As you gather with friends and family to celebrate Christmas this year, please remember to pray for those who aren’t able to do the same. Around the world, it’s becoming more and more dangerous to practise your faith in many countries. And Christmas, like Easter, can be a time of increased danger.
We’ve spoken to several believers about the risks involved in celebrating the birth of Christ, and how they manage to get around the restrictions and oppression they face.
North Korea is currently the most dangerous place in the world to be a Christian, and if a Christian is discovered, they will be arrested and imprisoned in one of the country’s notorious labour camps. There, Christians are worked like slaves and often tortured; most never escape.
That makes celebrating Christmas almost impossible – indeed, the word ‘Christmas’ doesn’t even exist in North Korea, according to those who have escaped the country. But as the video shows, brave believers find a way around this. They gather and pretend they are commemorating their own birthdays.
It was Advent three years ago when a suicide bomber attacked Cairo’s St Peter and Paul church, detonating a bomb strapped to his chest in the women’s section of the church. The bomb attack left 27 people dead and another 49 badly injured. While churches in Egypt continue to conduct Christmas celebrations as normal, people have become more and more cautious. Christians from Muslim background also have to worry about pressure from the authorities.
“We are celebrating Christmas alone. Me and my wife,” says Magid*, a former Muslim Egyptian. “We are not able to celebrate it in the church. Especially at Christmas, the police are guarding the churches and they also check to which religion the visitors belong.”
The fear of attack in Kenya is so bad that, for the most part, Christians avoid festive gatherings altogether. One Kenyan Christian tells us about an incident a few years ago when a small Christian community came together to pray for the birth of Jesus - they were attacked and severely beaten. The house they had gathered in was burnt down.
“We now don’t celebrate Christmas as a group but everyone on their own, hidden and in secret,” says Kiano*, a Kenyan Christian. “How can you express your faith in a place where what you do can cost you your life?”
With the rise of Hindu nationalism in India, minority religions are facing an increasing amount of persecution – and their holy days are growing more vulnerable.
“The Indian government is trying to turn Christmas into a day of celebration for the birthday of a leading political figure who passed away a few years ago,” says Arjun*, an Indian Christian. “The main purpose is that we will be busy and so won’t be celebrating Christmas.”
Christians expect that the present government will gradually remove Christmas Day from the Indian calendar. However, Christians courageously continue to celebrate the day and sharing their faith. Please pray for them in the face of growing oppression.
Things are so difficult for Christians in Central Asia that we can’t even specify which country our secret believer (in the video, above) is from. Like many of the other countries mentioned, the persecution doesn’t just come from communities and families, but from the government.
Makset* tells about how Christians used to gather together to celebrate Christmas together in restaurants – but the government threatened restaurants who hosted these celebrations. “They said, ‘We will take your restaurant. This restaurant belongs to the government, not you.’”.
A Christmas prayer for the persecuted church
“Suffering and persecution aren’t things we naturally like to dwell on over Christmas,” says Henrietta Blyth, CEO of Open Doors UK and Ireland. “But the truth is that our brothers and sisters need our prayers more than ever at this time of year.
“Please pray that they will stand strong and continue to be salt and light in their communities, despite any rise in persecution. And pray that whatever opposition they face, they will never lose hope. Christmas is a time of great hope, and hope, most of all, is what they need to keep going.”
A version of this article originally appeared at Premier Christianity.
*Names changed for security reasons