Last spring, I was having supper with Christian workers who had devoted their lives to North Africa. They were retired missionaries. I left the table to take a call from a reporter. He wanted my opinion on the subject of the persecution of Christians, claiming many of his sources in the media and academia were downplaying accounts of Christian persecution, both past and present. I gave a few comments, then returned to my companions who were in mid-story, telling one account after another of the devastation occurring in their former areas on labor -- churches burned, Christians killed, believers fired from jobs, church members imprisoned, leaders slain.
I thought to myself, anyone who downplays the persecution of Christians is deeply mistaken.
Baroness Warsi, a government official in Great Britain and a Muslim, recently warned that Christian populations are "hemorrhaging" in nations like Pakistan, where persecution against believers is intense and sustained. In many places Christianity, is in danger of extinction because of cold-blooded, systematic slaughter.
In his new book, The Global War on Christians, John L. Allen, Jr., senior Vatican correspondent for the National Catholic Report, called the massive worldwide wave of anti-Christian violence "the most dramatic religion story of the early 21st century."
He wrote, "Christians today indisputably are the most persecuted religious body on the face of the planet, and too often their new martyrs suffer in silence."
This is a human rights disaster of epic proportions, claimed Allen, and "the world's best-kept secret." While it's true attacks are mounting against adherents of other faiths, 80 percent of all acts of religious discrimination in the world today are directed at Christians.
The worst killings may be in Northern Nigeria. According to the watchdog agency Open Doors, more Christians were killed in Northern Nigeria last year than in the rest of the world combined. Christian women are forced at knifepoint to convert to Islam, and the Nigerian terrorist group Boko Haram is seeking to eradicate Christianity.
In Iran, where Christianity has been growing despite persecution, Pastor Behnam Irani has now passed the 900th day in prison for his faith. Another pastor, Saeed Abedini, incarcerated in Tehran's Evin Prison for his faith, is denied needed medications for injuries sustained at the hands of guards. On October 30, a Christian in Iran was flogged for taking communion.
Reports from Iraq tell of over a million Christians put to flight there. The number of known Christians inside Iraq has been reduced from 1.5 million to around 200,000.
A woman named Wehazit Berhane Debesai is the 25th known person to die for Christ in the wretched prisons of Eritrea, where several thousand people are behind bars because of their faith. But the phrase "behind bars" is a misnomer. At the Me'eter Prison in the Eritrean desert, inmates, mostly Christians, are held in large metal storage containers that become ovens by day and freezers by night where dehydrated victims drink their own sweat and urine to stay alive.
John L. Allen, Jr. asks logical questions when he wonders why there's so much outrage over Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo, when the plight of Christians at Me'eter is never mentioned in the press. Indeed in every Muslim-dominated land, Christians are oppressed -- even in moderate states like Turkey. The Arab Spring has become a Christian Winter in places like Egypt where the Coptic church is facing dire and dangerous days.
Christians are faring no better under Communism. North Korea remains the most evil nation on earth due to the oppression of its people, especially Christians. According to accounts, 80 people were machine-gunned the other day in a stadium in front of 10,000 people. The crime for some of the victims was owning a Bible. Reports from North Korea have told of Christians being pulverized by steamrollers. Hundreds of thousands of believers north of the Thirty-Eight Parallel have simply vanished. At this very moment, there are over 50,000 Christians suffering in concentration camps in Korea.
Turning elsewhere, Christians in India are trying to resist discriminatory laws promoted by Hindu extremists. In the Indian state of Orissa, as many as 500 Christians were hacked to death some time ago, with thousands more injured or left homeless. As many as 350 churches were destroyed. Just last month, the body of a boy named Anmoi was recovered in North India. He had been tortured and murdered, evidently because he had gone to Sunday School. His face was burned, his mouth tied shut, his toes broken, his stomach scalded with hot coals, then he had been drowned. He was only seven-years-old.
In Burma, the government has launched helicopter strikes against Christian regions of the country, with soldiers authorized to kill followers of Christ on sight. Christians in the Central Africa Republic are also systematically targeted for violence.
According to Open Doors, the most dangerous countries in the world for Christian are, in order of horror: North Korea, Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Iran, Maldives, Uzbekistan, Yemen, Iraq, Pakistan, Eritrea, Laos, Nigeria, Mauritania, Egypt, Sudan, Bhutan, Turkmenistan, Vietnam, Chechnya, and China. It's hard to estimate the number of Christians who die each year from martyrdom. Open Doors was able to verify 1200 deaths in 2012, but the true number is much higher. Indeed, the Center for the Study of Global Christianity at Gordon-Conwell estimated a million Christians were martyred in between 2000 and 2010.
If much of the media hasn't yet realized the significance of this story, the Bible anticipated it years ago. The founder of Christianity, after all, was tortured to death and his original 12 followers were all persecuted; most were slain. Though his message was a Gospel of peace, his critics nailed him to a cross but failed to keep him in the tomb. They hated him but could not contain him. They sought to limit his influence, but they only broadened his impact.