Article

When following Jesus is dangerous

Supporting our persecuted family

Aug 22, 2019

August 30, 2017, is indelibly marked in the minds of the Masih family. It would be the last day Ilyasab and his wife would hear the voice of their 17-year-old son, Sharoon.

After completing lower education in his village, Sharoon began attending MC Model High School in Burewala City, Pakistan. His first day didn’t go well. He wasn’t wearing the correct uniform; therefore, he was not allowed to attend class. To add more insult, the teacher slapped him in front of everyone.

That same day, Raza Ahmed, a Muslim student, stopped Sharoon, a Christian, from drinking water from the same cup he and his Muslim classmates were using. To them, Sharoon was an infidel.

After school, Sharoon told his mother that students hated him “because of his religion” and that “he was not comfortable to go to school.”

Reluctantly, he went back the next day. He was in Islamic Studies class (a course all Pakistani students must take regardless of their beliefs) when Raza began to beat him after their teacher left the room. Raza continued to beat and kick him until he was unconscious. Pakistani media reports allege Raza’s behavior (and possible negligence of school staff) contributed to Sharoon’s death.

245 million Christians persecuted

The Masih family’s story represents more than 245 million Christians worldwide who are persecuted for their choice to follow Jesus. The persecution we read about in Scripture is still happening today. Right now, Christians are under more pressure than in any other time in modern history.

While Christian persecution takes many forms, Open Doors—a Christian ministry focused on advocacy and relief for persecuted believers all over the world—defines it as any hostility experienced as a result of identification with Christ. Throughout the world, Christians like Sharoon and his family continue to risk imprisonment, loss of their homes and possessions (including custody of their children), torture, beheadings, rape, and even death as a result of their faith.

In more than 73 countries, Christians are living and dying for their faith in places like Pakistan, Nigeria, Iran, and North Korea. Open Doors’ 2019 World Watch List ranks the 50 most dangerous countries to be a Christian. Pakistan, where Sharoon’s family continues to live, is number five.

Snapshots of persecution

Unfortunately, global persecution against Christians continues to increase. Trends show that countries in Africa, South America, Asia, and the Middle East are intensifying persecution against Christians.

In more than 73 countries, Christians are living and dying for their faith in places like Pakistan, Nigeria, Iran, and North Korea. 

In places like Nigeria, Christians face violent threats from Islamic extremist groups like Boko Haram and militant Fulani herdsmen. In its nine-year insurgency, Boko Haram has reportedly claimed more than 20,000 lives and displaced more than two million people. 

In North Korea, Christians are considered enemies of the government. If their faith is discovered, they are arrested and often sent to hard labor camps where they’re forced to endure daily interrogations, beatings, and inhumane conditions. 

In India, persecution led by radical Hindu nationalists is rapidly increasing as Christians face discrimination and violence against them and their churches. In an effort to make India an all-Hindu nation, nationalists have publicly vowed to wipe out Christianity by 2021. 

And in places like Afghanistan, Iran, and Somalia, following Jesus openly is a death sentence from Islamic extremist groups like al-Shabaab. In other countries like Bangladesh and Tajikistan, Christians are marginalized and ostracized by cultures that treat them like second-class citizens or as part of the “untouchable” caste.

Global persecution is part of the enemy’s plan to defeat the Church. Scripture clearly tells us we have an enemy that prowls like a lion, seeking to kill and destroy (1 Pet. 5:8). When Christians are attacked, ostracized, falsely accused, imprisoned, or killed, it’s because they have chosen to bear the name of Jesus.

One body, one family, one Church

That’s why Scripture is so clear that we are part of one global body, one family, one Church. Together, we are advancing the Kingdom.

Sharoon Masih’s family is our family. And just like our immediate family, we have a responsibility to our brothers and sisters in Christ. God doesn’t mince words over how he has called us to respond to one another, wherever we are. 

In his first letter to the church in Corinth, the Apostle Paul tells us that “when one part suffers, all suffer together. When one part rejoices, all the parts rejoice together” (1 Cor. 12:26). In Hebrews 13:3, we’re told to “continue to remember those in prison as if you were together with them in prison, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering.” 

In other words, what happens to believers in Pakistan or North Korea is happening to the entire Church. When we grasp this, we begin to see the power of Jesus’ prayer to the Father in John 17. He asked that we would all be one in him. The call for unity is a call that’s dear to the heart of God.

Connecting to your persecuted family

As part of the body of Christ, we’re compelled to engage and connect with our brothers and sisters. Open Doors offers numerous ways you can engage with persecuted believers around the world.

  1. Pray. The number one request from persecuted believers is prayer—“pray that we will be strong in the face of persecution.” Ask God to give you his heart for believers who endure persecution because they follow Jesus. Learn more at opendoorsusa.org/prayerapp.
  2. Read. The stories of persecuted believers are many. Their faith will inspire you. And throughout many of these stories, we see God’s hand moving over his people. You can connect with thousands of believers at opendoorsusa.org. 
  3. Share. God has invited us to join him on his mission to “make witnesses to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8). We do that by sharing what he’s doing in our lives and in the lives of others—both local and global. He has called all of us to “declare to the next generation the praises of the Lord and his might, and the wonders he has performed.”

Fulfilling Jesus’ Great Commission to make disciples to the ends of the earth requires a response from all of us who are part of the family of God. We can’t afford to look the other way when the Church is suffering for their choice to follow Jesus. Together, we are the largest expression of the Son of God on earth.

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Linda Lowry

Lindy Lowry is a writer and editor on staff with Open Doors USA. Read More