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Thursday, December 23, 2010

Christmas and Christians who need our prayers

May you all have a Blessed and Merry Christmas. Please remember to be thankful that you live in a place where you may celebrate this joyous holiday without fear of persecution, prison, violence or death and pray for those who are not so fortunate. Remember our brothers and sisters in Christ who are persecuted and terrorized around the world.
"Christians are the religious group which suffers most from persecution on account of its faith," - Pope Benedict XVI
Joel Brinkely has an excellent article, "Christianity, Large and under siege", in the Star Tribune which clearly illustrates some of what is happening to the followers of Christ around the world, excerpts below:
This Christmas season, Christians are under assault around the world.
Certainly a focus of the problem is the Middle East, where Islamic extremists consider anyone who holds another faith to be a heretic, often subject to execution.
But it's surprising to learn that Christian groups report heinous persecution on almost every continent. And for them, the nation considered the worst place to live is North Korea.
There, believers must worship in secret, and if caught they are imprisoned, tortured and sometimes killed.
North Korea is far from alone at this.
Bhutan forbids the building of churches.
In Uzbekistan, Christians are hated, and authorities cut off their water and electricity, trying to drive them away.
In Azerbaijan, even after churches register with the government, police shut some of them down. In Belarus, the government forces churches to register, and that takes several years.
In China, "unregistered" Christians are beaten and imprisoned.        
While persecution persists around the world, the most brutal examples come from the Islamic world, of course.
Christianity was born in the Middle East, and Christians have lived there since the first century -- long before Islam was born. But they earn no respect there now.
The most visible example is Iraq, where extremists detonated explosives in a church two months ago, killing more than 70 people. Because of that and other attacks, Christians are fleeing, and those who remain are asking for their own dedicated community in the north.
Last month in Egypt, where 10 percent of the population is Christian, two people died and dozens were wounded in riots after police forbade a Coptic group to build a church.
South of Cairo, enraged Egyptians burned the homes of five Christians over rumors that a Christian boy had been flirting with a Muslim girl. An Egyptian news service quoted a local cleric saying: "We have reason to believe that there is a plan to force Christians to convert" to Islam.
Then, of course, you might expect the worst from Iran.
There, earlier this month, a court sentenced Youcef Nadarkhani, a 32-year-old Christian pastor, to death on charges of apostasy. He is the minister for a 400-person Church of Iran congregation.
His crime: He admitted that when he was 19, he converted from Islam to Christianity. A second priest is facing a similar charge, CNN reported.
I could go on ... and on and on. But both Christians and Muslims like to note that Christian Arabs were important leaders of the Arab nationalist movement that grew up after the war with Israel in 1948.
They have been important parts of the community for thousands of years.
read the rest

The Christian Post has a piece from two years ago by Dr. Carl Mueller, "Remember Persecuted Christians During Christmas Season"  which has the sad details of what Christmas is like for the faithful in India and North Korea (excerpt):
According to Compass Direct News, Christians in Orissa state are anticipating Christmas with fear as Hindu extremists have called for a state-wide bandh, or forced shutdown on all sectors of society, on December 25 – a move that could provide Hindu extremists the pretext for attacking anyone publicly celebrating the birth of Christ. Last year one of the area’s worst outbreaks of violence came during the Christmas season.
The state’s chief minister has said there should be no such shutdown but stopped short of prohibiting the Hindu extremists’ plan. The federal government has expressed its disapproval of the proposal, but the Hindu extremist umbrella organization Sangh Parivar has vowed to press ahead with the shutdown, according to a report.
At least 500 people, mostly Christians, were estimated to have been killed, according to a report by a Communist Party fact-finding team, and at least 4,500 houses and churches in Orissa’s Kandhamal district were destroyed in two months of violence this fall.
North Korea
No bright lights, no Christmas dinner and not even a Christmas Eve service for the followers of Jesus Christ in North Korea, the top persecutor of Christians in the world. The government officially doesn’t allow the observance of the birth of our Redeemer. And, of course, Christmas is not a holiday in this hermit communist kingdom.
This Christmas – just like any other day in the year – there are no festive lights in the streets of Pyongyang. The city is largely shrouded in darkness. North Korea is the only country in the world where the Cold War is not yet over, and one of the few countries in which it is not permitted to celebrate Christmas at all. Thousands of Christians are annually targeted – and often throw into prisons or executed – for holding secret house church meetings or reading Christian materials.
But there is light….even in the dark country of North Korea.
“But of course Christians do reflect on the birth of Jesus Christ,” says brother Simon, who coordinates the work of Open Doors in North Korea from a secret location in China. “Only they can’t just go along to church to sing or listen to a sermon. They cannot even visit one another to read the Bible together. Being a Christian in North Korea is very lonely.
“Christmas is mainly celebrated in the heart of the Christian. Only if the whole family has turned to Christ is it possible to have something like a real gathering. As long as it is possible to keep your faith hidden from the neighbors. Besides this, it is sometimes possible to hold a meeting in remote areas with a group of 10 to 20 people. Very occasionally, it is possible for Christians to go unobtrusively into the mountains and to hold a ‘service’ at a secret location. Then there might be as many as 60 or 70 North Koreans gathered together.”
I also recall the story of Brother Vince in China last Christmas. He is a leader of a house church network. He organized a Christmas service despite being arrested twice before and warned by the Public Security Bureau (PSB). About 800 people attended the service even though the event was by personal invitation only and Brother Vince had tried to keep the location secret. But the PSB found out about the service and arrested Brother Vince. He spent 15 days in jail.

To my knowledge, the situation for Christians in these places has not improved since then.

Christians in Vietnam face a government crackdown and many of the faithful have been beaten and jailed. Via Allvoices:
Judging from the way the Vietnamese Government is intensifying crackdowns on Christian faithful, believers there may be heading for a very bleak and miserable Christmas celebrations.
The government officials ahead of the yuletide appear to have launched a major crackdown on them, by calling a halt to Christmas services in several cities and also putting pastors under house arrest.
This recent development is contained in a report by the Release International ( a United Kingdom (UK) based registered Christian charity organization, stating that just last Sunday, hundreds of Christians who had come from 10 different provinces for a Christmas celebration at the National Convention Centre in Hanoi found themselves locked out.
Also quoting Compass Direct and Voice of the Martyrs Australia, it noted that when the Christians began to worship outside in the street instead, police moved in and started to strike them with fists and sticks.
The report said that at least six people were arrested, including one Rev Nguyen Huu Bao who was scheduled to speak at the event stressing that similar incidents were reported in at least four other provinces.
“In Danang city in central Vietnam, officials without a warrant raided one house church and confiscated chairs, pulpit and sound system on the morning of a Christmas preparatory service. And in Thanh Hoa province, house church Christians were beaten and wounded by police trying to stop their worship,” the report stated.
It noted that the persecutions extend across many provinces in north and central Vietnam and that they report that Mennonite pastors in many parts of the Central Highlands were placed under house arrest for three days recently. “And in several provinces in North Vietnam, Christians, including pastors, are reported to have been beaten and arrested.”
It also stated: “However, a Vietnamese source told us that churches are not fearful. They have a strong faith and are ready to be persecuted.”
“Meanwhile, we’ve learnt that Mennonite pastor, Nguyen Hong Quang has been released from detention in Ho Chi Minh City. Pastor Quang was arrested as officials bulldozed his Bible school last week. There is no news on the 20 Bible college students arrested with Pastor Quang on December 14,” the report added.
Iraqi Christians are facing a somber Christmas, in the wake of the vicious slaughter by jihadis of Catholics celebrating  Holy Mass on October 31 and amidst a mass exodus of Christians who are fleeing the country in the hopes of avoiding further violent brutality because of their faith. Sadly, for those who remain, Christmas has largely been canceled.

In Pakistan, where Asia Bibi a Christian mother of five who has been sentenced to death after offering water to some women who were offended because Mrs. Bibi is not muslim, Pakistani Christians will celebrate the holiday very carefully and brave people are planning protests against what has been done to Asia Bibi and others who've been targeted by the harsh "anti-blasphemy" laws there.

There are Christians in peril around the world who will be celebrating in secret, but lest I ruin all of your holiday cheer with such terrible knowledge, there is a piece in the AmSpecBlog that might make you feel a little better because Christmas still survives in some unlikely places, even if it does so in an unusual way.
Christmas is now celebrated, however imperfectly, in most lands where the worst tyrants tried to eradicate it and its celebrants. May the Christmas spirit spread and grow, sweeping away the despots and malevolent cranks who resent its good will and promise of transcendent hope. 
Read the whole thing

Let us remember and pray for those who are not free to celebrate Christmas in the peace and safety that we enjoy and so often take for granted, and let us never forget what Christmas is really all about:

    And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.
    And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid.
    And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.
    For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord.
    And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.
    And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying,
    Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.
    -Luke 2:8-14

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