by Samuel Smith , Christian Post Contributor
(Photo: Archdiocese of Erbil)Father Thabet Habib evaluates the inside of a burned out church right in Karamles, Iraq right after the town’s liberation from the Islamic State in October 2016.
At the rollout of Open Doors USA’s annual top-50 list of countries where Christians are most persecuted, Christians from Africa, Asia and the Middle East shared how persecution has affected their families and communities.
Last week, the nondenominational ministry that monitors persecution in more than 70 countries, released its 2019 World Watch List at an event held at a Heritage Foundation office in Capitol Hill.
As was the case in past years, Open Doors invited Christians from different countries to share their own stories of persecution.
The Christian Post spoke with believers from India, Iraq, Nigeria and one undisclosed South Asian country about the violence they and their communities have faced.
Rev. Dogo: Nigeria
Rev. Dogo is a church leader from the Yobe state of Nigeria, which is located in the northeastern part of the nation.
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Dogo explained how the Islamic militant group Boko Haram has attacked communities and how his own congregation has dramatically decreased in the last eight years because of various types of violence against the Christian community.
Dogo said that the most severe persecution the Christian community in Yobe faced came during the post-election riots in 2011.
In 2011, Goodluck Jonathan — a Christian from the south — defeated Muhammadu Buhari — a Muslim from the north — in the presidential election. Hundreds were killed and thousands were displaced as a result of 2011 post-election riots.
“Goodluck Jonathan won the election and that post-election riots led to the burning of not less than 50 churches in Yobe,” Dogo explained. “From there, immediately after that post-election riot, then the [persecution] of Boko Haram began in 2012 and it is a common thing that is on and on and on moving up to today.”
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Based in northeast Nigeria, Boko Haram is regarded as one of the world’s deadliest terrorist groups and is responsible for thousands of deaths and kidnappings. In 2014, Boko Haram reportedly killed more people than the Islamic State did in Iraq or Syria.
“So what they do is attack people, kill, bomb and destroy houses or communities or businesses,” Dogo said.
Since the 2011 post-election, Dogo said that the Christian community in Yobe has dropped nearly in half as many Christians have fled to other states.
“The church that I was pastoring as of then that used to have not less than 700 people is reduced to 100 or even less 100 every Sunday,” Dogo said. “They just run and left the state. They fled to Plateau and some other middle part of the country.”
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Dogo is calling on Christians around the world to pray that the Christians will return to Yobe state.
“We depend on the prayer of fellow believers to pray to bring peace so that people will come back to their native land,” he said. “In Nigeria, your citizenship stems from the place of your birth. If you leave that area, you don’t have any part of Nigeria that is designated for you to call your own.”
Another presidential election will take place in Nigeria in February.
“Whoever [wins], it may come with persecution after the election,” Dogo stressed. “I want [the U.S.] to help in ensuring that a very good credible election is carried out.”
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Nigeria ranks as the 12th worst country in the world when it comes to Christian persecution, according to the World Watch List.
Fr. Daniel: Iraq
Growing up in a suburb of Baghdad, Daniel knew from an early age what it meant to live as a Christian in Iraq.
He told CP about the time when he was 7 years old and the first friend he made at school began ignoring him. The reason? Because his Muslim father told him never to speak to Christians.
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But the persecution that Daniel and his family experienced escalated in 2003 when President Saddam Hussein was taken out of power thanks to the U.S. invasion. From that point on, Daniel said, terrorist groups like al-Qaeda stepped up their targeting of Iraqi Christians.
On his 16th birthday, Daniel and his family received a death threat and were given just 24 hours to leave town.
“They threatened and blackmailed Christians and kidnapped some,” Daniel recalled. “My family was one of the families that received the kill threat from al-Qaeda. We needed to leave in 24 hours or else we were going to be killed. Instead of spending time with cake and a gift, I was crying while looking for a safe place for my family.”
Fast forward to today, Daniel now serves as a priest with the Ancient Church of the East in Erbil and Kirkuk. His church was responsible for housing 1,600 Christians who fled the Nineveh Plains of Iraq in 2014 due to the invasion by the Islamic State.
“They didn’t have any place to go so they stayed in my church for more than two to three years,” Daniel explained. “After the liberation of Mosul, they had the chance to go back. But their houses were burnt and their churches were destroyed. So they didn’t have any place to go. The church started the process of rebuilding the house and the churches.”
The work to restore the damage caused by IS is a tall task.
According to Daniel, there were over 313,000 houses in need of repair following the liberation of the region in 2017. So far, over 5,000 homes have been repaired. However, much of the utilities still need to be restored.
“The central government is not really serious about rebuilding these cities and towns,” Daniel said of the Christian communities. “We do have questions for the government. What are they waiting on? If they really want the Christians to stay, they need to really take some actions to empower the existence of Christianity in Iraq and take care of them.”
Daniel said that over 120,000 Christians fled from the Nineveh Plains in 2014. So far, just 45 percent have returned. Many of those who haven’t returned are thinking about migrating from the region.
“They are thinking they are not welcome or that they do not have any rights,” Daniel said. “They think that if they leave, they will have a chance to be educated. They may have a good opportunity to work. But in their own country, they don’t have these things. They feel like their country doesn’t want them anymore. There are big fears that Iraq is going to be without the Christians one day.”
Iraq ranks as the 13th worst country in the world for Christian persecution, according to Open Doors.