The Lenten Season is here again and Christians the world over are preparing for Easter.
Though it receives little to any attention in the American media, the truth of the matter is that for a good number of contemporary Christians—approximately 215 million, or one in twelve, according to Open Doors, an organization dedicated to ministering to persecuted Christians—experience “high levels” of persecution in dozens of countries.
Today, in 2019, numerous Christians, adults and, yes, children, are regularly following the example of holy men and women from throughout the Church’s history who have died as testimony to their faith. Open Doors shares the following startling information:
Every month, 255 Christians are killed; 104 are abducted; 180 Christian women are raped, sexually harassed, or forced into marriage; 66 churches are besieged; and 160 Christians are detained without trial and imprisoned.
Just last year, 3,066 Christians were murdered, while 1,252 were kidnapped, 1,020 were raped or otherwise sexually abused, and 793 churches attacked.
Open Doors supplies the public with a “World Watch” list of 50 of the world’s most dangerous countries for Christians.
Eight out of ten of those countries are Islamic.
Rape is an especially common form of persecution for Christian women in Islamic lands—a fact that Open Doors substantiates via the testimony of several Christian females who have lived through it first-hand.
Take, first, Rita, a Christian woman who lived in the Qaraqosh, in Iraq. When she was in her mid-twenties, Rita was abducted by Islamic State zealots after they converged upon her city. Over the next four years, until she was freed and reunited with her family, Rita was sold as a sex slave four times. She was subjected to numerous beatings and rapes as her tormentors mocked and threatened her.
Then there’s Aisha, who was a 28 year-old wife and the mother of three children when her Nigerian home town of Kano was besieged by Fulani Islamic fanatics. The latter forced their way into Aisha’s family’s home. Upon seeing a Bible, her Muslim attackers knew immediately that Aisha and her family were Christians, and they suspected that her husband was a pastor. The predators seized Aisha’s husband and whisked him away while demanding sex from Aisha. She refused—but to no avail.
Two men would rape Aisha on that fateful evening.
Maizah was an Islamic, Libyan woman who converted to Christianity. She is especially courageous, knowing as she must have known that going public with her account promised to invite attempts on her very life—as they did. A group of older men attacked Maizah, beating her for her conversion to Christianity. They promised to spare her life if she agreed to become the fourth wife of one of her attackers.
Maizah, painfully aware that she couldn’t take refuge in her family members, who also might try to kill her for abandoning Islam, decided that her only option was to flee.
Today, Maizah lives somewhere in the West. She no longer has to worry about being murdered because of her allegiance to Christ. However, she continues to endure trauma over what she endured.
Esther was but 17 years-old when Boko Haram, a Nigerian species of Islamic militancy, raided Esther’s village and carried her, along with several other girls, off to captivity deep into the Sambisa forest. Their abductors pressured their victims to renounce Christianity and embrace Islam.
Esther, despite being repeatedly gang-raped, refused to repudiate Christ. And even after she conceived and gave birth to the child of one of her rapists, she still refused to abandon her Lord and Savior.
Sadly, when Esther and her baby finally made it home, her own family and fellow villagers ostracized her. She was referred to as one of the “Boko Haram women” and her daughter they called, simply, “Boko.”
Open Doors notes that the experiences of these women are all too common at present. In nearly 60% of the planet’s 50 most dangerous countries for Christians, sexual assault was identified as a feature of Christian persecution. In 47% of these countries, Christian women are selected as victims of rape.
Yet Christian women are also persecuted in other gender-specific ways. Thirty-five percent of the 50 most dangerous countries report that Christian women are subjected to “forced divorce” and, subsequently, denied custody of their children. On the other hand, 57% of these countries say that Christian women are subjected to “forced marriage.”
There are still other methods of persecuting Christian women. From Open Doors:
Persecution exploits all of a woman’s vulnerabilities, including (but not limited to): lack of education, [lack of adequate] healthcare, forced divorce, travel bans, trafficking, widowhood, incarceration in a psychiatric unit, forced abortions or [forced] contraception, being denied access to work and lack of choice to marry a person of similar faith.
In those societies within which women are of low stature, Christian women are especially vulnerable. The CEO of Open Doors, David Curry, explains:
To further complicate and degrade their value, Christian women specifically face and even greater challenge. They are targeted specifically for their faith and often are helpless to demand justice.
As the United States continues to focus on improving the lives of American women, let us not forget those who cannot even have a man arrested for violence against them.
Amen. And this Lenten season, let Christian and non-Christian alike draw inspiration from the example of strength, courage, and faith exhibited by persecuted Christians and persecuted Christian women like the young ladies mentioned here.