Roman Catholics throughout the world are in the midst of the season of Lent.
Lent occurs over the six weeks stretching between Ash Wednesday and Easter Sunday. It is recognized by Catholics as a season of renewal, a time for Christians to repent of their sins and draw nearer to God.
And while prayer is essential to renewing one’s relationship with one’s Creator, Sustainer, and Savior, unless prayer is accompanied by the love of one’s neighbors, it is in vain.
There are two things that every Christian knows: (1) The love of neighbor transcends any and every boundary that human weakness—human sin—disposes us to draw; and (2) This agape (highest form of love) can be expressed in any number of ways.
These facts considered, Christians in America—particularly during this Holy Season—should bear in mind the plight of their brothers and sisters in the faith around the globe who are made daily to endure persecution of a kind that few of us can scarcely conceive.
The victims are men, women, and children to whom we are now and probably always will be strangers. They are almost always people of color, not infrequently (but by no stretch invariably) Africans and Middle Easterners.
And most (but not all) of the time, their persecutors are Muslims.
As black multimillionaires boycott the Oscars for Hollywood’s failure to nominate blacks for this most prestigious of its awards; as black and white agitators in the “Black Lives Matter” movement and among the Democrat Party’s presidential candidates continue to bemoan “systemic ‘racism’” in America; as the History Channel remakes the plagiarist Alex Haley’s Roots; and as Islamic activists bemoan such “Islamophobic” policies as “profiling” passengers boarding airplanes, black African Christians are regularly enslaved, beaten, separated from their families and murdered—usually by African Muslims.
Yet not a peep do we hear from Westerners who decry “racism” and religious bigotry as the most egregious of evils.
Open Doors, a site committed to serving oppressed Christians wherever they may be, shares stories of the victims of the Islamic militant group Boko Haram. The latter has been especially cancerous for the residents of Nigeria.
In April of 2014, the world watched as Michele Obama launched her “hashtag” campaign against Boko Haram when the thugs abducted 276 school girls from their secondary school in Chibok in Borno State. Chibok is an essentially Christian village. On May 5, less than one month after the kidnappings, Boko Haram’s leader, Abubakar Shekau, made a video in which he acknowledged that the girls were targeted precisely because they were not Christian: “The girls that have not accepted Islam, they are now gathered in numbers” but “treated…well the way the Prophet Muhammad treated the infidels he seized.”
He added: “Slavery is allowed in my religion, and I shall capture people and make them slaves.”
The girls shouldn’t have been in school to begin with, Shekau insisted, for as long as they are at least nine years of age, they are suitable for marriage.
Open Doors has touched base with the father of one of the Chibok girls. The man’s name is James. James’ “heart aches every day” for his daughter, yet he continues to pray for her safe return.
Lydia survived one of the random bomb attacks that Boko Haram launched in Gobe State (Nigeria). Open Doors assures us that, “miraculously, amidst such a nightmare, she still has sure hope in the Lord.”
There’s also Esther. Open Doors reports: “At the hands of Boko Haram, she has now become a widow. Her husband would not deny Jesus, even to the point of death, and that brings her joy when her mourning is overwhelming.”
Things have only gotten worse for these beleaguered people.
In just one year, from 2014-2015, the rate of Muslim-on-Christian murder has risen by 62 percent in Nigeria. In 2014, Open Doors recorded 2,484 murders and 108 attacks on churches. In 2015, however, it determined that there were at least 4,028 murders and 198 church attacks.
Open Doors joined with the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) to conduct a report on the violence. According to “a partner director for West Africa,” the report—“Crushed but not defeated, the impact of persistent violence on the church in northern Nigeria”—reveals that “the extent and impact of the persistent violence on the church…is much more serious than previously expected.”
This may come as a surprise to Westerners who would love to believe that only a small handful of aberrant or heterodox Muslims—“extremists,” as Barack Obama calls them—is responsible for the infamous violence perpetrated in the name of Allah, but this report also notes that even if Boko Haram was destroyed tomorrow, the threat to Christians would persist.
For starters, the 30 million or so Christians in the region “have suffered marginalization and discrimination as well as targeted violence” for several decades: This oppression wasn’t born with the relatively recent rise of Boko Haram.
Nor will it end with the ending of the terrorist outfit. “Once Boko Haram is defeated,” comments the West African partner director (who, for obvious reasons, wished to remain anonymous), “the problem will not be solved.” The director explains: “Christians living under Sharia law are facing discrimination and marginalization and have limited to no access to federal rights.”
The report on the persecution of the northern Nigerian church identifies three principal sources of the epidemic to which it speaks—and Boko Haram is only one of them. The other two are the Muslim Fulani herdsmen and “the Muslim religious and political elite that dominates government in norther Nigeria.”
This Lenten season, and every season, as the racial and religious-grievance mongers of the Racism-Industrial-Complex here at home seek out increasingly incredible instances of bigotry, Christians and all decent people should muster the courage to speak for real victims of evil.
Some of those real victims are Christian men, women, and children in places like Nigeria.