Tuesday, 3 June 2014

Suffering for Christ

Sometimes you just feel impelled to talk about something or someone. We have just returned from a serene week on Holy Island but I couldn’t get one person out of my mind. That person is  a Christian woman in Sudan called Meriam who was sentenced to death when eight months pregnant for giving up the Muslim faith – a faith she never held – and a further 100 lashes for having sexual relations with a non-Muslim – her husband.
Meriam gave birth to a baby girl on Tuesday morning in prison chained to the floor. Her first son Martin, 20 months old is also in prison with her.
Because she has had a baby Islamic law says that the death sentence should be delayed for two years to wean the child. Reports on the news say that the Sudanese Government has caved in to intense international pressure and says they will release her. We’ll wait and see about that but that something like this can happen at all beggars belief.
The death sentence was served after Meriam refused to give up her Christian faith in a four day “grace” period.
All she had to do to save her life was say “I’m a Muslim” but she refused.
Think about that. What would we do in a similar situation?
Rotting in a third world hellhole prison waiting to be executed and all you had to do was renounce Christianity and declare “I’m a muslim” to save yourself but you refuse to do so. I wouldn’t have blamed her if she had have done. I wouldn’t blame her is she still does give in, but in not doing so she has become an example of courage to the whole world.
Meriam’s Christian faith is not just a formality, not just a form of words, not an abstract set of rituals, her faith is a part of her. Denying her faith would be denying her very self. Her faith has literally become a life or death issue.
It brought me up sharp as I’m sure it brings us all up sharp. We in Britain were born in freedom and we exercise our religion freely. It is hard to imagine what Meriam is going through but unfortunately it is not unique.
According to the International Society for Human Rights, a secular observatory based in Frankfurt, Germany, 80 per cent of all acts of religious discrimination in the world today are directed at Christians. Statistically speaking, that makes Christians by far the most persecuted religious body on the planet.
According to the Pew Forum, between 2006 and 2010 Christians faced some form of discrimination, either de jure or de facto, in a staggering total of 139 nations, which is almost three-quarters of all the countries on earth. According to the Centre for the Study of Global Christianity at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary in Massachusetts, an average of 100,000 Christians have been killed in what the centre calls a ‘situation of witness’ each year for the past decade. That works out to 11 Christians killed somewhere in the world every hour, seven days a week and 365 days a year, for reasons related to their faith.
I could go on forever documenting the persecution.
For example, of the 65 Christian churches in Baghdad, 40 have been bombed at least once since the beginning of the 2003 US-led invasion. The thriving Christian population of 1.5 million is now numbered in thousands
India’s northeastern state of Orissa was the scene of the most violent anti-Christian pogrom of the early 21st century. In 2008, a series of riots ended with as many as 500 Christians killed, many hacked to death; thousands more were injured and at least 50,000 left homeless.
The abducted Christian girls in Nigeria are just the latest in a catalogue of barbaric acts carried out against Christians in Nigeria with monotonous regularity.
When we sing and pray and break bread together today in freedom and safety let us bear in mind the people who are actually being killed for their faith throughout the world.
Let’s break bread in solidarity with people like Meriam, languishing in her cell today with two children under the age of two waiting to be executed for being a Christian.
It is shocking and disturbing but also inspiring and challenging. Let us feed off her courage. Let her strength be our strength. Let her resolve be our resolve.


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