January 2024 Persecution Magazine

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JANUARY <strong>2024</strong><br />






Hotspots on the Horizon<br />




PERSECUTION IN <strong>2024</strong><br />



Contents<br />

JANUARY <strong>2024</strong><br />


A Hindu Sadhu sitting in the temple,<br />

Kathmandu, Nepal. Radical Hindu ideology is<br />

making its way across the border from India<br />

into Nepal, spelling bad news for Nepalese<br />

Christians.<br />

Photo: hadynyah/iStock<br />


10<br />



14<br />


GROUND<br />

16 18<br />



YOUTH<br />

Tracing the influx of<br />

radical Hinduism in a<br />

once-tolerant society.<br />

The heartbreaking plight<br />

of Eritrea’s persecuted<br />

Christians.<br />

Christians navigate a fragile<br />

state of peace among<br />

neighbors in Mindanao.<br />

Promise and peril in<br />

Africa’s future.<br />


04<br />

06<br />

08<br />

22<br />

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2<br />

<strong>Persecution</strong> | JANUARY <strong>2024</strong><br />

© Copyright <strong>2024</strong> ICC, Washington, D.C., USA. All rights reserved.<br />

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provided attribution is given to ICC as the source.<br />

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STAFF<br />

Publisher Jeff King<br />

Managing Editor Alex Finch<br />

Editor and Designer Hannah Campbell

Hotspots on the Horizon<br />

As 2023 wrapped up, we launched ICC’s annual Persecutors of<br />

the Year report, naming and shaming many of the year’s worst<br />

violators of religious freedom. Among the “dis-honorees” were<br />

many countries that are notorious for abusing their citizens or turning<br />

a blind eye to persecution, including North Korea, Iran, and China,<br />

among many others.<br />

Now, with <strong>2024</strong> upon us, we are turning our eyes to the year ahead.<br />

What hot spots for persecution do we see on the horizon?<br />

Among the returning offenders is the tiny nation of Eritrea, commonly<br />

referred to as the “North Korea of Africa.” While the nation’s non-state<br />

sponsored Christian community operates in secrecy, those who are<br />

found practicing their faith are subject to arrest, torture, and sometimes<br />

execution at the hands of their own government.<br />

Moving north to Nepal, we see a concerning trend unfolding. Fueled<br />

by the spread of radical Hindu ideology from neighboring India, the<br />

foundation of religious freedom and historical tolerance seems to be<br />

crumbling.<br />

Further east, religious and political tensions are colliding in Mindanao,<br />

the southernmost island of the Philippines, leading to great instability<br />

and persecution. While the island remains predominantly Christian, a<br />

large Muslim majority is pushing for the adoption of Sharia law.<br />

Take a trip through the pages ahead to learn more about this year’s hot<br />

spots and how ICC is serving in these regions.<br />

It’s our hope that you will join us throughout the month to pray for our<br />

brothers and sisters in these nations.<br />

Thank you for your continued concern and God bless.<br />

God bless you!<br />

JEFF<br />

Jeff King, President<br />

International Christian Concern<br />

Author: The Last Words of the Martyrs and<br />

Islam Uncensored<br />


ICC Newsroom<br />


Christian Church<br />

Bombed in Sudan<br />

A church was bombed in Omdurman,<br />

Sudan, leaving multiple communities<br />

devastated. The Church of Savior, which<br />

stood for 81 years, has been shared<br />

amongst two communities. In an attack<br />

believed to be related to the ongoing<br />

violence in Sudan, the bombing left the<br />

roof in ruins and the inside completely<br />

burned, including all the Bibles and<br />

hymnals.<br />

This incident is one of many church<br />

bombings in 2023. Since former President<br />

Bashir was removed from power in 2019,<br />

Sudan has been in a stat of flux, increasing<br />

in April 2022 when the two leading forces<br />

split clashed.<br />

Christian Killed in His<br />

Home by Muslim Extremist<br />

Farhan ul-Qamar, a 20-year-old<br />

Christian man in Pakistan, was shot<br />

and killed in his home by a Muslim<br />

extremist claiming hatred toward both<br />

Christians and Jews.<br />

The killer, identified by police as<br />

Muhammad Zubair, broke into the<br />

home on the night of Nov. 9 and fatally<br />

shot ul-Qamar three times. After the<br />

murder, he held the family hostage for<br />

nearly an hour, refusing to allow them<br />

to call for help. Doctors later told the<br />

media that he could have been saved if<br />

help had arrived sooner.<br />

Zubair’s violence seems to have<br />

worsened in recent weeks, escalating<br />

in response to the current conflict in<br />

Israel and Gaza. He has a reputation<br />

that, even after hearing three shots<br />

fired in the home, neighbors remained<br />

inside for fear of being his next victims.<br />

Other Christians in the village have fled<br />

their homes with the same fear, in an<br />

attempt to remove themselves from the<br />

community for their own protection.<br />

Zubair is currently in police custody after<br />

being arrested in his home shortly after<br />

the incident and his case is still waiting<br />

for resolution. The family of the victim<br />

is currently seeking financial assistance<br />

to secure legal representation. Without<br />

this, the murderer may be set free.<br />

War Escalates, Tatmadaw<br />

Loses More Control<br />

Fighting in Myanmar is escalating<br />

quickly, posing the biggest threat to the<br />

Tatmadaw’s control of Myanmar since<br />

they took power in a ruthless coup in<br />

2021. In early December, indigenous and<br />

pro-democracy forces launched numerous<br />

offenses against the Tatmadaw in specific<br />

states. One Myanmar political and military<br />

analyst claims that the Tatmadaw is<br />

actively collapsing across the country.<br />

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<strong>Persecution</strong> | JANUARY <strong>2024</strong>



Beaten Down,<br />

But Not Forsaken<br />

As the Israel-Hamas war ensues,<br />

the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF)<br />

has surrounded Gaza City’s<br />

center to remove Hamas’ military<br />

and governance control over<br />

the territory. With casualties<br />

mounting (more than 11,000 at<br />

the time of writing) and fighting<br />

centering around Gaza’s main<br />

hospitals, many difficult questions<br />

surround the rising civilian<br />

casualties and how this tragic war<br />

will unfold in the coming weeks<br />

for Palestinian civilians living in<br />

the densely populated strip.<br />

<strong>Persecution</strong> Continues Against Algerian Christians<br />

The Algerian government continues its<br />

crackdown on churches in the North<br />

African nation of 42 million people. House<br />

churches can now only have a maximum of<br />

ten people per gathering.<br />

In 2022, Algeria closed at least 16<br />

churches, as a continuation of closures<br />

since COVID-19 lock downs in 2020.<br />

Government officials have limited house<br />

church gatherings to 10 people, and several<br />

Algerian church leaders were sentences to<br />

prison in early November 2023.<br />

Algerian Christians’ right to peaceably<br />

gather for religious meetings must<br />

be upheld, even in political turmoil.<br />

Christianity in Algeria has a long history,<br />

and a distinction must be made by the<br />

Algerian government between peaceful<br />

practice of Algerian Christians’ faith and<br />

political movements in the region.<br />

Four Killed in Philippines Church Bomb<br />

On Sunday, Dec. 3, a bomb killed four<br />

people and injured 54 others at a Catholic<br />

mass service in Marawi, Mindanao, the<br />

southernmost region of the Philippines.<br />

The bomb exploded during the mass held<br />

at a local university gymnasium. Islamic<br />

State terrorists quickly took responsibility<br />

for this terrible act, claiming retaliation<br />

for the 11 militants killed in a military<br />

operation on Friday in Maguindanao del<br />

Sur.<br />

Read more about ICC’s analysis on<br />

Mindanao on page 16.<br />

Amid all characteristics and<br />

coverage on the clash of<br />

worldviews and politics underlying<br />

the Israeli-Palestinian conflict,<br />

including this current escalation<br />

of the conflict, the Gazan Christian<br />

community, often found stuck in<br />

the crossfire of conflict, is often<br />

not known or acknowledged in<br />

media coverage. So, who are the<br />

Christians of Gaza, what is their<br />

suffering in the current conflict,<br />

and what does their future look<br />

like through this dark hour?<br />

To read the full feature article,<br />

visit our website at www.<br />

persecution.org/beaten-downbut-not-forsaken,<br />

or scan the QR<br />

code with your mobile device.<br />


West Watch<br />


ICC Contributes to USCIRF<br />

Report on Anti-Conversion Laws<br />

The United States Commission on<br />

International Religious Freedom<br />

(USCIRF) has released a report on<br />

anti-conversion laws prepared by<br />

International Christian Concern (ICC).<br />

ICC researchers Jay Church, McKenna<br />

Wendt, and Colton Grellier, together with<br />

USCIRF, outlined global restrictions on<br />

changing one’s religion. The report found<br />

46 countries with anti-conversion laws,<br />

amounting to almost 25% of countries<br />

globally.<br />

Around the world, governments restrict<br />

the right to religious freedom by limiting<br />

their citizens’ ability to convert. ICC<br />

researchers named four categories of<br />

anti-conversion laws: apostasy laws,<br />

anti-proselytism laws, laws concerning<br />

interfaith marriage, and laws relating to<br />

identity documentation.<br />

Of most concern are apostasy laws, which<br />

explicitly prohibit the public renunciation<br />

of one’s religion or belief. These laws exist<br />

in seven countries, including Brunei and<br />

Yemen, where converting to Christianity<br />

could mean a death sentence.<br />

Laws against proselytization, or sharing<br />

one’s faith, try to limit the growth of<br />

minority religions like Christianity. These<br />

laws range from banning missionary<br />

activity to restricting individuals from<br />

encouraging others to leave their religion.<br />

Of all the laws found in the report,<br />

anti-proselytism laws had the highest<br />

number, with 33 countries prohibiting<br />

proselytization.<br />

Laws on interfaith marriage are used to<br />

regulate or restrict conversion. These laws<br />

prohibit members from different religions<br />

from marrying – or require one to convert<br />

to another religion to marry. In countries<br />

like Algeria and Malaysia, Muslim women<br />

are restricted from marrying a non-<br />

Muslim man.<br />

Finally, some governments use identity<br />

documentation to restrict individuals from<br />

changing their religion on state-issued<br />

papers or records. These laws can compel<br />

individuals to reveal their religion or assign<br />

them a religion without the individuals’<br />

consent. They also allow governments<br />

to deny individuals identification<br />

documentation based on religion.<br />

Through the USCIRF report, ICC<br />

researchers aimed to paint a more<br />

complete picture of the global legal anticonversion<br />

landscape. Hopefully, this<br />

report will not only shed light on the issue<br />

of legal barriers to conversion but also<br />

encourage governments worldwide to<br />

reconsider the limits they are placing on<br />

their citizens’ right to conversion.<br />

To read the full report, visit www.uscirf.<br />

gov/publications/anti-conversion-lawscompendium.<br />

Christian Parliamentarian Found Not Guilty in Finland<br />

In a win for religious freedom, the Helsinki<br />

Court of Appeals found Christian Member<br />

of Parliament Päivi Räsänen and Lutheran<br />

Bishop Juhana Pohjola not guilty. The two<br />

had been accused of inciting hate-speech<br />

after sharing their beliefs on biblical<br />

marriage.<br />

Räsänen, who expressed her beliefs on<br />

social media, was facing charges under<br />

a section in the Finnish criminal code<br />

titled “War Crimes and Crimes Against<br />

Humanity.” Pohjola faced charges for<br />

publishing a booklet on biblical marriage,<br />

which Räsänen wrote almost 20 years ago<br />

Despite Räsänen and Pohjola having been<br />

acquitted by a lower district court in<br />

March 2022, the prosecution continued<br />

with their agenda of censoring Christian<br />

beliefs – a battle that has proven costly for<br />

them as this most recent decision ordered<br />

the prosecution to pay tens of thousands<br />

in fees to cover the costs for Räsänen and<br />

Pohjola.<br />

The prosecution has a deadline of <strong>January</strong><br />

15 to appeal, should they decide to<br />

continue their fight.<br />

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<strong>Persecution</strong> | JANUARY <strong>2024</strong>


Photo: GoFundMe Fundraiser Page<br />

Preacher Shot on<br />

Arizona Street Corner<br />

A Christian church leader is in critical condition after being shot in<br />

the head while preaching on a street corner in Glendale, Arizona.<br />

Hans Schmidt, 26, was sharing the Bible through a megaphone on<br />

public property when the incident occurred. Schmidt, who also<br />

serves as the outreach director at Victory Chapel First Phoenix, had<br />

engaged in such street preaching on numerous occasions.<br />

Authorities are still trying to determine if the shots came from<br />

someone in a car or a passerby on the street – and the suspects are<br />

still at large. However, witnesses say that a group of individuals had<br />

driven by before the shooting occurred, yelling hateful comments at<br />

Hans and threatening him to “get off the street.”<br />

Victory Chapel First Phoenix, where Hans is employed, shared that<br />

“Hans was taken to the ER where they discovered he had been shot<br />

after conducting a CT scan. He began seizing and was intubated.<br />

There has been some movement; however, physicians are uncertain<br />

how much is voluntary and began draining fluid from his brain. He<br />

remains in critical condition. Please continue praying.”<br />

Hans is a husband and father to two young children. He previously<br />

served as a military combat veteran as well. ICC prays for a<br />

miraculous recovery of Hans and that the perpetrators be brought<br />

to justice swiftly.<br />


CPC Designation<br />

for Nigeria<br />

In <strong>January</strong> 2023, U.S. Representative Chris H.<br />

Smith (R-NJ) introduced House Resolution 82<br />

into congress, pushing for the re-designation<br />

of Nigeria as a Country of Particular Concern<br />

(CPC). This was after the U.S. Department of<br />

State left Nigeria off its CPC list in late 2022.<br />

Each year, the U.S. State Department is<br />

tasked with designating countries where<br />

the government engages or tolerates<br />

“particularly severe violations of religious<br />

freedom” as a CPC in accordance with the<br />

International Religious Freedom Act of 1998.<br />

These designations make a global statement<br />

and justify the United States government in<br />

acting against such countries.<br />

Nigeria has been recommended for CPC<br />

designation for 14 years by the United States<br />

Commission on International Religious<br />

Freedom (USCIRF) and recommended as a<br />

Special Watch List Country for seven years<br />

prior, as outlined in their annual reports.<br />

However, the state department has only<br />

ever designated Nigeria as a CPC in 2020. It<br />

is vital that members of congress sign the H.<br />

Res.82 and recognize the immense hardship<br />

faced by those in Nigeria for decades.<br />

The State Department’s designations for<br />

2023 were not announced before the<br />

printing of this month’s magazine.<br />

As of December 1, Hans still remains in critical condition. His<br />

perpetrators are still unknown.<br />


If you’d like to stay informed about ICC’s advocacy work and<br />

policy recommendations, subscribe to our monthly newsletter,<br />

The Capitol Dispatch at www.persecution.org/icc-advocacy<br />


Your Hands and Feet<br />



Reviving Dreams by Rebuilding<br />

Moller’s Restaurant<br />


Moller’s heart swelled with gratitude as he gazed at the<br />

transformed state of his restaurant in Qaraqosh, Iraq.<br />

Once a shattered dream amid the ravages of war, it now<br />

stood vibrant and hopeful.<br />

“The restaurant will be awesome with the brand-new<br />

equipment that you provided me with. Thank you ICC!”<br />

Moller expressed. “I used to knead the dough by hand<br />

which took a long time and effort, but now I have a<br />

big dough mixer, which will help me in making more<br />

quantities.”<br />

Having been displaced in 2014 during the ISIS invasion,<br />

Moller’s return to Qaraqosh wasn’t without its challenges.<br />

He left school to support his family, worked in a restaurant,<br />

and finally, dared to open his own. But food prices soared<br />

in Iraq, and sustaining his business became an uphill battle.<br />

Yet Moller insisted on staying.<br />

ICC continues to support Christians who are returning<br />

to former ISIS-strongholds. For Moller, we helped him<br />

develop his restaurant with the necessary equipment so<br />

he and his family can be sustained for years to come.<br />

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<strong>Persecution</strong> | JANUARY <strong>2024</strong>

Persecuted,<br />

Not Forgotten<br />

Aisha was born into a Muslim family<br />

and married at 15. She faced hardship<br />

when her husband took on three<br />

other wives, stopped supporting their<br />

children, and began abusing alcohol in<br />

2020.<br />

Masika’s Journey of Perseverance<br />

as a Disabled Refugee<br />

AFRICA<br />

Masika, a 10-year-old Christian girl in Beni, Democratic Republic of the Congo<br />

(DRC), has faced tremendous challenges as a disabled refugee. Her family’s world<br />

shattered when Islamic extremist rebels from the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF)<br />

attacked their community, killing 22 villagers, in an attempt to continue their<br />

mission to wipe out Christianity from the country. Carried on her mother’s back<br />

while fleeing, she suffered convulsions and slipped into a coma, leaving her<br />

unable to walk.<br />

In the midst of seeking refuge in Beni, Masika’s mother cares for her family of<br />

five while her father labors tirelessly to put food on the table. ICC provided a<br />

wheelchair for Masika along with food and clothing for the entire family.<br />

“This is beyond our understanding,” said Masika’s mother. “We thank ICC for the<br />

goods they brought to our child. So we say God continue to bless ICC. And we say<br />

to ICC to continue to help other people because we are facing insecurity in the<br />

Eastern DRC. May God bless you abundantly.”<br />

A friend advised her to embrace<br />

Christianity for peace, and she<br />

converted in February 2023. Her<br />

husband reacted by giving her an<br />

ultimatum to denounce Christ or leave<br />

their home. She chose her newfound<br />

faith, was physically removed from<br />

the house in April. She found shelter<br />

with her Christian friend. However,<br />

her family and husband’s threats of<br />

violence leave her in a precarious<br />

situation.<br />

ICC helped Aisha set up a retail shop<br />

to sustain her and her young children<br />

so she could escape the dangerous<br />

threats coming from her family.<br />

“Thank you God and my Jesus for what<br />

You have done for me. Thank you, ICC,<br />

for this wonderful work and for not<br />

forgetting us who are persecuted,” she<br />

expressed. “I have no words to express<br />

my happiness, but all I can say is thank<br />

you so much, and may God bless you.”<br />




10<br />

<strong>Persecution</strong> | OCTOBER 2023





By ICC’s South Asia Regional Team<br />

Nepal, renowned for its cultural richness and historical<br />

tolerance, is grappling with an alarming surge in<br />

religious persecution. This surge, largely fueled by the<br />

infiltration of radical Hindu ideology from neighboring<br />

India, has sparked concerns about the eroding fabric of<br />

religious freedom and tolerance in the country.<br />


Historically, Nepal has prided itself on a legacy of religious<br />

tolerance, despite constraints on proselytization and<br />

conversion, which remained in place until the constitutional<br />

monarchy transition in 1990. But recent incidents reflect a<br />

stark departure from this narrative.<br />

What’s caused the rise of persecution recently? Government<br />

anti-conversion laws, societal pressures from non-Christian<br />

majorities, and harassment by authorities against Christians<br />

and other religious minorities have collectively contributed<br />

to the escalating persecution in the nation.<br />

The primary catalysts behind this surge lie within Nepal’s<br />

legal framework, particularly in the ambiguous and<br />

restrictive legislation governing religious conversion and<br />

proselytization. Provisions within Article 26(3) of the<br />

Nepalese Constitution and Chapter 19 of the Muluki Ain<br />

grant authorities sweeping powers to target minority<br />

religious groups under the guise of preserving decency and<br />

morality.<br />





To add to that, reports from the U.S. Department of State have underscored the influx of<br />

radical Hindu nationalism from India, further worsening tensions. Civil society groups confirm<br />

financial support flowing in from India to local Hindu nationalist groups, strengthening<br />

nationalism for the religious majority and further dividing the country along religious lines.<br />


Nepal’s situation stands distinct from neighboring countries like Pakistan and India, where<br />

religious persecution against Christians and other minorities has long been a grave concern.<br />

All of Nepal’s religious minorities, particularly Muslims and Christians, find themselves<br />

targeted by a surge of physical attacks and community-level ostracism. Such assaults not only<br />

jeopardize their safety but also impede their livelihoods, as community boycotts devastate<br />

their businesses, compelling some to relocate.<br />

The government response, marred by frequent harassment and criminal charges against<br />

religious minorities, has failed to ensure the protection of the religious minorities’ rights.<br />

Despite some instances of acquittal, cases often linger for years, instilling fear and inhibiting<br />

the free expression of faith.<br />


Amid these challenges, however, local NGOs and human rights organizations have shown<br />

resilience, fostering interfaith cooperation and amplifying voices against the growing number<br />

of persecution incidents. An interfaith coalition’s historic gathering in Kathmandu brought<br />

together diverse religious leaders and government officials to address religious freedom<br />

concerns.<br />

While the international community’s attention on Nepal’s religious persecution remains<br />

limited, it’s pivotal to recognize the urgency of this issue.<br />

The rise in intolerance not only threatens the religious diversity that has long defined Nepal,<br />

but also erodes the foundational values of tolerance and coexistence.<br />

As the echoes of intolerance reverberate across Nepal, it is imperative for both local and<br />

global stakeholders to unite, advocate, and stand in solidarity against the forces undermining<br />

the nation’s once-cherished values of religious harmony.<br />



HEBREWS 10:39<br />

12<br />

<strong>Persecution</strong> | JANUARY <strong>2024</strong>


TEARS ON<br />


The heartbreaking plight of Eritrea’s persecuted Christians<br />

By ICC’s Africa Regional Team<br />

A<br />

man broke down and wept openly at a church in<br />

Ethiopia. The pastor of the church asked the man<br />

what caused his anguish. Distraught, the man<br />

revealed that he is an Eritrean Christian who had<br />

just fled Eritrea as a refugee. While attempting to cross the<br />

border between Ethiopia and Eritrea, he and his son were<br />

separated. After three weeks of searching refugee camps,<br />

he received the worst news any parent can get: his son was<br />

shot and killed by Eritrean border guards.<br />

“I came to Ethiopia to take my son away from persecution.<br />

Now I must continue on without him,” cried the grieving<br />

father.<br />

Unfortunately, this story is all too common for Christians<br />

living in Africa’s most repressive country. While no one<br />

knows the exact number of believers living in Eritrea,<br />

one thing is known for certain: they are among the most<br />

persecuted on the planet.<br />


Eritrea is a small but strategically located nation in the<br />

Horn of Africa. After 30 years of war with Ethiopia, Eritrea<br />

officially became an independent country in 1993. Since<br />

independence, the country has been ruled by President<br />

Isaias Afwerki, the former leader of the independence<br />

movement. After initially leading the country toward<br />

democracy, the Afwerki regime became increasingly<br />

repressive to stay in control. His regime only allowed people<br />

to worship within one of the official state religions which<br />

include four denominations of Christianity. Within these<br />

official state religions, the Afwerki regime exercises near<br />

complete control significantly curtailing any real religious<br />

freedom in Eritrea.<br />

In 2002, the Afwerki regime attempted to help its<br />

international image regarding religious freedom by allowing<br />

religious groups outside the official state religions to<br />

register with the government to worship legally. To register,<br />

religious communities must provide detailed financial<br />

and membership information, as well as background on<br />

14<br />

<strong>Persecution</strong> | JANUARY <strong>2024</strong>


all their activities in Eritrea. The 2002 declaration began a<br />

series of raids where Eritrean officials arrested Christians<br />

on foundationless grounds. At the end of 2005, there was<br />

an estimated 1,750 Christians held in prisons and military<br />

camps. Currently, the estimate of prisoners without a trial<br />

or even a crime charged to their name is approximately<br />

500, with hundreds more imprisoned with charges such as<br />

blasphemy or apostasy.<br />

Since the 2002 registration requirement came into<br />

existence, no religious group has passed the registration<br />

process. For now, all religious activity outside of the highly<br />

regulated official state religions is still illegal. Christians<br />

caught conducting religious activities, even something as<br />

simple as a Bible study at home, can be arrested, subjected<br />

to torture, and possibly executed under charges of treason.<br />

“Eritrea remains one of the worst examples of statesponsored<br />

repression of freedom of religion or belief in<br />

the world...Eritrean authorities conducted waves of doorto-door<br />

searches and arrests of individuals because of their<br />

religious identity, and increased oppression of Pentecostal<br />

and Evangelical Christian communities,” said Thomas Reese,<br />

USCIRF Commissioner.<br />


groups began rebelling forcefully against<br />

American influence in the Philippines, Marcos’<br />

strict rule, and the growing numbers of<br />

Christians in Mindanao. As a result, groups like<br />

the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF),<br />

the Muslim Independence Movement, and<br />

the New People’s Army (communist) emerged<br />

and began causing havoc, particularly against<br />

Christians since the 1960s.<br />

Today, Christianity is the predominant faith in<br />

Mindanao. However, many Muslims continue<br />

to call for Mindanao to adopt Sharia law.<br />

Many Muslim groups push for Mindanao to<br />

leave the Philippines nation-state and join<br />

with their Muslim neighbors, Indonesia or<br />

Malaysia. Muslim extremists continue to<br />

fight running battles with the government,<br />

terrorizing local communities and targeting<br />

Christian pastors and churches.<br />

In 2014, militant terror organizations in<br />

Mindanao, like the Abu Sayyaf Group and the<br />

Dawlah Islamiya-Maute Group, joined forces<br />

with the Islamic State (IS) from the Middle<br />

East, unleashing a new wave of terror in<br />

the region. This directly led to the terrorists<br />

seizing Marawi City in 2017 (displacing<br />

400,000 people), the establishment of the<br />

Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim<br />

Mindanao to be separate from the rest of<br />

Mindanao and the Philippines, and a steady<br />

program of violence against Christians.<br />

Balancing Acts<br />

Christians navigate a fragile state of peace<br />

among neighbors in Mindanao, Philippines<br />

By ICC’s Southeast Asia Regional Team<br />

Mindanao is a beautiful yet difficult land where complex religious and<br />

political issues collide to bring instability and persecution to many<br />

Christians.<br />

Mindanao is the southernmost island region of the Philippines. Home<br />

to more than 27 million people, Mindanao has a large Muslim population, with<br />

one-quarter of locals following Islam. Islam took root here in the 13th century.<br />

Christians began arriving in large numbers to Mindanao in the 1960s and 1970s<br />

under Ferdinand Marcos’ iron regime. This led to increased tensions with local<br />

indigenous groups and established Muslim factions forming and growing. These<br />

For Christians in Mindanao today, there<br />

remains a real sense of fear as the political<br />

and religious turmoil keeps Mindanao in an<br />

unsettled state. In December 2023, IS claimed<br />

responsibility of a bombing in a Catholic<br />

service held at Marawi State University which<br />

killed four people and injured more than 50<br />

others. This heinous bombing came after<br />

increased operations from local police and<br />

military against Muslim militant groups linked<br />

to IS.<br />

Christians continue to face violence and<br />

harassment, with many driven out of Muslimmajority<br />

areas like Bangsamoro. As of<br />

February 2023, more than 120,000 Filipinos<br />

remain displaced because of armed conflicts<br />

and crime in Mindanao.<br />

Additionally, Mindanao’s huge natural<br />

disaster-prone part (typhoons, earthquakes,<br />

16<br />

<strong>Persecution</strong> | JANUARY <strong>2024</strong>


eruptions) constantly adds another layer of severe hardship for locals. Families<br />

and communities in Mindanao live in a fragile peace; an environment of instability<br />

and insecurity, especially with the strong presence of Muslim extremist groups and<br />

ongoing political, religious, and ethnic conflicts.<br />

ICC is identifying ways to serve and support local Christians. In December 2023, we<br />

supported local church planters working in an extremely dangerous environment<br />

in northern Mindanao. We provided Bibles for new followers of Jesus facing death<br />

threats and other challenges from family and community members and a motorbike<br />

to help the church planters navigate their mission field.<br />

We will keep working with local Christians, develop new partnerships, and seek more<br />

opportunities to strengthen the local Mindanao church to persevere amidst this<br />

persecution.<br />

ICC is watching the state of Christians in Mindanao closely.<br />

Christians in the Southeast Asia region face massive obstacles with ongoing wars,<br />

the strong presence of Muslim radicals and Marxist governments, and gigantic<br />

humanitarian, political, and religious pressures. However, the situation in Mindanao<br />

has all the ingredients for heightened and harsh persecution and will, in our view, be<br />

a growing hot spot of persecution again in the near future.<br />

We provided Bibles for<br />

new followers of Jesus<br />

facing death threats<br />

and other challenges<br />

from family and<br />

community members<br />

and a motorbike to help<br />

the church planters<br />

navigate their mission<br />

field.<br />


The Paradox of Youth<br />


By Greg Cochran, Ph.D., ICC Fellow<br />

A quick Google search of the phrase “Youth Movement” yields millions of links to an unimaginable number of<br />

causes trying to lay claim to the next generation: Youth for Scouting, Youth for Palestinians, Youth for Jews, Youth<br />

for Civil Rights, Youth for the Environment, and Youth for Africa. Reading through the links is more tedious than<br />

watching a boring movie with a joyless companion. It takes so long!<br />

Why do people hunger for a youth movement? Most likely, the hunger reflects a hope to see their own movements<br />

have a future. As Thomas Bergler writes in his book “The Juvenilization of American Christianity,” people are<br />

concerned about “what they need to do to appeal to ‘the young people’ and to remain viable….” Obviously,<br />

Bergler has church ministries in view, but the strategy for all movements is the same: appeal to youth. Youth<br />

appeal drives entire industries like entertainment, fashion, and sports, and potentially drives noble causes like<br />

education, Christian ministry, and political reform movements. Everyone who cares about a cause also cares<br />

about that cause continuing into the future. So, youth appeals.<br />

18<br />

<strong>Persecution</strong> | JANUARY <strong>2024</strong>




The continent of Africa is currently pregnant with a massive youth<br />

movement. Given the demographic outlook of African nations,<br />

marketers will likely be targeting Africa more in the future.<br />

Currently, people living on the continent of Africa make up 17.89%<br />

of the world’s population. However, Africa keeps growing younger.<br />

By 2050, more than 40% of the children in the world will be born<br />

and living in Africa. Thus, Africa represents a disproportionate<br />

opportunity for youth movements—particularly in those African<br />

nations across the Sahel. Across Africa, 19 of the 20 “youngest”<br />

nations in the world reside. And 14 of the 20 youngest nations are<br />

located in the Sahel.<br />

The fact that Africa is about to experience a global youth<br />

movement is not in dispute. As noted in an earlier article, Africa<br />

is the youngest continent; by 2050, it will be the only “youthful”<br />

continent. Yet, what might be disputed is whether this impending<br />

youth movement is a good thing. Is this growing African youth<br />

movement good and desirable?<br />

Maybe. It depends. If marketers in the U.S. accurately assess<br />

the value of youth, then Africa is primed to succeed in the next<br />

century. But what if the marketers are a little misguided or shortsighted?<br />

What if the vitality of a movement isn’t determined by<br />

youth but by something more critical than age?<br />


Like a timid kid in a classroom of bullies, these questions want<br />

to raise a hand to get the teacher’s attention. And like a good<br />

teacher, Silvana Taska has noticed the questions. Writing a brief on<br />

behalf of the Project on Middle East Political Science (POMEPS),<br />

Taska explains that Yemen had a unique opportunity for political<br />

reform fueled by dozens of youth movements. As a result of this<br />

mobilization of youth, Yemen’s revolution lasted longer than most<br />

of the movements at the same time across the Middle East. Taska<br />

points out the particular vulnerability of youth and, thus, youth<br />

movements. The youth movement in Yemen—like other youth<br />

movements—dissolved predictably in one of two directions.<br />

Taska says, “Lack of employment and increasing poverty further<br />

pushed youth activists to two opposite actions: demobilization or<br />

taking up arms.”<br />

Taska’s study is instructive for the coming youth movement across<br />

Africa’s Sahel.<br />

First, the existing political order doesn’t relinquish power easily.<br />

Youth movements historically have dissolved and demobilized<br />

into the existing political order. Political power brokers understand<br />

the value of youth and, thus, absorb them into their own agendas,<br />

repaying with a seat at the table or with the promise of having<br />

a voice in the movement. Will the African youth movement<br />

dissolve into the existing political order? What will that dissolution<br />

produce?<br />

The second direction in which youth movements dissolve is<br />

more troubling—as youth are absorbed into violent extremist<br />

movements. Given the recent trend of violence across the Sahel,<br />

the coming youth movement may arrive with ominous overtones.<br />

According to the Africa Center for Strategic Studies, militant<br />

Islamist group-linked fatalities have reached an all-time high<br />

earlier this year across the Sahel.<br />

For the political opportunist, the coming youth movement offers<br />

hope for the renewal and longevity of the movement. For the<br />

militant extremist, the coming youth movement represents<br />

the hope for new recruits. The current situation in Borno state,<br />

Nigeria, is instructive on this point. Babagana Zulum, governor<br />

of Borno state, recently made this startling remark: “We have to<br />

stop the younger ones from being recruited into Boko Haram and<br />

ISWAP; otherwise, in the near future, the entire Nigeria will be<br />

wiped off the map.” In this instance, youth is a danger, not an<br />

advantage.<br />

Because of the vulnerability of those displaced persons in Borno<br />

state, violent extremist groups prey upon young, hungry recruits.<br />

These recruits aren’t necessarily hungry for violence. They’re<br />

just hungry. Violence has produced extreme poverty for these<br />

displaced Nigerians. In at least four areas of Borno state, poverty<br />

has reached beyond the crisis stage to the IPC Phase 4 emergency<br />

level. Youthful energy and the threat of starvation make for fruitful<br />

extremist recruiting.<br />


What Zulum’s statement signifies for the future is that youth alone<br />

is not enough to sustain a good movement. If any good movement<br />

goes forward, it does so by youth and by the conditions necessary<br />

for youth to thrive. What conditions allow youth to thrive?<br />

Strong families, faith in the God who created and sustains all<br />

things, access to private property, entrepreneurial opportunities,<br />

education, jobs, and a predictable rule of law. Many of these<br />

conditions are currently in flux in Nigeria and Borno state.<br />

In Borno state, violence, poverty, corruption, and predation<br />

dominate. Governor Zulum is leading an ambitious effort to get<br />

control of the situation, but many are critical of his actions. He aims<br />

to close the refugee camps in the area and move the internally<br />

displaced residents back to their original villages. His efforts are<br />

highly controversial. He maintains that the refugee centers create<br />

dependency and predation—dependency on NGO’s supplying<br />

food and other necessities. By predation, he means the predatory<br />

recruiting by ISWAP and Boko Haram in the areas where refugees<br />

are most vulnerable. Maybe Zulum’s strategy is too ambitious or<br />

is moving too fast. His point is still one that should be heard. A<br />

youth movement with the wrong conditions could actually hasten<br />

the demise of Nigeria and other African nations.<br />

Christians—particularly Christians in Nigeria—should continue to<br />

have strong marriages, strong families, and strong churches in the<br />

spirit of Christ’s command to “let the little children come and do<br />

not forbid them; for such is the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew<br />

19:14). Both the Old Testament and the New Testament affirm the<br />

value of a Christian household, including children (Deuteronomy<br />

6, Psalm 127, Ephesians 6). Christians have an opportunity and an<br />

obligation to invest in families, children, and youth discipleship<br />

strategies, which include youth leader development. While it<br />

may seem that other political matters are more urgent, the<br />

real existential crisis in Nigeria and across the Sahel might be<br />

determining how to welcome a healthy youth movement. May<br />

the Lord grant this movement to be an awakening rather than a<br />

darkening, a revival rather than a repeat of the violence to the<br />

poverty cycle.<br />

20<br />

<strong>Persecution</strong> | JANUARY <strong>2024</strong>


Crowns of Courage<br />


A Martyr Who Taught<br />

Forgiveness to His People<br />

Father John epitomized the living essence of<br />

the Gospel teachings, exemplifying the divine<br />

commandments of loving one’s adversaries<br />

and bestowing blessings upon them. His<br />

humanitarian stances and good relations with people<br />

of all religions and sects distinguished him and made<br />

him trustworthy and reliable for everyone in his<br />

community.<br />

Born to Christian parents in a poverty-stricken village<br />

in Damascus, Father John’s life was entrenched in<br />

faith and service. As a devoted husband and a revered<br />

priest in a local church, he became a pillar of hope,<br />

especially during the turbulent times of conflict that<br />

ravaged Syria. Most Christians sought him to mediate<br />

for them to get back their kidnapped children from<br />

ISIS militants.<br />

The group of extremists kidnapped a promising<br />

young Christian doctor from Father John’s village.<br />

The perpetrators demanded an exorbitant ransom<br />

of $700,000 – an insurmountable sum for the<br />

impoverished family. The family turned to Father John<br />

in the hopes of having their son returned.<br />

Driven by an unyielding love and a profound sense<br />

of duty for his community, Father John fearlessly<br />

embarked on a perilous negotiation with the<br />

kidnappers. Through arduous efforts, he managed<br />

to reduce the ransom to $350,000, a slightly less<br />

daunting sum but still an impossible burden for the<br />

impoverished villagers.<br />

The doctor’s family sold their lands and homes, hoping<br />

to get their son back. Carrying the money, Father John<br />

went to meet the kidnappers in the hope that he<br />

would return with their son. He overlooked the blind<br />

hatred for Christians – let alone Christian priests – that<br />

characterizes these extremist groups.<br />

However, the kidnappers callously seized Father John,<br />

escalating their demands for an increased ransom.<br />

Cut off from his community, Father John endured<br />

unspeakable torture and indignities at the hands of his<br />

captors.<br />

“Did they offer him food or drink, or even vinegar<br />

mixed with myrrh?! How many blows and lashes did<br />

he taste?! Was he subjected to spit and insults like his<br />

Master?!” Said one community member.<br />

Tragically, what was anticipated as a triumphant<br />

homecoming turned into a nightmare.<br />

Instead of the priest and the doctor returning home,<br />

their lives were unjustly ended at the hands of their<br />

captors. The villagers’ hopes were shattered, their<br />

fears realized as the bodies of Father John and the<br />

doctor were callously discarded on the roadside,<br />

bearing the grotesque marks of torment and brutality.<br />

The villagers were devastated. This was not the<br />

first time that Father John was asked to mediate in<br />

kidnappings and thefts. He had succeeded many times<br />

in releasing kidnapped people because he was a cleric<br />

who was trusted and loved by everyone.<br />

This time, he did not complete his work but returned<br />

to his family slaughtered. And while all he wanted was<br />

to help set free the kidnapped people, this time, he<br />

was the victim.<br />

“May God have mercy on you, Father John,” they<br />

lamented, acknowledging his unwavering commitment<br />

to forgiveness even in the face of such heinous<br />

brutality. “Just as you taught us to forgive, may we too<br />

extend forgiveness to those who brought such sorrow<br />

upon you.”<br />

22<br />

<strong>Persecution</strong> | OCTOBER 2023

“Bear with each other and forgive<br />

one another if any of you has<br />

a grievance against someone.<br />

Forgive as the Lord forgave you.”<br />

- COLOSSIANS 3:13<br />


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