International (MNN) â€• Governments in India, Afghanistan, Iraq, Indonesia, Kenya, Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo have boosted security during the fourth week of Advent.
In all of these areas, churches have either been threatened or attacked in years past. For several of these countries, the attacks are fresh.
The brutal killings of Iraq’s Christians have led thousands to flee the country. In Egypt, Christians are under severe pressure and siege. A church bombing in Indonesia three weeks ago leaves believers feeling jittery.
It’s a strategic time for an extremist to be heard, says Todd Nettleton with Voice of the Martyrs. “If you were someone who wanted to make a point against Christians, that would be a day you might decide to strike.”
It’s an obvious choice. Christmas is considered one of the more important celebrations in the Christian faith, celebrating the birth of a Savior and the beginning of an unfolding plan for reconciliation with a holy God.
Many believers coming together to mark this makes a tempting target. “Christmas is a time when Christians gather for Christmas Day services or Christmas Eve services. If you are looking for a large group of Christians to attack, they’re all gathered at one place, at one time.”
The freedom to celebrate is part of the path to peace, according to Pope Benedict XVI. He made the comments in his prepared message for the UN’s annual World Day of Peace, January 1st.
The Pope also warns of the threat of this growing suppression of religious freedom around the world, saying it will “stifle the growth of the authentic and lasting peace of the whole human family.”
Nettleton says as the family of God, those who are not living through the persecution experienced by believers in hostile countries still have a responsibility. We need to act. “The first and most important thing is that we pray. Secondly, though, I think we can keep our eyes open because it’s important for the government officials to know that Christians here are watching and are aware of what’s going on to make sure that it’s on their radar.”
More specifically, Nettleton says, “Pray that our Christian brothers and sisters won’t be intimidated by these kinds of threats. Our job is to serve the Lord and to do the things that we’re called to do. Whatever the threats may be, we still have that call to follow Christ.”