From recent news reports we have gathered several examples of how, in the last year, Christians have been persecuted and killed for the sake of the gospel in various places. The secular press generally turns a blind eye to the sufferings of persecuted Christians, but Christian sources are increasingly getting the news out. Still, only God knows how many thousands of Christians each year are severely persecuted and even called upon to seal their testimony with their blood.
In the Kurdish-controlled village of Dohuk in northern Iraq, evangelicals were attacked in September. The church in Dohuk and the home of its pastor, Yusif Matti, were overrun by a Muslim mob, according to Servant Group International, a Nashville-based mission organization. Mr. Matti and his family, sleeping in ground-floor living quarters in the nearly completed church, escaped, but not before armed Muslims issued death threats against them unless they left Kurdistan.
The attack followed the April murder of Christian bookstore worker Mansour Hussein Sifer in Arbil. The bookstore was run by Mr. Matti's church. Mr. Matti was forced to close down his church and go into hiding with his family after the September 18 attack.
The attackers reportedly broke out all of the windows and attempted to storm the family living quarters when Matti left his home to call the police. His children, particularly his young son who saw one of his own schoolmates among the rioters, were described by local sources to the news service Compass Direct as "deeply traumatized."
The church was nearing completion of its building, had reopened the bookstore where Mr. Sifer was killed, and had published a book on the Trinity.
In May, the government carried out the beheading of two Filipino Christians. Rue Janda and Arnel Beltran were accused of robbery, but fellow inmates testified that the two were actually incarcerated for their faith. According to a May 5 article in the Saudi newspaper Al-Jazeerah, the men were convicted and executed for "forced armed robbery" by the Supreme Judicial Council of Saudi Arabia. During the alleged incident in a Riyadh shop, the paper said, the two were accused of striking an employee on the head with an iron bar. Saudi Arabia strictly enforces Islamic law by publicly executing convicted murderers, drug smugglers, rapists, and armed robbers.
According to Compass Direct, a former cellmate of the executed men said the two shopkeepers were jailed more than two years ago on fabricated charges. Donato Lama said the men were most likely executed because of their particularly active Christian witness.
Mr. Lama, himself a Filipino Catholic released after seventeen months' imprisonment and seventy lashes from Saudi authorities, said the two Filipinos were active in leading Bible studies and prayers while in prison. The two were arrested after a fight broke out in the store where they worked, but witnesses said they were actually singled out because they were known to be Christians.
Mr. Lama was convicted by an Islamic court on charges of "promoting Christianity" in Saudi Arabia. A computer programmer in Saudi Arabia since 1981, Mr. Lama was released from prison March 28 and sent home to Manila after being imprisoned in October 1995. He was arrested and held after police, during a search of his apartment, discovered a photograph of him praying. The search took place after the murder of another Filipino working in Riyadh. Mr. Lama, however, had an ironclad alibi, since his passport proved he had been in Manila when the murder occurred.
Three terrorists dressed in police uniforms entered Ezbet Daoud, a half-Christian, half-Muslim village of a few hundred families 400 miles south of Cairo. Starting at a tailor's shop on the main street, they shot and killed two people-one Christian and the other Muslim. The two had reportedly handed over their identity cards (which include religious affiliation), believing the terrorists to be policemen. The attackers went on to kill Fadel Mohammed in his grocery store, along with two customers. Eight more villagers were killed on the street before the gunmen escaped in a waiting vehicle.
An opposition newspaper said the terrorists intended to strike a village church but discovered too much police security nearby. Nearly two years ago, villagers in the area helped police locate the local leader of the radical Gama'a Islamiya (Islamic Group), who was killed in a shoot-out.
Good news mingles with the ongoing horror in the war between the radical Islamic government, which controls the north, and the predominantly Christian south. This year five hundred children from the south have been bought back from slavery, many through the assistance of Voice of the Martyrs and other U.S.-based mission agencies.
Government forces are not conceding ground, however. On March 4, government helicopter gunships strafed a mission team and more than five hundred civilians who had come to meet the group in the Nuba Mountains. A DC-3, chartered by South African-based Frontline Fellowship and Voice of the Martyrs, had been on the ground only forty-five minutes when two Soviet-made MI-24 Hind helicopters roared over the airstrip.
"The gunships circled and made three strafing runs over the area," reported Frontline Fellowship director Peter Hammond. "They systematically rocketed and shot wherever people were fleeing. Our team saw two Nuba women shredded by machine cannon fire."
One machine gunner took aim at a team member who escaped fire by diving into a dry river bed. Incredibly, only two died in the attack. The team was able later to distribute most of the aid it brought in, which included relief packages of medicine, food, agricultural tools, and 1,500 Arabic Bibles.
China sentenced fifty-six-year-old Xu Yongzhe to ten years in a labor camp on September 25. Xu has been the leader of a house church movement in China's Henan Province, known as the "born-again movement." The ten-year sentence is one of the longest given to a Christian leader in the past decade.
The government charged Xu with "disruptive public order," but he reportedly refused to defend himself, believing the court had already decided his guilt. No friend or family member has seen him since his arrest. Now that he has been sentenced, he has the right to appeal and to see family members.
Xu's movement is reported to have about three million members. He has had some criticism from other leaders. However, Jonathan Chao, a longtime observer of China's house churches, has staunchly defended Xu. The criticism suggested there was an overemphasis on emotional display as proof of conversion.
Xu's wife was also arrested and, with three others, may be sentenced shortly.
Jiang Zemin, China's president, visited the U.S.A. at the end of October. American legislators presented him with a list of twenty-nine Christians, including Xu, who are believed imprisoned for their faith. Although the number of Christians in prison for their Christian activity is probably over two hundred, this list represents those arrested in the last two years, and whose residency and place of detention could be verified.
The reports from Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and the Sudan were taken with permission from World magazine (November 1, 1997). The report from China comes from the REC News Exchange (November 1997), picking up a Compass Direct account. Reprinted from New Horizons, February 1998.