Christians under attack in Syria, Iran, N. Korea

Christians under attack in Syria, Iran, N. Korea December 7, 2012
Icon of Mary and Christ
Icon of Christ and Mary from Bab Touma, Syria. Joel Bombardier, Flickr

“O Lord . . . for thy sake I bear reproach.”
–Jeremiah 15.15

An Algerian Christian faces five years in prison for the crime of sharing his faith with a Muslim. Authorities claim that Karim Siaghi insulted Mohammad, something he denies.

His appeal is being heard in Oran, a costal city just 600 miles away from where Augustine once presided as bishop. There has been a lot of history a between that moment and this, much of it going against Christians, but for me that geographic realization only underscores the tragedy in Algeria and beyond. Where the faith once thrived, now Christianity is practically a crime.

Several stories of late point to the precarious position of Christians in Africa and the Middle East, while the faithful face horrifying circumstances in other parts of the world as well.

Syrian Christians targeted

As conditions in Syria worsen, Christians are under particular assault. Two car bombs detonated in the Damascus suburb of Jaramana November 28. Thirty-eight were killed and more than eighty were injured. Jaramana’s population is heavily Christian and Druze.

Five weeks prior, the Christian neighborhood Bab Touma was rocked when a car bomb detonated outside two churches, killing ten and injuring more than sixteen. The Bab Touma bomb exploded on a street that connects to Straight Street, which is mentioned in the ninth chapter of Acts and figures in Paul’s conversion.

Agenzia Fides reports that before the shooting there were about 160,000 Christians in the city of Homs. Now there are just a thousand.

There seems also to be a targeting of Christian ministers. In late October Orthodox priest Fr. Fadi Haddad was tortured and killed while trying to negotiate freedom for a kidnapped parishioner. His tormentors gouged out his eyes. Around the same time a pastor and his family were shot and killed in their house church by militants.

Iran and N. Korea

House churches in Iran are being targeted in a what appears to be a widespread crackdown. Reports of arrest, says one source, are pouring in. Since 2010 some 300 Iranian Christians have been arrested for little cause besides practicing their faith, and the UN reports that Iranian officials are pressuring churches to report membership to keep tabs on converts.

As repressive as the Iranian regime is, North Korea is worse. Spying, jailing, killing are the norm.

“Scrutiny of the estimated 200,000 to 400,000 brave underground Christians inside North Korea has increased during the last year,” says Jerry Dykstra of Open Doors USA. “Of the estimated 150,000 to 200,000 people living under horrific conditions in prisons, there are 50,000 to 70,000 Christians.” Christians who flee to China are tracked down, sent home, and thrown into prison — or worse.

Dykstra held out one ray of light shining from North Korea. “[W]e know that Christians living under the most brutal regime in the world will be celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ this Christmas — most of them only in their hearts.”

These are the things no persecutor can steal: faith, hope, devotion, observance, and prayer.

Prayers for persecutors

For my private devotions I use a small blue prayer book, A Manual of Eastern Orthodox Prayers. There are two prayers that speak to the subject at hand:

Thou who didst pray for them that crucified thee, O Lord, Lover of the souls of men, and who didst command thy servants to pray for their enemies, forgive those who hate and maltreat us, and turn our lives from all harm and evil to brotherly love and good works: for this we humbly bring our prayer, that with one accord and one heart we may glorify thee who alone lovest mankind.

As thy first martyr Stephen prayed to thee for his murderers, O Lord, so we fall before thee and pray: forgive all who hate and maltreat us and let not one of them perish because of us, but all be saved by thy grace, O God the all-bountiful.

These prayers are significant in their own right, but their backstory is also important. The prayer manual was produced by the Fellowship of St. Albans and St. Sergius, made up of Western Christians and refugees from the Russian Revolution.

The people who included these prayers knew firsthand the brutality of the Bolsheviks and were forced from their homeland because of their violence and evil. These were people who knew suffering. These were people who knew martyrdom. And yet they pled forgiveness for their persecutors.

I find their witness in these prayers encouraging, humbling, and deeply convicting. Unmentioned above, the crimes against Christians rage far beyond the borders of these countries: Nigeria, Indonesia, Uzbekistan. . . . The list could go on for line after line.

I suffer little for my faith. I sometimes think that is because I am unworthy to bear such a witness.

Lord, open my eyes and heart to the plight of my brothers and sisters around the world. Strengthen them, and have mercy upon those who persecute them. For you are good and holy always, now and ever, and unto ages of ages. Amen.

See also “Prayers of the Persecuted Church,” which captures more of this story and explains more about the martyrdom of Fr. Fadi Haddad.

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  • sam

    I am an iranian. We are iranians dont do such evil works you mentioned. There are especial positions for religious minorities in irans parliment and we have christian MPs here. One of the famous soccer players in Iran national team is a christian and his name is Andranik Teymourian. We have several christian actors and actresses. Iranians whether muslims, jews or christians love their country and are unite against any offence and rumors on iran. You mentioned the christian situation in syria, but you dont mentioned which countries support militant groups in syria? the answer is so clear, US and Europian union. Obama and Clinton repeatedly expressed their support whether finacially, politically or military from syria insurgents and militant groups! Please show my comment if you seek and spread the truth. Thank you

    • Joel J. Miller

      Thank you for your comment. I have not desire to insult your country, but to raise an alarm about what the Iranian government is doing to Christians (and those of other minority religions) within its borders. Rather than allowing my response to be somehow overlooked by readers in the comments, I’ve posted it as a separate entry here. There are many wonderful things about your country, whose history is long and rich. But the repression and persecution of Christians and other religious minorities should be exposed and opposed.

  • I’m %100 in support of Israel. I love my country the United States. However this propaganda is ridiculous. The church should be smarter than this. What is happening in Syria is just wrong and we are not being told the truth by our media outlets both Christian and secular.

    This is proxy war funded and led by the United States. America is supporting terrorists groups including Al Qaeda. Syria was no threat to the United States or her allies. Syria has not been purposely killing innocent civilians are our news outlets are reporting. These deaths are twofold. One is the results of terrorist murders and the other are terrorists being killed. To say that the Syrian government shouldn’t be killing these groups is to say our government shouldn’t kill anyone if it attacks her. If a United States group took up arms against her, she would surely bring the hammer of death. She would defend herself at all cost. The Syrian government is suppost to protect herself and citizens.

    The United States has no business supporting Al Qaeda and other terrorists groups!!! We shouldn’t have attacked Libya, which was the most stable and prosperous country outside South Africa. We should have not supporting and funded the overthrowing of Egypt, one of our main allies in the war on terror. In both Libya and Egypt you could be a Christian freely, not anymore. First thing happened in Libya after the murder of Kadafi, was the terrorist groups started killing Christians and blacks. The Christians are trying the flee Egypt by tthe droves.

    They media is lying saying this groups are fighting for democratic government. Hog wash. Stop lying to the American people!!! The want and are instituting Sharia Law. No more rights for woman or Christians. The majority of the world no this. Most international news outlets questioning how americans are now supporting terrorists and why.

    Our government is destabalizing the middle east bacause of gold and oil. As a man of God I have to call wrong wrong. It isn’t about freedom. Stop lying!!! There are real countries where people are being oppressed and these countries where not any of those countries.

    Stop the prooganda machine.