'Trying to be Jesus': 4 testimonies of persecution

WASHINGTON (BP) -- Hana describes her most distressing experience as a persecuted Christian in Southwest Asia as perhaps her greatest joy.

Hana (center), a persecuted Christian in Southwest Asia, wears a burqa to hide her identity at a press conference announcing Open Doors' 2019 World Watch List of Christian persecution. With her are Open Doors President David Curry and Helene Fisher, Open Doors global gender persecution specialist.
Screen capture from Facebook
She was in the hospital trying to console her closest friend, who lost her unborn baby and suffered severe injuries during a church bombing.

"Sitting in a dingy room with somebody who needed sunlight and fresh air, and trying to be that sunlight and fresh air for them, trying to console them, trying to be Jesus to them," Hana described the moment to Baptist Press Jan. 15. "Then perhaps I will change my statement and say that that wasn't the worst experience, but perhaps it's been the most rewarding and beautiful experience."

Hana talked to BP hours before Open Doors USA released its 2019 World Watch List of the 50 countries most dangerous for Christians. BP interviewed Hana and three other persecuted Christians by telephone as Open Doors hosted them in Washington.

Elisha's husband shares the Gospel amid such hostility and danger in India; the wife and mother has lived in the U.S. for over a year, joining her husband in his evangelism only months at a time.

Pastor Daniel Dogo Awayi tells of a church in Nigeria surrounded by a mob of 5,000 Islamic extremists about 20 years in advance of Boko Haram's strongest years of militancy. Amid the petrol-fueled fire and machete attacks, Awayi credits God for keeping the death toll to two, although hundreds of injured Christians were rescued from the remnants of the Evangelical Church Winning All sanctuary after the 1994 attack.

Boko Haram has not been defeated as Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari claims, Awayi told BP, and the Fulani herdsmen are joining the group in committing genocide against Christians.

"For me, I don't believe there is a difference between Boko Haram and the Fulani herdsmen," Awayi said. "They are all trying to carry out one agenda. I see it as attempted genocide." Fulani herdsmen are hiding behind a historical battle for land rights to mislead the global audience, he said.

Awayi himself has been stoned twice, he said, as he seeks to minister to the persecuted in Nigeria.

In Iraq, the Islamic State has been militarily defeated, but Orthodox pastor Daniel Alkhory told BP the terrorist group is alive mentally, nurturing hate among children. The government in Erbil allows worship at churches such as Alkhory's congregation, the Ancient Church of the East, but encouraging people to convert to Christianity is against the law.

"I think the next generation of ISIS (Islamic State) is going to be from our children," Alkhory said, "because they have hatred against other religions, against the Muslims because of what happened to them.... Our hope is that we will defeat ISIS militarily and mentally."

Yet, none of the Christians BP talked with said they wanted to permanently leave their countries, drawn to the hotbeds of persecution by a desire to save the lost.

Hana describes herself as a teacher, mentor and business owner who secretly spreads the Gospel.

"I believe in being a little light for Jesus in a very, very dark world," Hana said. Each day, she watches over students who risk their lives to attend school, study the Bible and sing hymns of praise. But God is raising up men and women to help spread the Gospel there, Hana told BP.

"One of the reasons that we do what we do," Hana said, "is because God, Jesus speaks for His people, and His heart is also speaking, longing for people who don't know Him to come to see Jesus.

"When you hear the stories of persecution, when you hear the suffering we go through, don't hate those who persecute us," Hana said. "But remember that they are also precious to Jesus, and He is just longing for them to open their eyes and see Him."

Awayi encourages Christians everywhere to pray for the church, to show charity and to help rebuild houses of worship.

Awayi counted perhaps 20 established charity sites in Nigeria that discriminate against Christians and provide relief only to Muslims, echoing other reports.

"I can assure you," Awayi said, "that nothing has been given to Christians."

Diana Chandler is Baptist Press' general assignment writer/editor. BP reports on missions, ministry and witness advanced through the Cooperative Program and on news related to Southern Baptists' concerns nationally and globally.
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