Open Doors Northern event at St Peter’s Parish Centre, Halliwell
In February this year Ruth Sharrock and I had the opportunity to attend this event. Not knowing very much about the venue or the programme, we felt we should really go and find out what other churches sharing our faith and in our area are doing. I can honestly say that neither of us were prepared for the experience this occasion would present to us.
After an exceptionally warm welcome from the organizers and rather large congregation, and a few shared prayers and hymns, we settled down to hear from George who was born and raised in Holland but had just returned from Syria. With incredible slides to show, he told us of his experiences in countries where Christians find it difficult to practice their faith in fear of punishment or death from the so-called Isis caliphate. George is a well-travelled representative and advocate of the Open Doors charity who document worldwide persecution of Christians in areas of conflict and war.
Open Doors delivers hope by connecting with persecuted families, and also meets with the leaders of the groups enlisted in torture and death and, in many cases, the stronghold enjoyed by Islamic clerics within the communities. Talking, praying and understanding of each others’ culture often means less persecution of the Christians when the charities need to move to other areas.
George had the opportunity of seeing the video of twelve Christian men in the orange jump suits who were beheaded. What most of us do not know was that each person who was executed, in a loud voice proclaimed the name of JESUS before dying.
George also told us of a teenage Syrian boy who is Christian and forced to watch the beheading. This young man was so moved by the event and the strength and belief in Christ, that he did a painting which depicted Jesus in an orange jump suit and robes, on his knees carrying the cross with the twelve men in orange jump suits walking behind him. All I could think of was the second commandment “Love thy neighbour as thy self, and love one another as I have loved you.” Love seemed so far away from the reality of this situation.
What George had to say next made a great deal of sense, he mentioned many groups of fanatics are lining up ready to replace Isis and others after they fail, (this was a shock to hear). The answer we were told, is not war, that will never stem the torture and killing. The answers lie on our own streets, in how we learn to understand and respect other cultures and develop friendships between us. We are all God’s children and sometimes we forget this.
The good news is, where these relationships develop between different cultures, friendships are formed and great results have started to be seen in Syria amid the bombed out homes. A team of young Christian girls and their families who live in the ruins of Syria, hang posters or write on walls stating happy Ramadan to our Muslim brothers and sisters. They celebrate notable dates with their Muslim neighbours. My thinking is – big trees from little acorns grow. Love and friendship can solve many of the problems in the world today. We just have to practice to make perfect with the second commandment in our heart “Love your neighbour as yourself.”
Of the 50 World Watch List* of countries, 11 are now designated as countries of extreme persecution with 81/100 persecution points or more, North Korea, Afghanistan, Somalia, Sudan, Pakistan, Eritrea, Libya, Iraq, Yemen, Iran, and India are all countries where Christians are experiencing persecution. This is a big change from just four years ago when North Korea stood out as the only country on the World Watch List where Christians were experiencing extreme persecution. Now there are 11 countries. This highlights the way in which persecution is escalating year on year, and how the international right to freedom of religion or belief is becoming denied and neglected in more and more countries, particularly in the Middle East, Asia and Africa.
So what can we as individual Christians do to help this situation? We can be tolerant on our own streets to the beliefs and cultures of others. We can pray to God, not only for fellow Christians, but for the people and leaders who bring about this discrimination and torture. And see the light, love and peace we can bring to the world.
Open Doors UK is part of a global network which has supported Christians in over 60 countries for over 60 years.
The organisation’s UK Advocacy Department is well known at Westminster and is in regular contact with officers at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and Department for International Development. Internationally at the United Nations in Geneva and New York, and at the European Union in Brussels and Strasbourg.
Registered Charity in England and Wales No 1125684
*Information taken from the Open Doors leaflet.