What is Persecution?
PERSECU’TION, n. The act or practice of persecuting; the infliction of pain, punishment or death upon others unjustly, particularly for adhering to a religious creed or mode of worship, either by way of penalty or for compelling them to renounce their principles.
Since the crucifixion of Jesus Christ, Christians have faced persecution for their beliefs. Back at the time of Jesus, the suffering of Christians was proof that Jesus was real and the Son of God. Once Jesus had been resurrected and went to Heaven, why would people suffer for Him unless they knew it really happened? Instead of Christianity getting smaller after Christ’s death, it exploded.
And although it does not get any major headlines, thousands of Christians across the world today are still suffering and even putting their lives on the line for their belief in our Savior Jesus Christ. Let’s see what the Bible has to say about it:
A. The Prophecies about Persecution
Read John 15:18-21
1. Why would anyone in the world hate Christians?
2. What would make the world love us?
3. Why shouldn’t we expect better treatment?
Read Matthew 24:9
4. What did Jesus say was going to happen to his followers near the end of the world?
Handout 1 – The First Persecution
5. Why were Christians persecuted in the Roman Empire?
6. How were they persecuted?
7. What was the response by Christians after this?
Handout 2 – Burma
8. What persecution has happened in Burma?
9. What have Christians done in response?
Handout 2 – Malaysia
10. What type of persecution is happening in Malaysia?
11. What was the Christian response?
Read Matthew 5:44
12. What commands of Christ are the Malaysian people following?
Persecution in America
Tolerance of anti-Christian attitudes in the United States is escalating. Recently, a woman in Houston, Texas was ordered by local police to stop handing out gospel tracts to children who knocked on her door during Halloween. Officers informed her that such activity is illegal (not true), and that she would be arrested if she continued. In Madison, Wisconsin, the Freedom from Religion Foundation distributes anti-Christian pamphlets to public school children entitled, “We Can Be Good Without God.” The entertainment industry and syndicated media increasingly vilify Christians as sewer rats, vultures, and simple-minded social ingrates. The FBI and the Clinton White House brand fundamentalist Christian groups as hate mongers and potential terrorists. The Council of Religious Leaders of Metropolitan Chicago warns that plans by Southern Baptists to hold a convention in the Windy City next year might foment “hate crimes” against minorities, causing some Christians to fear that speaking openly about their religious beliefs will soon be considered a crime. All this, while Christianity itself is often a target of hate-crime violence. We remember the students at Columbine, and the United Methodist minister who was fatally beaten and burned in a remote part of Chattanooga, Tennessee, to name a few of the recent examples of interpersonal violence aimed at believers.
13. Does it feel like attitudes about Christianity and the Bible are getting worse in society?
14. What are 3 ways that we can be persecuted?
15. What should we do about it?
Read John 16:33
16. What does Jesus say our attitude should be about the problems we may face? Why?
Christian Persecution Part II
Read Matthew 5:10-12
1. What is the reward for those who are persecuted for being Christian?
Read 1 Peter 4:12-14, 16; 19
1. Should we be surprised when people persecute us?
2. What should our reaction be to it?
3. Why should we have that reaction?
4. What can our reaction do for others?
Christian Persecution Handout
The First Persecution, Under Nero, A.D. 67
From Foxe’s Book of Martyrs, Chapter 2
The first persecution of the Church took place in the year 67, under Nero, the sixth emperor of Rome. He reigned for five years and was famous for wasting the empire’s money and being a cruel, violent ruler. One of his ideas was to rebuilt the city of Rome and make himself look like a hero for it. So in order to do this he planned to set the whole city on fire.
But he was wrong! This dreadful fire continued nine days; when Nero, realizing that people were starting to blame him for the fire and hating him, determined to lay the whole blame upon the Christians in Rome. This way he could escape blame and hurt more people at the same time. This was the first historic persecution since the time of Jesus Christ’s death and resurrection. Nero hunted down Christians and punished anyone who declared that they believed in Jesus Christ. In particular, he had some sewed up in skins of wild beasts, and then sent dogs after them. Others dressed in shirts made stiff with wax, tied them to poles, and set on fire in his gardens, in order to illuminate them at night. This persecution was general throughout the whole Roman Empire; but instead of decreasing the Christian spirit, Christian became bolder in spreading the Gospel. It was also during this time that Peter, the disciple of Jesus and Paul, were both killed for their faith.
Burma: Not My Backyard
“The world needs to know about the genocide that is happening today in Burma.”
— Patrick Klein, Vision Beyond Borders
The Burmese army is carrying out a massive killing campaign against its people, and the world is unaware, Patrick Klein of Vision Beyond Borders told VOM staff.
According to Patrick, who recently returned from Burma and Thailand, more than 500,000 people have been killed in Burma (also known as Myanmar) in the last 30 years. More than 3,300 villages have been burned to the ground by the Burmese military, and thousands of children have lost parents from brutal attacks by Burmese soldiers. About 1 million Burmese refugees have fled across the border to Thailand, where they wait in uncertainty. At any moment they might be sent back to Burma to face certain death.
Even refugee camps in Thailand are not safe from Burmese soldiers. They frequently cross the shallow river separating Thailand and Burma to poison water supplies and kill or kidnap refugees, whom they sometimes use as human mine sweepers. The Thai generals who rule the area work hand in hand with Burma’s ruling military junta regime and grow rich through the illegal drug trade that profits them both.
Patrick said the genocide is both an ethnic cleansing and a reaction against pro-democracy movements in Burma, but it also has a specifically anti-Christian agenda. When the head of a monastery asked soldiers if he should warn Buddhist monks to leave a conflict area, the soldier replied, “No, we are not going to harm the Buddhists. We are only against the Christians.”
One heavily targeted Burmese minority group is the Karen people. Historically Christian, today about 40 percent of the Karen people are Christians. A Burmese official boldly stated recently, “Soon there will be no Christians in this nation. You will only be able to see a Karen person in a picture in a museum.”
In the midst of this horror, God is at work in Burma. Many people are trusting their lives to God. One of the believers went so far as to tell Patrick, “Without this genocide, maybe this worship would not be happening, and people would not be coming to Christ.”
Patrick said he was saddened and horrified by conditions in the Burmese refugee camps he visited. He heard many stories of suffering, but what affected him most was an enthusiastic worship service by a group of 86 orphans who are cared for by a Baptist pastor. “We had a worship service from 4 p.m. until 9 p.m. Then at 10 p.m., the kids came back and asked if we could go on worshiping! They have little happiness in their lives, but what they do have is the joy of the Lord,” Patrick said.
Malaysia: Churches Firebombed
Eight churches have been attacked in Malaysia following a court decision that allows Christians to use “Allah” in their prayers and publications when referring to God, according to The Associated Press (AP).
On Sunday, Jan. 10, three churches were firebombed. “On Sunday, a Molotov cocktail was hurled at the All Saints Church in Taiping town in central Perak state early in the morning before it opened,” state police chief Zulkifli Abdullah told AP. “Police found burn marks on the wall but there was no damage to the building,” he added. Despite the attacks, thousands of Christians attended services and prayed for unity and an end to the attacks.
The attacks on churches began on Jan. 8 and 9, when four churches were hit with firebombs. “No one was hurt and all suffered little damage, except the Metro Tabernacle Church,” AP said. “Parishioners there moved services after fire gutted the first floor.”
The attacks followed a Dec. 31 High Court decision overturning a government ban prohibiting non-Muslims from using the word “Allah” in prayers and literature. The court had ruled on a petition by Malaysia’s Roman Catholic Church, whose main publication, the Herald, uses the word “Allah” in its Malay-language edition. The government has appealed the verdict.
Leaders of Metro Tabernacle issued a statement to The Star newspaper, forgiving the attackers and thanking the government for condemning the attacks. “We have a congregation of 1,700 who are godly and forgiving,” said Senior Pastor Reverend Ong Sek Leang. “It is a very sad day for Malaysia, but a great day to know that most Malaysians do not think [in a religiously divisive manner].”
The statement of forgiveness was offered as Christian groups, lawyers of all faiths and politicians from the East Malaysia (Borneo) state of Sarawak loudly protested the attacks, The Star reported.
The attacks against churches in Malaysia have targeted varied denominations, and The Voice of the Martyrs encourages you to pray for believers. Pray that they will show grace and love toward the attackers and that their testimonies will draw non-believers into fellowship with Christ.
Two Eritrean Christians Tortured to Death
Special to Compass Direct News
Arrested at worship service with 10 others; Christian singer sent back to prison.
LOS ANGELES – Eritrean security police tortured two Christians to death yesterday, two days after arresting them for holding a religious service in a private home south of Asmara.
The deaths came just after officials detained a U.S. citizen and re-imprisoned a popular Christian singer who was hospitalized as a result of spending 29 months in a metal shipping container.
Immanuel Andegergesh, 23, and Kibrom Firemichel, 30, died from torture wounds and severe dehydration in a military camp outside the town of Adi-Quala, eyewitnesses told Compass.
The military buried the two unmarried men yesterday in the southern Eritrean town near the Ethiopian border, where they had been performing their military service.
Andegergesh and Firemichel were arrested on Sunday (October 15), along with 10 other Christians, while attending a worship service in the home of Teklezgi Asgerdom.
The three women and seven men, all members of the evangelical Rema Church, were kept in military confinement, along with Andegergesh and Firemichel, and subjected to “furious mistreatment,” one source said.
The fate of the 10 other Christians remains unknown.
Singer Returned to Detention
Earlier this month, Eritrean authorities returned popular Christian singer Helen Berhane to military detention after she spent three days in Asmara’s Halibet Hospital for medical treatment.
Berhane’s leg was seriously damaged as a result of beatings she received while imprisoned in a metal shipping container since her arrest in May 2004.
Sources told Compass that Berhane, a member of the Kidane Mehrete Fellowship (previously misreported as the Rema Church), has been transferred back to Mai-Serwa Military Camp and now is able to walk with the help of a cane.
The government has continued its campaign against Christian workers, jailing a U.S. citizen earlier this month.
Evangelical Aregahaje Woldeselasie and his assistant, a married man identified only as Mushie, have been held in Asmara’s Police Station 5 since their arrest on October 4.
An Eritrean-born U.S. citizen in his early 60s, Woldeselasie has been working with Nehemiah Ministry International in Eritrea since 1991, providing leadership training to new congregations.
Africa’s largest country, Sudan, gained its independence in 1956. The country recently emerged from a civil war that has left its infrastructure in tatters. The conflict broke out in 1983 when southern rebels sought independence from the Islamic government in the north. With the discovery of oil in southern Sudan, the clashes increased in scope as the government desired to control this vast source of wealth. Using money from the oil industry that was developed by western companies, the government purchased weapons in increasing number and sophistication to use against the southern people. Government forces and militia destroyed entire villages and attacked hospitals and relief organizations trying to meet the needs of the people. Many women were raped and children were sold into slavery. Famine also plagued the country as a result of the war. The number of casualties was in the millions, while millions more were displaced. Although the conflict was officially about control of land and wealth, it also had a strong religious factor in that the government was strongly Islamic and the people of the south were predominantly Christian or animist. The Muslim government declared a jihad against the people of the south which resulted in church buildings and Christian relief agencies being specifically targeted.
After repeated attempts at peace talks over the past several years, a formal peace accord was signed on January 9, 2005. An interim constitution was established with the goal to adopt a permanent constitution in the near future. The interim constitution states that Islam is the majority religion in the country, but notes the place of Christianity and traditional religions. One of the conditions of the peace accord is that a referendum is to be held after six years to determine whether or not the South should remain a part of Sudan.
Christians in northern Sudan are subject to many of the restrictions facing Christians in other Muslim countries. Evangelism is allowed by law but fiercely opposed and thus very limited. Believers are rarely granted visas for humanitarian and missionary work or else experience delays. Both Christians and animists face intense pressure to convert to Islam. Christian leaders have been jailed and beaten simply for meeting with people interested in coming to Christ.