Christians everywhere are observing the Easter holiday this weekend. Some of us here in America will be in church; singing songs and thinking of Sunday dinner, while others of us will enjoy family gatherings and egg hunts. Yet for Christians, “The People of The Cross” who live in hostile and restricted nations, this is a particularly dangerous time. Even here in America – a country who’s first freedom was one of religious liberty – people of faith are under attack.
The power of Faith. Orthodox priests pray as they stand between pro-European Union activists and police lines in central Kiev, Ukraine, Jan. 24, 2014. They’re definitely “People of the Cross”!
I’m certainly going to enjoy the holiday with my family and hope you are doing the same. But I’m also reminded this Easter of those around the globe who suffer simply because they are Christian, like Pastor Saeed Abedini – the Iranian American – whose been languishing in an Iranian prison since 2012. We know he has been severely mistreated and even tortured; his family receiving death threats. Why? Because he’s a Christian. Does he know it’s Easter? I suspect somehow he does. Has our State Department done all they can to broker his release as they make reckless nuclear deals with the very country that holds him? I think not.
But, there’s more to remember this Easter…
A few days ago, Islamic terrorists from al-Qaeda-linked militant group Al-Shabaab stormed into a Christian prayer service at Garissa University in Kenya, began shooting believers, and rampaged across the campus. Tragically, reports say 147 people were killed and 79 injured in this brutal attack. Their motives were unmistakably clear. The spokesman for Al-Shabaab’s military operations, brazenly admitted, “We sorted people out and released the Muslims.” A student who escaped told reporters, “If you were a Christian, you were shot on the spot.”
It’s a dire situation for Christians in the Middle East. They are, of course, a minority with little political power; and do not have legal protections guaranteeing their freedom, rights and personal safety. They have suffered greatly at the hands of ISIS. Their churches and neighborhoods burned to the ground, men beheaded routinely, while women and children are routinely sold into sexual slavery. Syrian Christians have been told to “Convert. Submit to Islam or Face the Sword!” It’s a horrible life there for them; one of complete persecution, utter dhimmitude, and silent brutal genocide.
And who can ever forget those 21 Egyptian Coptic Christian men simply working in Libya? On January 3rd, around 2 a.m. in the coastal Libyan city of Sirte, masked gunmen from ISIS banged on the door of a dormitory for Egyptian workers. “We came for the Christians. Stay away,” the kidnappers yelled. The 21 victims were laborers who traveled to Libya to earn enough money to feed their families. They were all beheaded for their faith. A video of the beheadings went viral.
All of them… The People of The Cross.
Maybe you’re not a Christian or even religious. That’s fine. But you should still care that Christians are the single most widely persecuted religious group in the world today — a fact that most folks are not talking about. Did you know that 75% of acts of religious intolerance are directed against Christians? Sadly, we’re even seeing an increase in Christian intolerance here in America, where the freedom to practice faith as one sees fit, is in our collective national DNA; a most certain birthright of every American. If you truly believe in freedom and liberty, your hair should be on fire about what’s happening to The People of The Cross.
On this Easter day, I’m spending time with family and friends. On this Easter day, I will remember that Jesus Christ rose from the dead and triumphed over an insatiable evil; his grace doing what we could not do for ourselves.
My favorite Resurrection Day video combining CS Lewis and The Passion of the Christ. Turn up your sound.
And on this Easter day, I’m praying for those who suffer for Christ’s sake – The People of The Cross – in my beloved America, Christians in the Middle East, and indeed, the worldwide persecuted church.
I won’t forget that He is Risen, indeed.