For many of us living in countries where there is freedom of religion, the act of going to church and meeting other believers is a given. This isn’t the case for believers in a closed Muslim country where the law denies that basic right to Christians.
In one South Asian Muslim country, you would not find a single church as we know it — a building with a cross displayed for all to see that this is the place where Christians gather to worship God. Instead, you will find plenty of mosques where Muslims gather to worship Allah. Islam is the only religion allowed here. All other religions are banned.
“Talking about Jesus to the locals is out of the question. If they report me, I will lose my job”.
Though this may be the case, the church still exists. But, many believers are unable to grow deeper in their faith. Some Christians are from other countries, but they dare not reach out to the local Muslims with the message of the gospel. “Talking about Jesus to the locals is out of the question. If they report me, I will lose my job. They can deport me or charge me for bearing false witness. I knew a friend who was caught sharing the gospel. Before they deported him, they kept him in prison for a year,” shares one foreign believer.
Though they long for spiritual nourishment, access to biblical trainings is non-existent; the government would not allow any sort of Christian teachings to take place in their land.
This is how a group of Open Doors trainers visited a church in the country:
We prayed for God’s protection as we went to meet our contact, Abraham*. When he saw us, he came over, and exchanged a few words with one of us. To the rest, he just said, “Come.” He then turned around and walked abruptly back into the streets. We obediently followed, keeping quiet all the way.
We arrived at the meeting place, where the church regularly meets. The moment the door closed behind us, he became a changed person, smiling and greeting us with warmth and gladness. He said, while shaking our hands, “Thank you so much for coming.”
Abraham, a foreign Christian professional, explained that the community they are living in is small. Everybody seems to know everybody. Strangers and visitors will raise questions from neighbours like, “Who are these people?” or “Why are you so friendly with them?” To avoid answering these questions, he makes it a habit to not greet visitors in public places.
Other church members also avoid coming at the same time to the venue. “Even members of the same family would come at different intervals. The father enters first. Minutes later, the mother comes in with the children,” continues Abraham.
It is crucial for them to keep what they are doing a secret. So few is their number that you could count them on your fingers. Any unwanted exposure to the community or authorities would further shrink the group and damage the church’s survival in this country.
Even with all these precautions, unexpected things are bound to happen.
One of our trainers tells of his past experience: “We came early one time to hold a teaching seminar. Someone in the house opened the door for us, only to whisper a warning, “Don’t say anything about the church. We’ve got an ‘outsider’ in the house.” Apparently, the house owner had paid a surprise visit along with a repairman to fix a leaking pipe in the kitchen.”
“And so, we sat down in the living room and acted like guests. They served us tea and biscuits and we talked about the weather,” he continues.
After the owner and handyman had left, Abraham explained his odd behaviour: “Sorry, we had to make you sit in the living room [instead of in the meeting room]. We had to ‘hide’ the meeting room from these outsiders around as it is unfurnished.” In this country where land mass is sparse, towns and homes are overcrowded. “Any empty room will raise suspicions,” he added.
When we laid eyes on the meeting room, we could see for ourselves that it is indeed bare; not a single piece of furniture was in sight.
Then the training commenced. About 38 participants had to sit in the size of a small bedroom to maximize space (chairs are more comfortable but take up space) and squeeze against one another. Not a single leg could move! Despite the discomfort, the believers listened attentively for chunks of 2-3 hours to the seminar on the biblical perspectives of persecution.
Throughout the event, the trainers noticed something special about the participants. “In this training, we are delivering an extremely unpopular topic, which is persecution and suffering. We’ve run into church leaders in other countries who prohibited us from mentioning the word ‘persecution’ because it agitated them. But here they all accept it. I think it’s because they are already living in it, so they welcome and can understand a lot of the things that we taught.”
We support people who are beaten, tortured,
imprisoned, falsely accused, and hated simply for following Jesus.