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The persecution index is rising. If someone launched a futures market based on Christian believers getting killed and took a “long” position, they’d have a safe prospect of a return.
Instinctively you know this is true when you see headlines of major newspapers devoted to the latest Boko Haram violence against Christians in Nigeria, or Muslim mobs chasing a poor Christian family in Pakistan. But the monitoring group Open Doors puts statistics to the stories, and its 2019 World Watch List released on Jan. 16 confirms the troubling trend: Last year 1 in 9 Christians experienced serious persecution—a 14 percent increase over the previous year. Christians are enduring high levels of persecution in 73 countries, nearly half of those surveyed.
The rise of Christian persecution is significant not only for followers of Christ. It follows a rise in state authoritarianism in places like China and rising nationalism in India and elsewhere. Take a look at the Watch List’s Top 10 and you will see also countries whose repression impoverishes their own people and threatens neighbors, including the United States: North Korea, Afghanistan, Somalia, and Libya hold this year’s top four slots. The freedom to believe is the first freedom, making possible all others for all people.
Last year 1 in 9 Christians experienced serious persecution—a 14 percent increase over the previous year.
The obvious question, and one I’m frequently asked: What can we do?
I used to dodge this question—because the answers are long, and I’m just a reporter, a messenger. But Scripture is clear and compelling: The example of Christ means “we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers” (1 John 3:16). Here then, are some traditional ideas, as reminders:
Pray. Use a printable guide provided by Open Doors or others. A school project could be having students prepare a prayer guide for your school, church, or home (using news resources like World Watch Monitor and WORLD Magazine).
Support missionaries and others who are standing against a persecution tide. Support the schools and seminaries equipping them. Support Christ-based aid and advocacy groups working among the persecuted. On our website is a list of such groups working in Iraq and Syria—where Christian populations face real extinction—just because we are so often asked about it. But I find the local church, perhaps your own, is a wonderful network for vetting and disseminating news and practical support for the global church.
Here are several nontraditional things to add to that list:
Befriend an other. Spend time with someone of a different religion and perhaps ethnicity as a way to learn to have conversations instead of confrontation about beliefs. When I travel overseas, stand-out moments occur when I have a Muslim driver or translator willing to show me Christian sites and discuss them. I learn so much from their outsider perspective and have an opportunity to be a “fragrant aroma” in return. At home, I’m grateful for weekly dinners with neighbors who don’t share my beliefs but love me still. Persecuted believers are rarely famous people, and small engagements on our own stage help us relate to them.
Receive. At the heart of the gospel is the call to receive the work Christ has done on the cross and add nothing to it. “It is finished” is a word for all time and for every day. Sometimes we need to receive news of persecution by allowing it to deepen our own appreciation for the cost of following Christ. We also need to receive the testimony of the persecuted church, recognizing it has so much to teach us.
Roughly 70 percent of the world’s Christians live without the right to worship freely, notes Karen Ellis, director at Reformed Theological Seminary’s Center for the Study of the Bible & Ethnicity. “Many of us are the world’s 30 percent, rich with religious privilege. The 70 percent isn’t the portion that’s isolated from the Body of Christ; it’s the 30 percent that’s isolated from the global persevering chorus.”
Any index of persecution, ultimately, is most helpful when it leads fellow believers to join that global persevering chorus.