A middle-aged man loses his job because he converted to Christianity.
In the United States, this couldn’t happen—legally.
A thriving Protestant church is raided. Several church leaders are imprisoned as Christian literature, Bibles and the offering are confiscated.
In Uzbekistan, this has happened—legally.
A father turns against his twenty-something son. Why? The young man has become a Christian. His father threatens him with death if he ever sees him again.
In Bangladesh, this has happened.
Radical fundamentalists destroy the homes of Christians, displacing thousands. Women are left widows; children are left orphans.
In India, this is happening.
In nations outside of the United States, Christians are often persecuted for their faith in Jesus Christ. And with religious persecution against Christians continuing at a steady rate worldwide, many are questioning what should — or can — be done.
For ORU sophomore Anna Ogay, persecution of Christians didn’t become real to her until her church was the one raided, her pastors the ones imprisoned.
When not at ORU, the International Community Development and Business Administration major lives in Tashkent, Uzbekistan.
In Uzbekistan, freedom of religion exists, but almost all of the Christians are ethnic minorities. According to the U.S. Department of State, about 90 percent of the population is Muslim.
After the raid on her church this past summer, 10 of her church leaders were jailed for 15 days without being officially accused or charged. This forced the church to temporarily scale back its activities, and its Bible school.
“That’s when persecution against Christians was no longer this big, abstract idea to me, when I met the situation personally,” Ogay said.
She said it helped her realize the cost of discipleship.
“I found that Christianity has a price,” she said.
She also realized that it’s a price some of her friends are willing to pay—no matter what.
Ogay has a friend back home whose parents burned her Bible. They were afraid of what might happen to their daughter because she is Christian.
The young woman still sneaks out to attend Ogay’s church and even serves as a youth leader there.
“And I ask her,” Ogay said, “Why do you do this?”
“Her faith is so valuable to her, which made me confront how valuable is it to me,” she said.
Junior Andrew Balla knows exactly what Ogay is talking about. He too has seen friends choose their faith even in the face of great opposition.
Until he was 12 years old, Balla lived in south India in Andhra Pradesh. He then moved with his family to Bangladesh for six years before moving back to India.
The computer science major said his time in Bangladesh opened his eyes to what some Christians must endure.
Balla explained that Bangladesh is primarily a Muslim nation. While the government guarantees freedom of religion, some fundamentalists still impose their religion on others. Or, they ostracize those who reject it.
“As soon as someone converts to Christianity, they are seen as outcasts,” he said.
Balla remembers one of his friends telling him about how this occurred in his own family after he accepted Christ.
When the young man’s father found out about his conversion, he said to him, “I’m going to give you a chance to run away. If I find you, I’ll kill you,” Balla remembered.
This young man’s father had wealth and influence. But his son chose Christ.
Dr. David Dyson, ORU professor of business, said Christians outside of the United States are often aware of what they may lose after accepting Christ.
Many American Christians are familiar with this reality.
“The contemporary church often wants to isolate itself from the realities of persecution,” he said.
Like Ogay and Balla, Dyson still remembers when Christian persecution became more to him than statistics and news reports.
Dyson was on sabbatical in Albania in 1990. There, he was able to talk with those who had been persecuted. Their stories were at once wrenching and powerful.
“Some of the saddest stories came from those who had been separated from family members without hope of reconciliation for many years,” he said.
Dyson said the faith of those persecuted has inspired and challenged his own.
“The greatest thing that I have learned is to love those that have persecuted you; seek not revenge, but instead redemption for those who persecute you,” he said.
Dyson now tries to give back to those who taught him so much.
He is involved with the non-profit, interdenominational Christian organization the Voice of the Martyrs (VOM). One of the aims of the organization is to give relief and support to persecuted Christians throughout the world.
Dyson is now in his third year serving on the board of VOM, but he first heard about the non-profit in the 1970s during an ORU chapel service.
Dr. Marshal Wright, also a professor of business, was in that same chapel service. He has served on the board of VOM for almost five years.
Two years ago, Wright journeyed to India and saw the persecution of Christians there firsthand. He met with families who had been persecuted and with widows whose husbands had been killed.
Wright challenges ORU students to help Christians who suffer for their faith.
“I would charge ORU students to become more aware and try to come alongside of their persecuted brothers and sisters in Christ with prayer, empathy and compassion,” Wright said.
Ogay agrees. She said the American church has become comfortable and complacent with its religious freedoms.
She said that’s what sets Christians in other countries apart from those here.
“[Christians in] other countries stand up and fight for their beliefs, and it may cost them their position, their friends and sometimes even their lives. But to them, it’s worth it,” she said.
“It’s time for us to think that it’s worth it, too.”
Students wishing to know more about The Voice of the Martyrs or become involved with VOM can log on to www.persecution.com.
Those interested in attending one of their regional conferences in Bartlesville, OK, can go here.
By Hannah Covington