Thursday, December 4, 2014

The Worst Places on Earth

Opening the Eyes of the Western World

Five: Afghanistan. Four: Iraq. Three: Syria. Two: Somalia. One: North Korea. Top five war-torn countries? Worst dictators? Most undesirable vacation destinations? Probably. But this Top Five list makes another claim. These are the worst places on Earth to be a Christian. It’s not because there aren’t enough denominations to choose from, or because believers can’t get their worship on with some upbeat tunes. It’s not even because an outspoken Bible thumper might rouse a scoff or two. But rather the reasons these countries top the list is because these are the places where Christians might be thrown into prison for owning a Bible, or lose a limb for baptizing a new believer, or be killed for refusing to denounce their faith.

It may sound like another era in history. Our world is an enlightened place and this sort of mentality should have been purged from our collective conscience by now. Or perhaps it sounds like something from the future. The book of Revelation seemingly sets it up. But surely it’s not going to happen. We wouldn’t allow it.

It is happening. Just a few years ago, a friend recommended a book that purported widespread persecution as being non-existent in our modern world. The writer seemed determined to maintain an ideology that brags of a church on every corner and a Bible in every household. Widespread persecution wasn’t an issue—at least not yet—the writer insisted. And it wouldn’t be as long as we managed to hold on to the old-time religion of the good old U.S.A. Even at that point in time, I knew the writer only had his eyes on the Western World. Persecution wasn’t at the forefront of the American Christian’s concerns. But now we know. Now we are praying.

In my novel, Wake the Dead, Western Christians living twenty years in the future are sometimes briefly detained, or they’re sent for a few hours social retraining. Occasionally they go to prison, but only when they just won’t stop proselytizing. For the most part, they keep quiet. Meeting in secret and keeping their Bibles out of plain sight is not a big deal. It’s just the way things are. But what is left unsaid leads the reader to believe it’s going to get worse.                       

Some people have asked if I think things will really turn out that way. I wonder if those people are still blissfully western in their thoughts. Do they take freedom for granted when they pass six churches on the way to their church? Do they pile last year’s most popular topical Bible on top of the one from the year before? Do they own the one with the pink flowers on the cover, and the one that’s chronological, and two different study Bibles because it turned out one was more studious than the other? The NKJV, ESV, and NIV? Got an old King James somewhere in the pile?

Maybe they’re not surprised that we might face persecution, just grateful it hasn’t come too close to home. But it has come to our family. As of today, the North American continent is free of extreme or even moderate persecution. South America—at the point where the two continents connect—reminds us that persecution is inching closer as Colombia holds its place at number twenty-five. In the Western World it’s the only country to earn a spot on the dreaded list. The other nations in the Top Fifty are on the opposite side of the globe, and mostly grouped together. View the map on Open Doors website:

These fifty nations and more—their leaders and hate-filled factions—make existing as a follower of Christ next to impossible. We can’t blame any particular group, though some find it easy to do so. Some of these governments are, of course, founded on Islam. But remember the fight is not against a group of people.

 For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm. Ephesians 6:12,13

In the number one spot, North Korea is traditionally a blend of eastern religions, though communism brings with it a state of irreligion. A Christian—and there are some—in North Korea faces a real threat of execution. The Christians in Wake the Dead go underground because they know what has happened in other places might one day happen to them. But they’re only make-believe. The Christians in North Korea, and many other places in our shrinking world, stay underground to stay alive. Those of us safe in the protective bubble of the Christian West must face the struggle of their persecution. They are our family.

We must pray, send support in whatever form may be feasible, go wherever we might be allowed for however long we might be permitted. And when the persecutor inches nearer to our freedom, we must rejoice. Not for the pain and loss and murder that will come, but because we belong to Christ. For we know the world hated Him, and so it will hate us too.   

“If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. John 15:18,19

It is no surprise. It is heartbreaking to know fellow believers are undergoing a struggle we in the West have only heard about. We must stand firm for them with a prayer on our lips and a song in our hearts, awaiting the great rescue. Even so, come, Lord Jesus. Revelation 20:22

Scriptures from ESV

1 comment:

  1. Great, great post, Victoria! I love that you remind us what real persecution is (while we fuss about being wished "Happy Holidays"). I also love that you don't point fingers and promulgate hate. Yes--humans in God's image are never the enemy. Satan is.