Imagine the scene. It’s Sunday morning. You’re in the suburb of a city in Central Asia. It’s cold, cloudy and grey. You stand in the street and look around, surrounded by Soviet-era tower blocks – big concrete structures built in the 1950s and 60s. You walk up to one of the tower blocks, find the name of the flat and ring the bell. You are buzzed in.
You find the lift and press the button for the fifth floor. You’re headed for one small flat, much like all the rest, but this one is different. On this Sunday morning, and most others, it’s home to a very secret gathering; an underground church.
You find the right door and knock. You are met by a young man with a smile on his face – you’ve arrived just in time for the ten o’clock service.
This secret service led by a former member of the Russian Secret Service, the KGB. After coming to Christ and leaving the shadowy world of surveillance, Tahir* is now a pastor and you are ushered into his home.
The living room has been cleared and seating placed around the edges. Some people have already arrived and, as guests, you are given a warm welcome. There are young families, men and women, young and old. As the service begins the men sat on one side and the women and children on the other. People’s clothing is a mixture of traditional and modern. And while no-one speaks English, the service feels familiar.
Songs are sung, but people sing quietly, just in case the authorities or prying neighbours might be listening. Sitting on mats on the floor you hear to the pastor speak and ask you to share something to encourage this small group of secret believers. With the help of an interpreter, you share about persevering with Jesus and encouraged those listening that Christians around the world were praying for them, reminding them that they are not alone.
After two hours of fellowship it’s time to leave. The small congregation stay to share a meal together. You’re left with a real sense of their struggle but there is also hope – you realise these brothers and sisters, facing real threats and persecution, are trusting God for their future. You’re challenged to live more bravely in your walk with God.
Prayer requests direct from Pastor Tahir
That new believers would receive more strength and courage to share the Gospel.
That God would raise evangelists to speak the Good News to society.
Many have left the country because of the poor economic situation which in turn depletes the church of members. May Christians have the heart to stay and make their future here.
May God protect the house church. It is too small to be registered and that is why it has to stay secret. May the eyes of neighbours and officials be blind to our meetings.
Or very own Naomi spent the beginning of Lent choosing to lose her bed for a few nights to raise money, awareness and prayer for young Christians around the world who are losing out because of their choice to follow Jesus. Because of their Christian faith, many believers can be shunned by family, excluded by community, losing home, security, safety and more. In other places, being known as a Christian can be extremely dangerous, leading to prison or violence. Through Naomi’s challenge, she has raised nearly £1,000 for the work of Open Doors partners helping Christians facing persecution – amazing!
If you’re you thinking of taking on the challenge yourself and giving up something you love to raise money for your persecuted family, here’s a list Naomi has complied of 10 things she thinks you should know! And if you’re not yet taking on the challenge, but feel inspired too – get your free fundraising pack here…
If you’re giving something up and you know you won’t feel the pain, then you probably aren’t giving up the right thing. If you know you spend hours gaming, then give up your console;
or ages on YouTube or social media, maybe that should be your thing. Maybe you’re too comfortable and so going without your bed, or shoes or a meal would be costly. You choose – but choose something that you know will feel like you’re losing out.
2. It’s all in the preparation.
Ordering your Choose To Lose pack, setting up a justgiving page, letting people know what you’re doing – it will all help to make sure you are able to make the most of your Choose To Lose Challenge. So don’t leave it until the last minute. Order your pack today.
3. The “why” is the most important thing.
This challenge is all about raising money and prayer for Christians who lose out because they have decided to follow Jesus. That’s why we
get involved. As we live in freedom, we want to do all we can to support our brothers and sisters who experience pain for choosing to become Christians. This is one way we can use our time, comfort and influence to make a real difference.
4. Real people, our Christian brothers and sisters, lose out.
We aren’t talking about distant, faceless people. In your Choose To Lose stories booklet you will read stories of real people, like you and me who have chosen to follow Jesus and because of that decision have lost out on family, home, security and freedom. Our hope is that sharing their stories makes these issues and people real for you and impacts why your actions are necessary.
5. People in your community want to support you.
When young people are doing something for a good cause, the community often wants to support this. This is a fantastic opportunity for you to show that young people can be known for making a positive impact on a real issue. Make sure you ask for and take opportunities to share what you are doing and why.
6. Asking people for money can be awkward.
Asking people to sponsor you can feel uncomfortable. That’s why it’s a good idea to make sure that what you’re losing is difficult enough that people think it’s worth sponsoring. But do ask people to sponsor you if they can. You don’t have to hard sell, but explain what you’re doing, why you’re doing it and what your sponsorship money will do to help Christians who lose out.
7. Reading about Brother Andrew will inspire and challenge your faith.
We always encourage people to read Open Doors founder, Brother Andrew’s, book – Gods Smuggler. It is the story of how one man started saying yes to God and the different ways in which God gave him opportunities to encourage Christians all over the world. You might not like reading but we promise this is a page turner – also you can get an audio version on audible.
8. Praying will have an impact.
God listens and responds to your prayers. Sometimes we see answers to prayer, other times we don’t; but God hears our prayers and chooses to work through the things that we pray. So spend some time praying for the people who’s stories you’ve read. Pray for Christians who lose out because they keep bravely choosing to follow Jesus. And trust that your prayers are doing things that you might never see.
9. You might want to give up.
When we voluntarily choose to lose, it can be tempting when we start to feel the cost to want to give up. Whatever you have chosen to lose, if it’s something you love, it will be a struggle to complete this challenge. But you aren’t just doing this challenge for you. You are doing this to raise money and prayer for your Christian brothers and sisters. You’re in this together. They know the pain too – so when you’re tempted to give up, remind yourself of one of the stories you’ve read. Many Christians have to give up far more than we do – if they can do that, we can take part in this challenge. You might want to get some friends to take part too – that way you’ve got support right there with you.
10. Taking part in the Choose To Lose Challenge will change you.
Reading the stories, reflecting on your own freedom, learning about Brother Andrew, feeling the cost…it will all have an impact. Our hope is that this challenge does change you. We hope it changes how you feel about your Christian family around the world, that you’d feel more connected. We hope it changes the way you appreciate the freedom you have, the way your prayers have an impact, the reality that you have influence and power to act and speak up for those who don’t have a voice. This challenge has the potential to impact your faith and how seriously you take it. We hope it changes you to be more like Jesus.
Choose to Lose. Take on the challenge!
Choose what to give up, for how long and when. Simple. Sign up at the link below and we’ll send you a free fundraising pack!
Last year, Naomi chose to lose her shoes to fundraise for her persecuted church family. She raised over £1000, which is amazing. This year, she’s choosing to lose the comfort and warmth of her bed. For three nights, she’ll be sleeping outside, with nothing but a pallet mattress and sleeping bag!
Naomi is taking on the Choose to Lose challenge to raise money, prayer and awareness for Christians around the world who are missing out because of their choice to follow Jesus – Christians like Saser and Mihea (names changed) from Laos.
The two young men had recently chosen to follow Jesus when their Christian faith was discovered. In the space of an afternoon, they lost their home and their safety. People they used to call neighbours, along with the police, questioned and beat them. The mob wouldn’t let them go. They were told to sign documents saying they would stop being Christians and that they would return to the local tribal religion. But they refused. So, the beatings got worse and worse.
Eventually the villagers pushed them out of their house and evicted them from the area. The message was clear: if you choose Jesus, you’re no longer safe here.
For Saser and Mihea, choosing Jesus has meant losing physical safety, security, and community. Despite wanting to go home, they have moved to a local city where Open Doors partners have been supporting them.
Could you take on the Choose to Lose Challenge for some or all of Lent and help raise money and prayer for Christians like Saser and Mihea? Sign up and we’ll send you a free Choose to Lose fundraising pack, with help on getting your challenge started and reflections to help you connect with your persecuted family!
Naomi’s 10 simple steps to help you choose to lose!
1. Order your choose to lose pack.
It’s easy, fast and simple.
2. Decide what you are going to choose to lose
Will it be your games console, a favourite snack or drink, screen time or something more extreme? What would feel like a real sacrifice?
3. Decide how long for
Whether you choose to lose for 24 hours, 3 days, a week, a month or longer – you can choose. But challenge yourself – this is called the Choose To Lose Challenge, what will cost you and will make any support you receive worthwhile?
Depending on your challenge you will need more or less time to prepare. You might want to create a little video to explain what you’re doing and why and post on your socials or ask to share in Church or youth group. If you’re giving something up you might want to make sure you have hidden it away, out of sight. You might want to line up alternative activities so that you find it easier to cope – why not order a free copy of God Smuggler to read.
You might need to collect items – I’m losing my bed, so I had to work out what I needed to sleep outside for a few days. Make sure you give some time to prepare so you are ready for your Choose To Lose Challenge.
6. Tell people
Tell them what you are doing (what are you choosing to lose and for how long?), why you are doing it (to raise money and prayer for Christians who lose out because they choose to follow Jesus) and ask them to sponsor you (please would you consider sponsoring me?) If you need a paper sponsor form you can find one here…. Once you sign up, we’ll also send you a bunch of Choose to Lose graphics you can edit and use on your social media accounts too!
7. Read the stories
In your Choose to Lose pack you’ll find a stories booklet which shares 4 stories of Christians who have lost different things because of their decisions to become Christians. These are powerful stories of real people – take time to read and learn from them.
The BEST thing we can do is pray for our Christian family. God chooses to work through our prayers; use the prayer points from the stories to help you to know what to pray. But let that be a springboard into praying your own prayers!
9. Feel the pain
The whole point of the Choose To Lose Challenge is to identify with the cost of choosing to follow Jesus. For many, this choice is a decision which means they lose out – they might lose family, friends, community, homes, education or employment, freedom or even their lives. Feel the pain of what you have chosen to lose and ask God to speak to you through the pain.
In taking part in the Choose To Lose Challenge, what have you learnt? Have any of the stories connected with you? How have you found losing out? Has God spoken to you? Take some time to think and jot down some reflections so you can come back to them and see what God was doing through this challenge.
Feedback to all those who have supported you – let them know what you have learnt and thank them for their prayer and financial support. Then send in any funds you’ve been able to raise and let us know how you got on!
Ready to go?
Excellent! Order your pack and get ready to choose to lose!
Brother Simon has been Open Doors’ coordinator for North Korea ministry for almost 30 years. We cannot reveal his real name because of the huge risks involved in his work – in fact, secret agents have even attempted to capture him. We sat down with Brother Simon to discuss developments in the country that’s once again number one on the World Watch List.
Due to the pandemic, North Korea shut its borders, making it even harder to get information from the country. What’s the situation been in the country between 2020 and now?
It’s been very difficult for the people. One major change was that, in early 2020, North Korea announced a new law, called the ‘DPRK Law on rejecting reactionary ideology and culture’. This basically punishes the possession and use of foreign propaganda and materials that are anti-North Korean culture. Think of South Korean pop music and dramas.
Image: North Korean civilians working at border fence on the bank of the Yalu River, the border between China and North Korea.
Reading and possessing the Bible have been illegal for years, and punishment is very heavy.
But this was forbidden already, wasn’t it?
Yes, but before the law was published, the punishment was usually light. People could even escape punishment if they bribed officials. Now punishment is much harsher.
What’s the impact of this law on Christians?
Reading and possessing the Bible have been illegal for years, and punishment is very heavy. At the very least you’ll be tortured in prison for months. Then you’ll be sent to a re-education camp or camp for political prisoners. It’s possible to survive a re-education camp and be released after several years. Prisoners are never released from a political prison camp. Most Christians end up in the political camps.
What’s interesting about the law is that it makes explicit mention of the Bible. It’s called an illegal book, and possessing it is punishable with ten years correctional labour and even death if you import a lot of material. This illustrates Kim Jong-un’s aversion against Christians. The North Korean state sees them as a huge threat.
Image: Statues of the Kim family in North Korea
Why are Christians considered to be dangerous?
They are patriots who love their country. But they don’t see Kim Jong-un as a god. Anyone who doesn’t is a traitor in the eyes of the state. I cannot share details, but we have learned that a high number of Christians have been killed for the faith.
Since the Second World War, North Korea has fiercely persecuted Christians. This intensified after the Korean War between 1950 and 1953. How has the church survived?
It’s by God’s grace that the church has survived. The Christians also take a lot of measures to protect themselves. It’s rare that people meet with other Christians, except if it’s a family gathering. Even then, usually the children are sent outside to keep watch. They talk and sing softly. Bibles are usually hidden. In recent years, Christians also rely more on digital materials to give themselves spiritual food. If you read a book and you get close enough, you can see what someone’s reading. But if they see you with headphones, it’s impossible to tell what you’re listening to.
In the past, you’ve also said that Christian parents often don’t tell their children about their faith.
Indeed. It’s highly dangerous. If they quote a Bible verse or story at school, or hum a Christian song, the whole family could be in trouble. That’s why the parents usually wait until the children are old enough.
God does a lot of signs and wonders in North Korea. Especially healings, because so many people suffer from malnutrition and diseases.
Is there anything the parents can do before they are old enough to keep the family secret?
They can teach their children Christian values by sharing stories with them that don’t mention the Bible, Jesus, God, the Holy Spirit or any Christian terms. Or they talk about creation but, again, without mentioning God. Once the kids are old enough, the parents can teach them it was actually God who created the heavens and the earth. Then they can talk about how God came down, became human and saved us.
If it’s so dangerous to talk about faith, even to your children, how do people come to faith in North Korea?
God does a lot of signs and wonders in North Korea. Especially healings, because so many people suffer from malnutrition and diseases. The water supply in North Korea is usually filthy. Most people cannot afford to buy bottled water. A lot of people, and certainly children, fall seriously ill. Christians may help the sick people and pray for them. A lot are healed and, through their healing, experience the supernatural love of God. That means they are usually ready to hear the gospel. The Christians expose them to the good news and their faith grows gradually from that moment onwards. This isn’t just with adults; it happens with older children, too.
What do you expect of 2023?
We pray that the borders will open, and that more North Korean people can come to China, so that we can reach them through our networks. They are in dire need of food, medicines, clothes and spiritual materials.
Image: Propaganda in North Korea
How else are you going to help North Korean Christians?
We operate safe houses in China. In 2022, we were able to help more than a thousand people through them. We’ve also supported and trained about a hundred North Korean women who have forcibly been married to Chinese men. Some of them will be female leaders in the future North Korean church. Our radio ministry continues to grow. We have two programmes specifically for Christian parents to educate them how they can give their children Christian teachings without mentioning Christian terms. Our radio crew also produces programmes with sermons, Bible seminary materials and a programme where North Korean refugees discuss various topics.
How can we pray for your ministry? Let’s start with thanking the Lord for His provision and blessings. It’s a miracle that we could support North Korean Christians last year. Then, please pray that God will open doors for us to stay connected with the North Korean underground church and that we can help them. Pray for protection of our team and contacts. Also ask the Lord that He will make seeing eyes blind. In other words, that Christians won’t be caught by the authorities. Pray also that the country will experience more freedom and prosperity in 2023, so that life will be less hard for the citizens.
Heavenly Father, thank You that the gospel is spreading in North Korea, despite such intense persecution. Make seeing eyes blind and hearing ears deaf so that secret Christians will not be discovered. Protect those serving North Korean believers and keep doors open for them to stay connected with each other. May the people of North Korea experience greater freedom and prosperity this year. Amen.
“In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, while evildoers and impostors will go from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived. But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, and how from infancy you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” 2 Timothy 3:12-17
2 Timothy 3:17 must be one of the most famous verses in the Bible. Paul speaks to the power of Scripture to encourage, correct, and train believers. But few of us would be aware that the context of this profound reflection on Scripture is all about preparing for persecution.
In 2 Timothy, Paul writes to his friend and disciple, Timothy, who was pastoring a church in Ephesus. In this part of the letter, Paul reflects on his own suffering and the persecution he has faced for his decision to follow Jesus. He has been arrested, shipwrecked, beaten, imprisoned and stoned, all because of his faith. Every one of Jesus’ apostles faced immense persecution for their faith, including Paul. But then, in verse 12, he takes it one step further, asserting that everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted. It is not an ‘if’ or a ‘maybe.,’ it is definite. He is telling Timothy to expect suffering to come to him and the Ephesian church, as a guaranteed consequence of following Jesus.
So, if Timothy, and the church, are to expect persecution, how does Paul recommend they prepare for it? Here, Paul does not encourage Timothy to fear persecution or run away, but to turn his attention to God’s all-surpassing provision for his every spiritual need. Like a tree with deep roots can withstand harsh winds and heavy rainstorms, so can a believer face all kinds of suffering if their roots are deep in the character of God as revealed to us through the Bible. The best way to respond to persecution is to lean into the truth and love of God.
We can also take this as an encouragement in the here and now. When we go through trials, or people make fun of our faith, we can be sure that the Word of God is sufficient to equip us for every good work. We can dig our roots deep into the character of God and see his provision for people who have walked through what we are facing.
Father God, thank You for Your Word, the Bible. Help me to find strength and guidance in reading it. Help it transform me into Your likeness. Thank You for those who stand firm in Your love and truth despite persecution. Help me be like them, standing strong in You when I face trials. Amen.
2022 was no small year for us at Open Doors, and likely not for you, either. Amidst the busy-ness, grief, pain, joy, excitement, and the myriad of other things that the year brought, here are four truths that we were reminded of in 2022.
1. You can’t believe in resurrection without crucifixion
Persecution is never the end of the story.
Jesus’ triumph over sin would not have been possible without first His death. We know that persecution is biblical. And while that doesn’t mean that we’re running towards persecution, glorifying it, or ignoring it, it does have implications for what we do.
That’s why our mission is not to end persecution. Instead, our mission is to make sure that no Christian suffers persecution alone; to go to even the most dangerous places to strengthen the Church so that when persecution does come, they are equipped to stand in the face of it. To ensure that the hope of Jesus is proclaimed in the darkest places, knowing that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us (Romans 8:18).
2. No greater honour than to be called a disciple of Jesus Christ
In September 2022, the founder of Open Doors, Brother Andrew, passed away. Before he died, Andrew recorded some thoughts on what he might want on his tombstone.
“I have options,” he said. “One of my ideas— ‘He is not here, he has risen!’ Another option is, ‘He did what he couldn’t,’ or, like Oswald Chambers’ gravestone, ‘Oswald Chambers, a disciple of Jesus Christ.’ That gives glory to God: a disciple of Jesus Christ. Is any further explanation needed?
“Is there a greater honour than to be called a disciple of Jesus Christ?”
It’s so easy to be caught up in who we think we are, or even who we think we should be. In how other people perceive us, or how we want to be remembered. Yet we are not called to build lives for ourselves that will be remembered on our own merit. Rather, we are called to build lives that will help others remember Jesus.
Our lives are not our own; we were bought at great cost, and now have the honour of being called disciples of Jesus Christ.
3. Indifference can be worse than persecution
Brother Andrew once said:
“Persecution is an enemy the Church has met and mastered many times. Indifference could prove to be a far more dangerous foe.”
As we hear the stories of our persecuted family, stories of those who have endured devastating pain because of their love of Jesus, we are reminded of the holy priesthood that being in the body of Christ entails. We are one body, even if we forget. Persecution for following Jesus makes indifference difficult to live in.
The ministry of Open Doors helps strengthen those being persecuted, while at the same time offering others a nudge, or a prompt, out of indifference. Understanding the persecution that others face can show us all aspects of our lives where complacency or indifference have found a footing.
4. We’re hear to talk about Christ Jesus
A Christian in Egypt called Matta shares about their expectation of suffering. He quotes 2 Timothy 3:12, saying persecution is the normal expectation of godly living and that the church has been under pressure from the book of Acts onwards. He says, “The Bible says it; don’t complain about it.”
But it’s not about glamorising persecution. Far from it. Matta says that believers agonise over it and grieve every time a brother or sister suffers for the sake of Christ. He says emphatically, “We’re not here to sell persecution; we’re here to talk about the victory in Christ.”
Victory in Christ – what a wonderful perspective! It’s the perspective of the Apostle Paul when he writes from prison (Philippians 3:10, 20). It’s the perspective of the exiled Apostle John when he writes to persecuted believers at the end of the first century (Revelation 1:17-18). And it’s the type of perspective that equips all believers throughout the ages to deal with whatever adversity lies before us.
Thank you for partnering with Open Doors to strengthen the persecuted church in 2022! We are so grateful for your support, and we look forward to seeing what God has in store for us all in 2023.
As 12-year-old Mimi walks out into the morning breeze, she greets the green hills of her homeland with a smile. She wanders over to the chicken coop to collect eggs and say good morning to her favourite chicken, Lulu.
She gently picks up the eggs that will be used for her family’s Christmas lunch, and heads back inside to decorate for their celebration. Christmas is a highlight of the year for Mimi, and she can’t wait to celebrate with her family and Lulu.
“We play songs and decorate the house with Christmas decorations,” she says excitedly. “I take Lulu inside the house to celebrate with us.”
But Mimi and her family’s Christmas celebrations are tinged with the bittersweet reminder of what their faith in Jesus has cost them. Even though Mimi is only 12, she’s already faced incredible persecution, simply for being born into a Christian family.
Mimi was too young to remember it clearly – she was just four years old when Islamic State extremists attacked her family’s Christian village in Iraq – but her mother, Nadia, does.
“It’s been many years now and those voices are still in my ears,” says Nadia.
“I think I will keep remembering that moment until I die.”
In the dead of night, as the voices of the extremists came closer and closer, Mimi’s family knew they couldn’t stay any longer, and they prepared to flee.
“I saw them,” says Nadia.
“I saw their faces, they were terrifying. They were all dressed in black, shouting. They were pushing people forward with their rifles.”
While Mimi doesn’t clearly remember the events of that day, she does remember one thing: the fear.
“When I woke up, I saw my grandfather and nana … and they were scared,” she says.
The family fled in their car with Mimi and her sisters hidden at their mother’s feet. Nadia felt helpless as her young daughters cried.
“Mimi and her sisters asked for food and water, but there was none.”
Nine hours later, the family finally reached safety.
Mimi’s family was one of many who were displaced when IS swept through villages in Nineveh Plains, near Mosul, in Iraq in 2014. This deliberate tactic of religious persecution was not only an attempt to destroy the Church, but it also targeted children. The young people who were forced to leave were denied a childhood in their home and culture, and their future was stolen from them.
When IS was defeated three years after Mimi’s family fled their home, they returned to Ninevah Plains. But there was no work, no prospects, and no hope.
“We wanted to live in Iraq, but we saw no opportunities,” says Nadia.
With heavy hearts, Mimi’s family decided to leave Iraq – their home – forever.
Then Open Doors’ local partner stepped in. Mimi’s family were provided with a microloan to start a farm, buying sheep, goats, and chickens – including Mimi’s beloved chicken Lulu.
Each day Mimi often collects enough eggs to share – giving fertilised eggs away to help others raise their own chicks to provide eggs for even more families. It’s all in the Christmas spirit, Mimi says, while she helps her mother decorate the house with a yellow star.
Your gift could be used for distributing Bibles, giving Christian education classes, or providing safe houses for those forced to flee their homes. It could also provide families microloans to help them stay in their homes and earn a living.
Free Christmas resource…
Download our free Christmas session outline! Grab a free Christmas session outline to use in your youth/small groups in the build up to Christmas!
Professional footballer and Ballers in God founder John Bostock answers 15 quick fire questions – Who’s the best player he’s played with? Who is toughest opponent he’s ever faced? How has he been inspired by the persecuted church?
These questions, and more, are answered in this Q&A as we seek to raise prayer for the seven countries playing in the World Cup where living as a Christian can be dangerous.
The World Cup is underway, featuring two nations on the Arabian Peninsula that are on the World Watch List – Saudi Arabia and host nation Qatar. Living as a Christian on the Arabian Peninsula can be dangerous. But it’s not stopping thousands of people having online conversations about Jesus with an Open Doors team, which is leading to some 200 face-to-face conversations each year. And it all begins with Google.
“On the Arabian Peninsula, a person who is searching to know more about the Christian faith cannot enter a church,” says Daniel*, who is helping lead this ministry. “In Saudi Arabia, there are no churches. In the other countries, the churches are only accessible to foreigners. For example, in Qatar or in the United Arab Emirates, every person who enters the church compound is checked, and only foreigners are allowed in.”
Given that many Christians on the Arabian Peninsula are secret believers, finding someone to ask about Jesus is difficult and risky.
“When a Christian ex-pat living in one of the countries on the Arabian Peninsula wanted to meet with a seeker, or even a new believer, in the era before the internet and social media, he would try to meet with people face-to-face in coffee shops and cafés. But that was very risky; ex-pats were kicked out of countries as soon as their activities were discovered.”
But following the Arab Spring just over ten years ago, access to the internet and mobile phones grew, and this presented a new opportunity.
“Our focus turned to using the internet to connect with searchers,” says Daniel. “The internet is anonymous, although governments on the Arabian Peninsula are monitoring what people do on social media.”
“Who is Jesus?”
But there was another challenge. When seekers ask questions – such as “Who is Jesus” or “Do Christians believe in three Gods?” – the first websites to appear aren’t always the most helpful for those seeking or are new to faith. The Open Doors team began work on creating content – including videos, animations and frequently asked questions – that would appear prominently on searches.
According to Daniel, ‘tens of thousands’ of people ask such questions every year, thousands of which lead to online conversations with a member of a follow-up team. This is resulting in some 200 face-to-face meetings each year.
It may sound like a low number, but Daniel has a different take on it. “This is so much more than before the internet when foreigners on the Peninsula would go to coffee shops to get in contact with random people and start a conversation hoping to meet a seeker. That didn’t lead to so many good conversations as we have nowadays.
“When a person really is interested, we arrange such a meeting within 12 to 24 hours after the online meeting. Open Doors makes those face-to-face meetings possible. The situation on the Arabian Peninsula is different from the West. Sometimes a woman must take a taxi and drive for an hour to get to a place where she can meet someone safely. Sometimes the seekers don’t have the money to sit in a coffee shop to have a conversation.”
Unsurprisingly, the face-to-face meetings are the trickiest – and riskiest – part of the journey, particularly for native seekers. To help address this, the Open Doors team will often send a local and a foreigner to a meeting, because the seeker is more likely to trust the latter. But it’s not just those searching that take a risk when having a meeting. “Sometimes the seeker can be a person who pretends to be a seeker,” says Daniel.
This ministry has already to led people encountering Jesus. You can help not only by praying, but by clicking some of the below links, because the more they’re used the greater chance they will appear higher on people’s searches and therefore deemed a reliable source of information. Thank you for your prayers and support for our brothers and sisters on the Arabian Peninsula!
1. Home page (website name means “Growing in Christ” and is for seekers and disciples of Jesus)
If you were to ask 15 year-old Valentina her favourite thing about Christmas, it wouldn’t be the decorations on the tree, the food or even the presents. She loves all those things, but her favourite? “For me, the best Christmas is when I’m with my family.”
Most children live with their family all year round. But Valentina can’t. Christmas is one of the only occasions when she gets to spend time with her family. It’s not that her parents Francisco and Luz don’t want her at home – but, rather, that being a Christian is really dangerous in Cauca, their Colombian town. And children are particularly at risk.
“I felt that I had no freedom where I lived,” shares Valentina. “I always wanted to leave. I used to say, ‘My God, I want to get out of here. I don’t even know where I want to go, but I want to leave.’”
Why is Valentina persecuted in Colombia?
What makes living in Cauca so difficult? While the population of Colombia is overwhelmingly Christian, there are still areas where following Jesus is dangerous. Those who convert from indigenous beliefs or oppose the activities of criminal groups are particularly at risk. That’s why Colombia is number 30 on the Open Doors World Watch List.
Persecution started when Valentina’s father took a stand for religious freedom, for his family and for all the other Christians in the region.
In Cauca, the population and the local authorities are predominantly from an indigenous community that is openly hostile to Christians. The Cauca Indigenous Regional Council (CIRC) was actively trying to close churches and impose indigenous rites in schools, including the one Valentina attended. When Christians opposed the idea, the council was furious and prevented Christian children from going to school.
And that wasn’t the only problem as the family were threatened by local guerrilla groups. In Colombia, these guerrilla groups target prominent Christians in the community – particularly church leaders – because these believers stand against corruption and protect children from being coerced into joining the cartels. “The guerrillas were looking to recruit children as young as 12 years old,” says Francisco. He knew that Valentina and her siblings were at risk.
“Thank God there was an open door at the Children’s Centre”
Image: Valentina studying in class
This is where Open Doors supporters like you stepped in. Because it’s not safe for children such as Valentina to live in dangerous areas, their parents often make the difficult decision to send them somewhere much safer: the Children’s Centre, run by Open Doors partners.
“We sought help to get our children out, as desperate parents,” says Francisco. “Thank God there was an open door at the Children’s Centre.”
At the Children’s Centre, Valentina is able to get Christian education and support. She doesn’t face any threats or harassment. She won’t be targeted for following Jesus. And though she can’t be with her family, all the other children at the centre have become like a family for her.
“I was sad, because I missed my family, but now I don’t want to leave the Children’s Centre,” she says. “I don’t know if my life would exist if I still lived in Cauca, or if I’d be lost.”
Valentina has spent four years at the Children’s Centre so far, and her life has been radically transformed. “When I got to the centre, I said ‘Thank you, God – because I didn’t have this in mind, but You brought me here,’” she remembers. “I love visiting home, but I don’t want to stay there.”
A letter of encouragement
Some of Valentina’s story is unique to her region. But other parts of it would be familiar to hundreds of thousands of Christian children across the world. In many countries, these children face persecution because of their faith – either because they are directly targeted, or because they suffer when their families are persecuted.
For Mimi in Iraq, persecution targeted her whole family when she was very young. She is 12 now, but was only four years old when her family had to flee so-called Islamic State (IS). Open Doors partners are helping the family financially, so they can run a farm. Valentina’s situation is different from Mimi’s in many ways – but similar enough that the two girls, living thousands of miles apart, can understand and support each other.
They’ve been able to write letters to each other – sharing their experiences, and giving each other hope for the future. It has given the girls a chance to feel part of a global family of believers.
“When I heard your story, I was angry about what happened to you,” Mimi writes to Valentina. “I know how you feel – because we, the Christians in Iraq, have also been persecuted.”
“I know that, in the middle of persecution, God is faithful and merciful,” writes Valentina in reply. “He is the best because He takes care of us. It’s Jesus who unites us and means we can enjoy peace and hope.”
How you can help children like Valentina
The problems faced by Christian children are diverse and complex, and so the solutions need to be too. Around the world, Open Doors partners respond with context-specific programmes to support, protect and encourage persecuted Christian children.
Valentina has a message for all the other children like her, facing persecution because of their faith: “For those people who are being persecuted, I would tell them not to leave their faith. If they are still here, it’s because God has a purpose for them, even though we don’t see it immediately.”
She knows she faces ongoing danger, but her hope for the future remains strong. She wants to study art when she leaves the children’s centre, and dreams of one day travelling and meeting many people to share her experiences with, and to spread the gospel. “With God, nothing is impossible,” she says. “I know He can help me.”
One way He helps Valentina, and so many children like her, is through your gifts, letters and prayers. Today, can you show these courageous young believers that you are their family, and they are yours?
Write to children like Valentina
You can send a Christmas message of hope and peace to children like Valentina in Colombia.
For God’s strength and hope for Valentina and Mimi and their parents, and all families of believers who can’t be together because of persecution
Praise God for all He continues to do to support persecuted Christian children through Open Doors local partners
That this Christmas would be a time when the gospel is abundantly shared and received in places of darkness.
1. Get our free Words of Hope Christmas session outline and share Valentina and Mimi’s stories, with your group during the festive season. Download for free now…
2. Give. Every £22 could give a month of education to a child impacted by persecution. Make a donation here…
3. Get our free World Cup prayer wall chart and pray for Christians facing persecution from countries in the tournament. Order yours here…
4. Learn more and pray: Get our free glow-in-the-dark World Watch List Map and find out more about the places where faith costs the most. Get your map here…
We support people who are beaten, tortured, imprisoned, falsely accused, and hated simply for following Jesus.