Until virtually the dawn of the modern age the historic heartland of Christianity — possibly containing most of the world’s Christians at the time — included the lands of north Africa and what we now know as the Middle East. Yet over successive centuries the Christians there have been subject to harsh treatment by their Muslim rulers, and consequently their numbers have diminished substantially. In those countries where Christian communities remain, they have been targeted by terrorists bent on making their lives more difficult in their historic homelands. Here are only a few incidents:
Two days ago a Coptic Christian church in Alexandria, Egypt, was bombed, killing 21 people. President Hosni Mubarak has promised action, and the city’s governor is pointing to al-Qaeda as the culprit. Meanwhile, the Tehran Times blames Israel, asserting that “it goes without saying that no Muslim, whatever their political leanings may be, will ever commit such an inhumane act.”
Attacks continue on Christians in Iraq, with a survivor of an October church attack being shot to death in her bed, apparently for her religious beliefs. More such news can be found at the Assyrian International News Agency. According to Assyrian Christian News, Iraqi Christians Want Their Own Province. The likelihood of that happening seems rather slim.
Somewhat more likely is the possibility that the largely Christian south Sudan will peacefully separate from the Islamic north in a referendum to be held next sunday, 9 January. This was provided for in an agreement that ended the Sudanese civil war half a decade ago. Redrawing boundaries in Africa has long been unthinkable for most governments in that continent, but a peaceful, if not exactly amicable, division of Sudan looks increasingly probable. However, partition is never a simple matter, and the issue of boundaries could lead to further trouble, as it has elsewhere.
Last month our family had breakfast with two representatives of International Christian Voice, an organization that monitors the plight of Christians in Pakistan. They are working to repeal that country’s blasphemy laws, under which Asia Bibi is in prison awaiting execution. Although there have been intimations that Bibi could be released, her future remains in the balance. Please pray for these persecuted brothers and sisters overseas, as they live in precarious circumstances which put their faith constantly to the test.
Almighty God and Father, as members of the one body of Christ, we share in the sufferings of your people around the world; deliver now the oppressed from their persecutors, and equip us to stand publicly with your servants in their adversity. In the name of Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God now and for ever. Amen.