Greg Strand is EFCA executive director of theology and credentialing, and he serves on the Board of Ministerial Standing as well as the Spiritual Heritage Committee. He and his family are members of Northfield (Minnesota) EFC.
The ISIS martyrdom of the 21 Coptic Christians is now old news. But even though that was a horrific act that shook the conscience of the world, that sort of thing occurs daily, although not necessarily of that magnitude or with that public renown. This is a “troubling trend of violence targeting Christians and other religious minorities.” According to Open Doors USA, who gives an annual update on the persecution of Christians around the world, “persecution has never been worse”: Christian Persecution Has Never Been Worse
Open Doors is committed “to helping Christians facing persecution around the world.” Kristin Wright, director of advocacy at Open Doors, was interviewed about the persecution of Christians more broadly. Specifically Wright was asked “about where Christian persecution is the worst, what Christians are facing and how people can help those suffering” during these days of the “Church’s unprecedented challenge.” I include some of the questions and responses from this interview.
Has Open Doors seen an uptick in persecution against the Church?
We certainly have. Last year—2014—will go down in history as having the highest level of global persecution of Christians in the modern era. The worst thing, though, is conditions suggest this is only going to worsen around the world in many areas where Christians face a lot of persecution.
Have you identified anything in particular that has contributed to such a dramatic increase in persecution of Christians?
Each year, Open Doors produces our World Watch List that identifies 50 countries where Christians face intense persecution because of their faith. So there are a lot of different factors that are analyzed and taken into account when we’re creating this list. But one thing we have found is that for the most recently released list for 2015, Islamic extremism is the source of persecution in 40 out of 50 of those countries. So that says something about a growing issue throughout the world today—and one that isn’t just impacting minority Christians in different countries, but impacting many minority groups.
We’ve been hearing about the atrocities committed by ISIS, and one of their intentions is to drive people away from other faiths. Has going through all this strengthened people’s resolve to follow their faith? What is the mindset for people on the ground there who have actually seen and suffered violence firsthand?
I’ve spoken to many, many refugee families coming from both Syria and Iraq, and I think that the resolve varies. It depends on the way the family has reacted to the suffering they’ve experienced. It depends on where they are in that process. They’ve lost everything, including members of their family, in many cases. And when you’re up close and personal with that kind of suffering on a daily basis, it’s easy for resolve to weaken.
I’ve also talked to many families that have held strong to their faith in the midst of persecution, and their faith is a source of comfort for them. Their faith is a source of strength. But there’s also the reality of grief and how hard it is to be a refugee, how hard it is to leave everything behind you.
Something that we talk a lot about at Open Doors is this concept of presence ministry; being present for the persecuted church, being present for people who are suffering. For some people, that means going there and visiting firsthand with refugees and hearing their stories and crying with them and praying with them. For others, that means praying just from afar, from wherever you are. Praying for peace.
Prayer is such a crucial aspect of this ministry and every time I visit with families that have fled from Iraq and Syria and different areas, and they’re always saying, “We need your prayers. We need your prayers on a daily basis.”
When asked about how Christians can become engaged, Wright listed four specific ways to help.
What will you do? How will you respond?
Hear the Word of the Lord: “Remember those who are in prison, as though in prison with them, and those who are mistreated, since you also are in the body” (Heb. 13:3).