On April 2nd of this year, I sat on a cushy pew in my comfortable church. It was Maundy Thursday. I quietly contemplated Jesus’ words and actions on the night before he died. I stood peacefully with my fellow Christians at the altar receiving my Savior’s body and blood in Holy Communion. Then I returned to an uneventful night at home watching television.
On that same day, halfway around the world, four gunmen stormed Garissa University College in Garissa, Kenya. The heavily armed militants claimed to be a part of the al-Shabab terrorist organization based in neighboring Somalia.
The young soldiers went dorm to dorm looking for Christians. Most Muslim students were set free as Christian students were held hostage. At the end of the standoff, 148 students were dead and dozens more injured.
The predominately Christian nation of Kenya declared a three day period of mourning. Easter celebrations were dedicated to the fallen. Parents grieved. College students around the country debated whether or not to return to their schools.
All the while I sat on my cushy pew in my comfortable church. Like many Americans, I didn’t hear or maybe I just didn’t pay attention to the news.
Church statistician David Barrett estimates that around 70,000,000 Christians have been martyred – killed for their faith in Jesus – since the time of the apostles. What may surprise you is that the last one hundred years have been the bloodiest.
Roughly 17,000,000 Christians were killed or died in prison camps in Communist Russia. It is common knowledge that 6,000,000 Jews died during the Holocaust. What many have forgotten is that 1,000,000 Christians died in those same Nazi concentration camps.
From 1950 to 1980, Chinese leaders attempted to eradicate churches in what they called the “Great Leap Forward” and the “Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution.” Churches were razed. Believers were imprisoned. Around 700,000 Christians were killed.
In the last 100 years, millions of other Christians have died in mass persecutions in places like Ethiopia, Uganda, North Korea and throughout the Middle East.
Although rampant persecution and murder of Christians continue even today in many parts of the world, it rarely makes the highlights on CNN. Christians are being killed at alarming rates in places like Kenya, Nigeria, Syria and Pakistan. Women are being ravaged. Children are being crucified, for no other reason than that they worship Jesus as their God and Savior.
Most Americans are unaware or indifferent.
Persecution shouldn’t surprise us. Jesus told us it would be this way. “No servant is greater than his master,” he said (John 15:20). Just as he was persecuted and killed, Christians should expect and be willing to suffer the same.
Persecution of Christians shouldn’t surprise us. It should sadden us, though. It should lead us to pray for our brothers and sisters in the faith. It should embolden us to stand up and speak out. Men, women and children around the world – Christians like you and me – are suffering horrible atrocities rather than deny their Savior. They are trusting firmly in God’s promise of heaven as they stare down the barrel of a rifle or are held at knife point.
How about you?
In our country, persecution is more subtle. We are free to sit on our cushy pews in our comfortable churches. We are free to believe what we want as long as we don’t speak up too loudly or openly oppose sin. Then we get crucified in the media and called intolerant by our society.
That’s hard to handle sometimes. We are tempted to sit down and keep quiet. Maybe it would help to remember that right now, fellow Christians are literally being crucified for their faith. How can we back down just because people might not like us?
That being said, as Christians our God also calls us to speak the truth in love. He commands us to honor and obey our government. As you stand up and speak out, be careful. The devil will try to get you to speak out in anger. As my dad always used to tell me, “It’s not what you said, it’s how you said it.” It’s not enough to be right. Speak the truth in love.
Until Christ comes, Christians will be persecuted. Pray for your fellow believers whose lives and livelihoods are threatened. Follow their example of courage. Stand up and speak out – but do so following your Savior’s example of humility and love.
(A special “Thank You” to Professor James Korthals of Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary. A recent essay he wrote for the “Wisconsin Lutheran Quarterly” was the inspiration for this article and the source of many of the statistics. For more information on the persecution of Christians throughout the world, visit the Voice of the Martyrs website.)