While We Were Sleeping
Millions of American Christians pray in their churches each week, oblivious to the fact that Christians in many parts of the world suffer brutal torture, arrest, imprisonment, and even death—their homes and communities laid waste—for no other reason than that they are Christians. The shocking, untold story of our time is that more Christians have died in this century simply for being Christians than in the first nineteen centuries after the birth of Christ. They have been persecuted and martyred before an unknowing, indifferent world and a largely silent Christian community. And as their suffering intensifies, our silence becomes more stark….Western Christians must take the lead in breaking the silence. If they don’t speak out, no one will.1
These words were penned more than a decade ago by Nina Shea in her book In the Lion’s Den. Her call was an urgent appeal for American Christians to wake up to the brutalization of our brothers and sisters who are bleeding their lives out in other lands. Has her call been heeded? Have 10 intervening years made a difference? Have a significant number of us been shaken from our lethargy? You can answer that question for yourself.
- In September 2007 rampaging Muslims attacked Christians in a town in Nigeria. Compass Direct News reported the violence left 10 Christians dead, nine churches destroyed, 61 people injured, and 500 people displaced from their homes. Pastor Rabiu Danbawa watched helplessly as his home and church went up in flames. “There was nothing I could do,” he said. “I did not know the fate of my wife and my children.” The pastor hurried to the local police station, only to find Christians who had fled there for safety being turned away. “We were told to leave, as our safety could not be guaranteed. Women and children all scampered to the bush, only to be attacked by the Muslims who already hid themselves there awaiting their Christian prey,” he said in tears.
- Also in September a suicide bomber killed five Christian young people and wounded 20 at an outdoor church meeting in Khorfulus, Sudan. Compass Direct said about 34 Christian teens and preteens were singing worship songs when a man dressed in military fatigues approached. Suddenly, he detonated a grenade attached to his belt. Ten young people are still listed in serious condition; four are still critical.
- In October 2007 Muslim extremists in Kaduna, Nigeria, killed Emmanuel Ogbaje, 24, with a sword and bludgeoned another young Christian to death with clubs. Compass Direct reported that the attacks followed Sheikh Gumi’s televised appeal during the Islamic holy month of Ramadan to wage violent jihad against young Christians. A Nigerian Christian told Compass Direct, “He specifically called for a jihad, and that when they go killing they should not kill elderly people, because the elderly have spent their years already, but that Muslims should kill young Christians.”
- Also in October police discovered the body of 29-year-old Christian bookshop proprietor Rami Ayyad in Gaza. He had been shot in the head and stabbed multiple times. In addition to his work at the Palestinian Bible Society shop, Ayyad served as youth leader at the Gaza Baptist Church. Compass Direct reported that Muslim extremists had threatened the Gaza store many times and had bombed it in April. Rami, who is survived by his pregnant wife and two children, is remembered as “a good natured guy. He was the most tender-hearted guy, like a teddy bear,” said a friend.
Add these recent reports to the hundreds that pour in from manifold parts of the world every week and you can easily answer the question, Has Christian persecution subsided? Unfortunately, there is unabated Christian suffering. Furthermore, Christians as a whole will not break their silence, nor will they take the lead in speaking out against the outrageous slaughter of innocent believers who live outside the circle of Western self-interest.
It Doesn’t Add Up
Think about it. A few months ago Atlanta Falcons quarterback Michael Vick got busted for owning, financing, and participating in a heinous dog-fighting operation. Outraged animal lovers lobbied for hard time and severe penalties for the former super-star and his cronies, and their efforts captured hours of media exposure.
Then there was the anguished river of tears shed on camera by TV personality Ellen DeGeneres after a doggie placement agency confiscated a pooch she had given to her hairdresser’s family in breach of contract with the agency. The founder of an animal rescue group declared, “I’m overwhelmed with the emails about this. People are so upset. People are asking, ‘What can you do? Please get Ellen’s dog back!’” Needless to say, there’s plenty of angst out there.
The majority of people involved in animal-rights and environmental-protection groups are pounding their chests where their hearts are. Most of them care much more about dogs, cats, and trees than they do about a few hundred thousand Christians who are not listed among their most favored species.
But then there are the rest of us. Charles Colson, founder of Prison Fellowship International, wrote, “We must feel a sense of moral outrage that Christians, in this day and age, are being sold into slavery, and are being tortured for their faith.”
But the question is, Do we? And where are the millions of reputed massed and muscled members of the evangelical right who, once awakened, ostensibly can move mountains of moral corruption, shake and shape the political landscape, and stand as protector of the innocent and aggrieved? As far as the world’s suffering saints are concerned, we are fast asleep. And while we sleep, their blood continues to cry out.
Telegraphing a Dismal Message
When the megalomanic, little Iranian Hitler landed on our shores last fall, he received a clear message from those who dutifully shook his hand, listened attentively to his lies, and complimented him for his quick wit and self-assured composure. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad took home no new ideas but, rather, a confirmation of old ones—chief of which is that the United States has a weak underbelly and is looking for a way to bail out of bad international situations. In the end, that may not be the way it is; but that’s the way he and his ilk perceive it to be. Consequently, as President George W. Bush said, Ahmadinejad may well take us to the brink of World War III.
In the matter of persecuted Christians, there is an unfortunate corollary. As long as the Christian majority—and we are a majority religious faction in the world—allows Islamists, militant Hindus, Communists, and assorted others to get away with slaughtering our brethren, they will continue to delight to do so.
Islamists have long declared that they will cleanse the Middle East not only of Israel and the Jewish people but of every Christian “infidel” as well. Listen to the voices of Christians streaming out of Iraq, once the home of the most ancient, enduring Christian body in the region. They are being singled out by militants for expulsion or elimination. That is what they are telling us. They are calling for help, but help is not coming.
I remember well, during the 38-day Palestinian-terrorist occupation of the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem in 2002, the photograph of an old priest holding up a sign he had made from a strip of linen. It said simply, “PLEASE HELP.” Help came in the olive green uniforms of the Israel Defense Forces. And the old priest went back to his duties at the church, secure in the fact that it wouldn’t happen again. Why? Because terrorists learned that they couldn’t get away with it.
Let’s Tell It Like It Is
Unpleasant as it may seem to many of us, there are some nasty realities we must deal with, or we will endure the consequences.
In their book, Their Blood Cries Out, Paul Marshall and Lela Gilbert astutely assess the American media and general attitudes of our people:
What David Stravers [former vice president of The Bible League] wrote so accurately about American Christians can be applied to Americans generally—they “for the most part are not interested in anything that happens outside the boundaries of the United States….” Coupled with this is the fact that many of the atrocities we have described occur in remote areas….But beyond these particular reasons is a pervasive cultural mindset that is either ignorant of, skeptical of, or occasionally antithetical to religion—especially Christianity. 2
The unpalatable fact is that Christians—not all, but most—who call themselves evangelical fall somewhere within the general parameters of this analysis. If such were not the case, we would be hearing much more about the widespread persecution of Christians.
Many believers do not hesitate to tell their pastors they are not interested in hearing the unpleasant facts of life abroad. In addition, many pastors are uninformed about the wholesale slaughter of Christians because it occurs outside the circle of their primary responsibilities. And how many of our leaders these days major in giving the masses what the masses wish to hear?
I can attest to the fact that, on an average Sunday morning, the average Christian in America will hear many more sermons about how to succeed in relationships, business, and society than about what’s going on in the world that directly affects his or her witness and obligation toward others. And these include television and radio sermons. This isn’t a pleasant or easy thing to say, but it is true.
Without fail, being uninformed produces indifference and self-obsession. And believe me, at this juncture in history, we can ill afford either.
For anyone who has access to a computer and the Internet, there are scores of organizations that provide up-to-the-minute reports on what’s happening in your world—that is, the world of the Bible-believing church. You can be informed. But it’s up to you. Don’t expect your pastor to be concerned if you are not. Don’t ask your local, state, or federal officials to act if you are not willing to act yourself. The burden is yours and mine. Our suffering brethren are out there, and they are waiting to hear from us.
Deliver those who are drawn toward death, and hold back those stumbling to the slaughter. If you say, “Surely we did not know this,” does not He who weighs the hearts consider it? He who keeps your soul, does He not know it? And will He not render to each man according to his deeds? (Prov. 24:11–12).
- Nina Shea, In the Lion’s Den (Nashville: Broadman and Holman, 1997), 1, 7.
- Paul Marshall and Lela Gilbert, Their Blood Cries Out (Dallas: Word Publishing, 1997), 184.