Umar Mulinde grew up in a strict Muslim home in Uganda. His grandfather was an imam (religious leader), and Umar was trained in Islamic thought, which went unchallenged until he left home for college.
One Sunday Umar visited a church for the first time and was so impressed with the gospel that he surrendered his life to Christ. Three Muslim friends saw him leave the church and attacked him.
He assumed the beatings would stop. He was wrong.
In time, Umar preached in a church that grew in size to 1,000. On Christmas night 2011, as he left church, Muslim assailants threw acid on his face as they shouted, “Allahu Akbar” (God is greatest).
As a result, he is badly scarred and blind in one eye, but he continues to preach. “When I became a Christian, I was set free from legalism, fear, and hatred. My message today is one of Christ’s love and forgiveness, and I will continue to preach it.”
The global assault on Christians
Umar’s story is one of thousands around the world illustrating the fact that in many countries religious freedom is the exception, not the rule.
Paul Marshall, Lela Gilbert, and Nina Shea bring this reality to light in their book, “Persecuted: The Global Assault on Christians.”
Along with dozens of heart-wrenching stories, the authors report the following:
- Christians are the single most persecuted religious group in the world today. Seventy-five percent of acts of religious intolerance are directed against Christians.
- Christians have suffered harassment by the state and/or society in 133 countries – that’s two-thirds of the world’s nation states – and suffer in more places than any other religious group, according to the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life.
- Seventy million Christians have been killed for their faith throughout the first two millennia of church history, 45 million in the twentieth century alone.
- Most persecution of Christians springs from one of three causes. First is the hunger for total political control, exhibited by Communist and post-Communist regimes. Second is the desire by some to preserve Hindu or Buddhist privilege, evident in South Asia. And third is radical Islam’s goal of religious dominance, which is generating an expanding global crisis.
Certainly, other religious observers experience persecution, but nothing compares with what is taking place around the world in lands hostile to Christianity.
International Day of Prayer
Nov. 3 is the International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church. Faith McDonnell of the Institute on Religion and Democracy has developed some “Aids to Intercession” for churches. They include:
- Start a persecuted church prayer group and hold a prayer vigil.
- Include the persecuted church in prayers at church every Sunday.
- Provide bulletin inserts with prayer points or show a video. Get free resources from www.onewiththem.com (Open Doors) or www.persecution.com (Voice of the Martyrs).
- During baptisms, pray for the persecuted Christian converts from Islam and the pastors who baptize them at great personal risk.
- Read testimonies from persecuted Christians.
- Collect and update materials on the persecuted church for a church prayer chapel.
- Use a globe, world map, or newspaper in family prayer time.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the German pastor executed in a Nazi concentration camp, once remarked, “Christianity stands or falls with its revolutionary protest against violence, arbitrariness and pride of power and with its plea for the weak. Christians are doing too little to make these points clear rather than too much.”
He continued, “Christendom adjusts itself far too easily to the worship of power. Christians should give more offense, shock the world far more, than they are doing now. Christians should take a stronger stand in favor of the weak rather than considering first the possible right of the strong.”
This column first appeared Oct. 22, 2013, in The Pathway, the news journal of the Missouri Baptist Convention.