shot and killed in their house church by militants.
Iran and N. Korea
House churches in Iran are being targeted in a what appears to be a widespread crackdown. Reports of arrest, says one source, are pouring in. Since 2010 some 300 Iranian Christians have been arrested for little cause besides practicing their faith, and the UN reports that Iranian officials are pressuring churches to report membership to keep tabs on converts.
As repressive as the Iranian regime is, North Korea is worse. Spying, jailing, killing are the norm.
“Scrutiny of the estimated 200,000 to 400,000 brave underground Christians inside North Korea has increased during the last year,” says Jerry Dykstra of Open Doors USA. “Of the estimated 150,000 to 200,000 people living under horrific conditions in prisons, there are 50,000 to 70,000 Christians.” Christians who flee to China are tracked down, sent home, and thrown into prison — or worse.
Dykstra held out one ray of light shining from North Korea. “[W]e know that Christians living under the most brutal regime in the world will be celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ this Christmas — most of them only in their hearts.”
These are the things no persecutor can steal: faith, hope, devotion, observance, and prayer.
Prayers for persecutors
For my private devotions I use a small blue prayer book, A Manual of Eastern Orthodox Prayers. There are two prayers that speak to the subject at hand:
Thou who didst pray for them that crucified thee, O Lord, Lover of the souls of men, and who didst command thy servants to pray for their enemies, forgive those who hate and maltreat us, and turn our lives from all harm and evil to brotherly love and good works: for this we humbly bring our prayer, that with one accord and one heart we may glorify thee who alone lovest mankind.
As thy first martyr Stephen prayed to thee for his murderers, O Lord, so we fall before thee and pray: forgive all who hate and maltreat us and let not one of them perish because of us, but all be saved by thy grace, O God the all-bountiful.
These prayers are significant in their own right, but their backstory is also important. The prayer manual was produced by the Fellowship of St. Albans and St. Sergius, made up of Western Christians and refugees from the Russian Revolution.
The people who included these prayers knew firsthand the brutality of the Bolsheviks and were forced from their homeland because of their violence and evil. These were people who knew suffering. These were people who knew martyrdom. And yet they pled forgiveness for their persecutors.
I find their witness in these prayers encouraging, humbling, and deeply convicting. Unmentioned above, the crimes against Christians rage far beyond the borders of these countries: Nigeria, Indonesia, Uzbekistan. . . . The list could go on for line after line.
I suffer little for my faith. I sometimes think that is because I am unworthy to bear such a witness.
Lord, open my eyes and heart to the plight of my brothers and sisters around the world. Strengthen them, and have mercy upon those who persecute them. For you are good and holy always, now and ever, and unto ages of ages. Amen.