Image: Nigeria-Jos – Service in burned ECWA-Church in Rikkos
When persecution strikes, how does the suffering church of Christ respond? In the contemporary world today, you can see at least three options Christians traditionally choose from.
- Dive and survive
Go deep underground and keep clear of the persecutor, usually the state. One survives by maintaining a careful secure distance from the persecutor. Keep clear and keep safe. It does have the disadvantage however of meaning that Christianity rarely gets a chance to influence cultural change, and it is hard to organize meetings in such a way that the Christians can pass their faith on from one generation to the next as well as embed the faith in the social structure.
In North Korea today, this is the only option as Christians form home groups. They are so secret they are usually organized along family lines. Non-family members cannot be trusted with such a terrible secret. If authorities discover a home group, everyone is taken to the death camps, including all relatives of the families even if they have not been involved in worship activities. In these groups, there is no singing. Hymns are mouthed silently to each other. Children are rarely invited for fear they may blurt something out at school. It is almost impossible to imagine the fear that surrounds these tiny gatherings. That knock on the door could be another member arriving, or a policeman coming to jail them forever.
North Korea is #1 on WWL 2017.
- Flee and live
For many who are converts to Christianity from a tribe or another religion, it is almost impossible for them to stay where they live and not be killed. So they have to flee in order to save their lives and the lives of their families. This is a lot more widespread that many think. Thousands of Muslim Background Believers face this dilemma every day, as do those especially from tribal minorities in South East Asia.
In Somalia at least 12 Christians were killed this year. All were Muslim Background Believers. Said a World Watch researcher: “This is a very tight society. If you stop going to the mosque, it is really noticed after a couple of weeks. You get told to come. If you don’t, you’d better leave if you want to live.”
Somalia is #2 on WWL 2017.
- Stay and die
In extreme cases, a Christian may simply decide that their best option is to offer their blood. They stay and take the consequences. Martyrs often do have a disproportionate effect for the better on church growth, as their witness unto death inspires generations to come.
One such Christian was Pastor John Njaramba Kiruga. His ministry was to teach peace between Christians and Muslims in the lawless and dangerous region in Kenya up near the Somali border, where the extremist group al-Shabaab terrorizes Christians. In April 2015 this group had slaughtered 148 Christians at a school in Garissa, but Pastor John was on his way to Mandera, right in the danger zone. This man had a dream that no one would deflect him from, that Muslims even in the most remote and dangerous areas should have the opportunity to experience the compassion and love of Christians. A few days before he was killed in July 2016 he emailed to a friend: “Heading to Mandera tomorrow. Pray for us pray for Kenya … Mandera is not that safe for now, but we must preach peace at all cost, John.” On his return home from leading a training on peace his bus was attacked by the militants. Northeastern Kenya is experiencing ethnic cleansing on religious grounds, but men like Pastor John are prepared to stay and pay with their blood if required. He leaves behind a wife and two sons, 17 year old Ian and 9 year old Lenny. Though it seems hard to credit, more will follow John and continue his ministry than will be repelled, such is the power of a witness in blood.
Kenya is #18 on WWL 2017.
This material forms part of a training manual taught by Open Doors, entitled Persecution: The Big Picture, by Dr Ronald Boyd-MacMillan.
Dr Ronald Boyd-MacMillan is Director of Strategic Research for Open Doors International, and Professor of Practical Theology in Lahore, Pakistan.