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Op-Ed: Silent Night or Violent Night for Persecuted Christians?

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There are radical differences between how Christians in free nations celebrate Christmas and how Christians in nations hostile to Christ celebrate Christmas.

In free nations, we gather in our churches and sing “Silent Night.” In nations hostile to Christ, Christians try to remain silent themselves or meet under cover of darkness to avoid detection. Persecuted by their government, extremist groups or even their own family members, they do what they can to minimize the risk of raids or attacks.

In free nations, we boisterously sing our demand for figgy pudding. In nations hostile to Christ, imprisoned Christians like pastors Wang Yi in China and Haile Nayzgi in Eritrea pray they’ll receive enough of anything to eat.

While we open our presents, they will pray for the opening of prison doors. Yet even behind bars, they relish the presence of Christ, a blessing so powerful that former prisoners have told me they sometimes miss prison because of the sweet sense of Jesus’ nearness they experienced there.

For Christians in nations hostile to Christ, Christmas brings reason for worry, at least regarding their earthly security. In the days surrounding the celebration of Christ’s birth, Christians — especially those who worship openly — are targeted and often killed. Persecutors of Christians use the Christmas holiday as an opportunity to instill fear in those who love Christ and to make their hatred known to the whole world.

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Last year, members of Boko Haram conducted a Christmas Eve attack on the village of Pemi in northern Nigeria. After plundering supplies of food that had been gathered for a Christmas distribution, they burned a church. The following day, Hindu radicals attacked a church in northern India during its Christmas service.

Five years ago in Quetta, Pakistan, suicide bombers attacked a church just before Christmas, killing nine and injuring more than 30 others. The same month, terrorists bombed a church in Egypt, killing 28 worshipers.

Attacks against Jesus and his family members have always been a part of Christmas. In fact, the story of the first Christmas includes a chapter about persecution. Joseph, having been warned by an angel, flees Bethlehem with Mary and the baby Jesus to avoid Jesus’ murder at the hands of Herod’s henchmen. Seeking a place of refuge, they flee to Egypt, a nation where Christians have been persecuted for most of the past 2,000 years and where converts from Islam receive especially harsh treatment today.

But despite past attacks and the ongoing threat of more attacks, Christians in nations hostile to Christ will gather to worship him this Christmas. While most of us in the West take this freedom for granted, it is a bold act of faith and courage for Christians who live under constant threat of persecution. They will sing — perhaps very quietly — “Silent Night.” And they will light candles to celebrate the arrival of the light of the world in a stable in Bethlehem.

Peace on earth can be difficult to imagine for Christians facing persecution, but the internal peace promised to the faithful in Christ is a different story. Even in the worst circumstances, God’s presence can bring peace and joy, the gifts of a loving Father to his children.

We don’t know where attacks on Christians will occur this Christmas. Will it be public security officials arresting Christians in China? Will it be terrorist attacks in Nigeria or Pakistan? Or will a gathering of Christians in the Middle East be spoiled by family members enraged that a loved one is following Isa al Masih, the Son of God?

While we can’t know where attacks will occur or which of our brothers and sisters will suffer the most, we do know how to respond — with prayer. Please join me in praying for the protection of Christians around the world as we gather to worship our Savior on the commemoration of his birth.

This article appeared originally on The Western Journal.

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