What is Christmas like for Christians living in hostile or restricted nations? Usually, it’s very much different to the celebrations we are accustomed to as followers of Christ here in New Zealand!

The Christmas season can be a time of intense and increasing persecution for Christians in many nations, as the most well-known Christian holiday makes those who celebrate it a target by the authorities and those who would seek to stamp out any recognition of Christ this time of year. And it goes far beyond replacing “Merry Christmas” with “Happy Holidays” in corporate greeting cards. Where Christians are found acting out their Christian faith, even celebrating Christmas, they can become a target. Churches can be burned and bombed, even on Christmas Day itself.

A Look at Christmas for the Persecuted Around the World

Let’s take a look at what Christmas can be like for Christ-followers in other parts of the world:

In CHINA – We are acutely aware of the pastors, evangelists and believers like Gao Zhisheng and Shi Weihan imprisoned for their faith who do not enjoy the comforts of family and fellowship at Christmas time. Instead, Christmas for many imprisoned in China can mean forced labour.

In IRAN – What would it be like celebrating Christmas in secret? A VOM team member tells us that Christmas in Iran is celebrated “underground,” families still get together and celebrate, but they do it in secrecy. So, Christmas is still celebrated, but it has to be done secretly and very carefully.

In 2016, nine Christians were arrested in a raid on a house in Roudehen, near Tehran, on Christmas Day itself. The next day, a prominent Assyrian pastor was arrested at his home, along with about 14 others there for a Christmas celebration. Most were later released, but the pastor and another man remained in detention.

In NIGERIA – a place racked by so much violence against Christ-followers throughout this year. Last year, in December and early January in three states in Nigeria, militant attacks left at least 28 Christians dead. On 27th December, ten were killed in Tattaura. On New Year’s Eve three more believers were murdered, and on 2nd January Fulani militants killed 15 people in Ambe-Madaki village, Kaduna state.

Reminded of our Treasure

Persecuted Christians remind us of the treasure of the incarnation at Christmas; “Persecution is a horrible thing, but something not near as bad as not having a relationship with your Lord and Saviour.” What a thought to treasure as we seek to celebrate our Saviour this Christmas.

How to Pray for the Persecuted this Christmas

  • Pray for believers in hostile and restricted nations to know the presence and peace of the Lord this Christmas.
  • Pray that God will comfort all those who were bereaved or injured in attacks in the last year in Nigeria. Pray that 2017 will bring peace and security to the country.
  • Ask God to be with all Christians who have been detained in Iran. Pray that these detainees and their families will experience His perfect peace and protection.

Thank you on behalf of all our suffering brothers and sisters, for the Christmas cards and letters of love you have posted, the prayers you have prayed and the love gifts you have sent this year. May the Lord bless you and keep you, and make his face to shine upon you.

– the team at Voice of the Martyrs NZ

(Sources: Release International, Middle East Concern, Morning Star News)