Christmas may get all the twinkling lights and attention, but it’s Easter that’s the most important holiday of the year for Christians everywhere.
While Jesus’ birth was certainly necessary and monumental, His death and resurrection are the foundation for the entire Christian faith. And this weekend Christians all over the world will be celebrating this holy day.
But not all Christians can celebrate the greatest day of their faith out in the open. They have to treat Easter as if it were just any other day of the year. Many of these same Christians can’t own a Bible or attend church services for fear of imprisonment, physical abuse, or even death.
Global Christian persecution is on the rise, according to Open Doors USA. The watchdog organization reports that in 2019, 245 million people around the world are experiencing at least high levels of persecution — 30 million more than in 2018.
Of course, religious persecution happens everywhere, and it seems to happen across the board for all religions. We’ve seen it played out through the centuries with the persecution of the Jews in Europe and the Middle East. More recently, we’ve witnessed the horrible mass shooting at a Pittsburgh synagogue and the violence against Muslims in Christchurch, New Zealand, just a couple of months ago.
With the growing violence, you’d think people would step away from their faith. But it’s amazing to me that in many places where persecution is the worst, you find the greatest amount of growth in the church.
Take North Korea for example.
North Korea has been ranked as the most dangerous place in the world for Christians for 18 consecutive years. But World Help’s partners working secretly inside the country recently said a census revealed there are 100,000 more Christians in the country than previously believed — for a total of 300,000.
The bad news is that this census was taken as part of an effort to crack down on Christianity in the country. An estimated 70,000 of those Christians are currently imprisoned in political labor camps. That means nearly one in four Christians are arrested for their faith!
This Easter, Christians in North Korea will be able to acknowledge this holy day only by whispered prayers and secret gatherings.
Halfway around the world in Nigeria, Easter services will be filled with prayers for protection in addition to songs of praise.
According to an affiliate of Voice of the Martyrs, Fulani militants killed up to 6,000 Christians and forced 50,000 to flee northern Nigeria during just the first few months of 2018.
This extremist group is targeting Christian farmers across Nigeria, killing families, burning down houses and churches, and leaving some physically marred for life.
When our World Help staff met a little girl named Goodness, she quietly sat and answered questions about the night her family was killed right in front of her. A long, raised scar stretched across the bridge of her nose all the way down to her jawline — a permanent reminder of the machetes the Fulani used to attack her and her siblings.
Can you imagine knowing every day you wake up, you’re at risk for being beaten or killed simply because of what you believe?
Working with a Christian humanitarian organization, I hear story after story of people who live this reality every day.
Nasim, whose name I’ve changed, was a taxi driver in Iraq. When he discovered one of his regular customers was interested in learning more about Christianity, he gave her his Bible. But her family members soon found the Bible. Filled with rage, they tricked him into driving his taxi into a remote section of town where they stabbed him over and over.
Another young man known as Emmanuel said Boko Haram burned down his entire village and murdered dozens of people — including Emmanuel’s father — simply because the community was home to many Christians.
Perhaps the saddest story I’ve learned is of the young North Korean student who was tricked into turning her own parents into the authorities. The child was told she would earn a reward if she found a small book — a Bible — at home and brought it to school. The next day, the student’s parents disappeared and were never heard from again.
Now is the time for us to pull together and act — Christians and non-Christians alike. There is no excuse for us to turn the other way and avoid these gross human rights violations.
The unthinkable is happening: violence is taking place in buildings of worship — the one place someone should have the right to feel safe. And on this Sunday, the most sacred day of the year for millions, countless Christians will be living in constant fear.
My hope is that people around the world will stand up for the safety and security of others — even if their beliefs are different. That’s what we’re doing at World Help, and I hope you’ll do the same. Together we can work to end the violence.
Noel Yeatts is an active advocate for social justice and humanitarian needs around the world. With over 20 years of experience in humanitarian work, Noel is an author, speaker, and the President of World Help, an international, Christian humanitarian organization serving the physical and spiritual needs of impoverished communities around the world. Noel regularly takes the stage for speaking engagements and advocacy events around the country and has been widely recognized for her groundbreaking book, “Awake: Doing a World of Good One Person at a Time.” Follow her on Instagram (@NoelYeatts) and on Twitter (@NoelYeatts). To learn more about World Help visit www.WorldHelp.net. For speaking engagements, visit www.NoelYeatts.com. To read more of her reports — Click Here Now.