Lent is traditionally a time of preparation. For the forty days before Easter, many Christians give up something to help them better focus on God. It’s a time to prepare ourselves for the coming darkness and light of Easter. In giving up things that have become part of our routine – chocolate or snacks – we’re in our own way being inspired by Jesus’ example; he spent forty days in the wilderness, fasting and facing temptations in preparation for his future ministry.
But for Christians living in countries where they face persecution for their faith, the idea of preparation has another, more sinister meaning. For the last three years, Christians in different countries around the world have been targeted at Easter. Persecution increases in both its probability and severity during this time. It’s vital that the church is prepared…
On 2 April, four men from the Islamic extremist group Al-Shabaab attacked the University of Garissa. They were targeting Christians.
“All of a sudden I saw them throw explosives,” said one student. “The explosives were thrown into the chapel where students were praying. The blast killed 22 students.”
“If you were a Muslim, your life was safe. You would just be asked to recite some of the Quran and then you were told, you are our brother, you can go,” said a witness.
They were eventually surrounded and detonated their suicide vests. A total of 148 students died in the attack.
Image: Kenyan Defence Forces stand guard outside Garissa University, 2 April 2015.
On Easter Sunday, students in Kenya held services and collected offerings to give to those affected by the attack. Al-Shabaab promised further bloodshed.
“Kenyan cities will run red with blood,” they said.
Ciku Muriuki, a presenter from a national radio station, addressed Al-Shabaab in a letter.
“I’m sad for families who have to live with the loss, but I’m not sad for the students themselves. Theirs is a beautiful death,” she wrote.
“I assume [Al-Shabaab] deliberately chose the time because it is Easter. The time Christ laid down His life for us all, yes even for you.”
On 27 March, families were celebrating Easter Sunday in Lahore Park when a bomb was detonated near the entrance. At least 75 people were killed, including women and children. A further 300 were injured. Locals rushed to the hospital to give emergency blood donations to those in need.
Easter has been a very dangerous time for Pakistani Christians for years.
“We [celebrate Easter] knowing that at any time a suicide bomber can come and disrupt our service, our worship, our praying.
The attack was claimed by an extremist group with ties to the Taliban. It was the deadliest terror attack in the state of Punjab, which has more Christians than any other part of Pakistan. Overall, Christians only make up two percent of the country’s population.
“I am still reeling,” said one of our local partners.
“My pastor friends came home exhausted and worn from funerals they had taken all day, families they had prayed with, people they had comforted. All of my day was spent hugging those who were aching from the loss of someone precious to them.”
In 2015, almost exactly a year earlier, suicide bombers attacked two churches in Youhanabad, killing 14 people. The death toll would’ve been much higher if church volunteers on ‘security duty’ had not sacrificed their own lives to defend worshippers.
“We [celebrate Easter] knowing that at any time a suicide bomber can come and disrupt our service, our worship, our praying. Then I think: Will it really be disrupted or will I be sent into the fullness of worship?” said a mother of two who used to be Muslim, now celebrating Jesus at Easter.
In 2013, 78 people were killed in another attack at a church in Peshawar, after Sunday Mass.
On 9 April, Islamic State suicide bombers attacked two churches during their Palm Sunday services. At least 44 people were killed and over 100 were injured.
The Egyptian government declared a state of emergency.
“Like many other Christians in Egypt I was on my way to church,” said Arif*, one of our local partners. “My wife and children were with me and we were really looking forward to the Palm Sunday service which is one of the main celebrations in the Egyptian church. Then, I got a text.. I read about the first attack in Tanta. I was angry, shocked.”
“Then… I saw another attack had taken place, this time in Alexandria,” he said.
Image: Relatives mourn for victims of Palm Sunday bombing. Source: The Independant Co UK
The Islamic State have named the Egyptian church as their next target and all fighters have been told not to “leave any infidel Christian in Egypt until you have threatened their life.”
Easter is a dangerous time for Christians facing persecution as they celebrate victory in Jesus.
A few weeks later, a group of Christians were travelling on a bus to an Ascension Day service when masked gunmen attacked the bus south of the Egyptian capital, killing 28 people.
“In our discipleship trainings we try to raise awareness of the fact that persecution is part of Christian life,” Arif said. “We want to help people to live close to God and understand that they are precious to Him, despite what might happen to them.”
“Lord unveil the dark spirit of deception and show up your light,” Arif* prayed. “Lord help your children to stay people of guts, courage and strong convictions. And may your name be glorified even in the middle of death, pain and devastation.”
This year, pray for your persecuted family during lent. As you prepare for Easter festivities, remember those who are organising additional security for their churches and the congregations that feel nervous every time a new face appears at a meeting. Like Arif, pray that Christians around the world would stay people of guts and courage.
We’ve created some awesome new prayer resources for 2018, including our new short series of inspiring and challenging reflections, “Guts and Courage’. You can order that for free at the link below, along with a new World Watch List 2018 Map, which also comes with some awesome stickers!
*Name changed for security purposes
This article is based on a post by our friends at Open Doors Australia…
We support people who are beaten, tortured,
imprisoned, falsely accused, and hated simply for following Jesus.