Every day I scour the news headlines of the world for items about persecution of Christians.  Usually, they are  stories of Christians who have been attacked or killed because of their faith, Christians who persevere in the most difficult of situations, or of governments who are standing up for the religious liberty of Christians in their country…or who are not. 

Today, I read a disturbing headline in the Toronto Star that was none of these, Some Christians in Pakistan convert fear into safety.  In short, the Star reports that substantial numbers of Christians in Pakistan are converting to Islam in the hope of finding a refuge from the growing persecution of Christians. Reading through the article, it struck me that the battle we wage is not only for the increase of religious freedom around the world and preventing the torturous treatment or deaths of so many faithful Christians. Our fight is also for the souls of our persecuted brothers and sisters – although no one can judge the sincerity of such conversions occasioned through duress.

Sadly, not only is persecution increasing, but in the face of this, more believers are living in fear for their lives.  

 If you look at the Open Doors World Watch List for 2011‘s top 50 countries where persecution of Christians is active, you can only wonder what kind of similar decisions are being made by Christians elsewhere who are living in unimaginable situations.  Labelled, ostracized socially, limited in their ability to provide for their families, threatened with torture, or ultimately with death, what would you do? If you are a mother or father – what would happen to your family if you or your spouse were suddenly taken? Or, more challenging, what would you do to prevent the torture of one or more of your children because of your faith in Christ?  

Living in this kind of fear must bring with it a daily temptation to walk away from faith in Christ, especially if it seems the only way to ensure safety for self and family.

It’s no news; persecution of Christians is rising sharply around the world, prompting weekly protests by religious liberty groups, the Vatican and governments around the world. Many of the current hottest of the “hot spots” are where Christians are a minority in an Islamic dominated country.

In some countries the addition of Blasphemy Laws, created to protect the Islamic religion, has, according to recent news reports, become a way for Christians to be unfairly and unjustly targeted, jailed, attacked, and even killed. All one needs to do if unhappy with a Christian neighbour is accuse them of blasphemy and the unwanted neighbour is likely to be removed.

The Star article states that, in Pakistan,

“…an allegation of blasphemy shouted in the streets can, in an instant, whip a crowd into a frenzy and lead to assaults and dubious arrests.”

One of the better known examples is that of a Christian young woman, Asia Bibi. The story reports that,

“…while working in the fields last June, she was sent to fetch water. When some of the other women refused to drink it because it had been carried by a Christian, a spat ensued about the merits of both religions. The other women later went to a cleric and complained that Bibi had blasphemed the name of the Prophet Muhammad.

A complaint was filed and Bibi was charged, convicted, and given a death sentence.”

Last fall, politician Salm Taseer, the governor of Punjab, who fought for the rights of minorities in Pakistan, began to campaign on Asia Bibi’s behalf. Early this year, the debate about Pakistan’s blasphemy law reached a fevered pitch, and on January 4, Governor Taseer was assassinated by a member of his own security detail – who was later hailed by many in Pakistan as a hero.

Is it any wonder that so many Christians living in Pakistan are fearful for their homes, their ability to provide for their families, their lives, or their family member’s lives when such a clear message of non-tolerance of Christians is voiced from their neighbours and their countrymen?

As Canadians who live in a place of freedom that Christian citizens of Pakistan can only dream of, we are challenged to act on their behalf. Some ask how?

First, we need to pray for our brothers and sisters in Pakistan – that they would find support and safety, and that their hearts would be unchangeable in their decision to follow Christ. We need to pray that the Government of Pakistan would stand up for the rights of all of their citizens, even the minorities.

We might also contact our own Members of Parliament and representatives of government to encourage them to speak out against the human rights abuses and violations of religious freedoms being committed daily.

We also need to stand up for continuing religious freedom for all in our own country.

In the surging wave of persecution, many lives are being challenged by the very real needs of self and family. God help them to stand firm.  And God help us to do all we can on their behalf.

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