The Persecutor's Sword

by Dan Wooding

Strategic Times

A Disturbing Look At Our Extended, Persecuted Family Around The World

When we finally met in Moscow, Alexander Ogorodnikov peered at me over his "granny" reading glasses. "Thank you for caring!" he said, his voice choking with emotion.

The Russian dissident, wearing a dark, pin-striped suit and sporting a ponytail, had spent seven lonely years in the former Soviet prison system, or Gulag. He'd been convicted of running a Christian discussion group for other students at the Moscow State University, where he was studying film making.

I had first learned of his plight from a letter he had written to former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev. The letter was published by Keston College, a British-based organization that monitored persecution in the former Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. In the letter, Ogorodnikov told Gorbachev that he had been in prison for five years and had not received one letter or a visit from any Christian.

"I know it is a sin to commit suicide, but I am so lonely that I wish to ask you to have me executed by firing squad," he wrote.

After reading his appeal, I immediately organized a letter-writing and prayer campaign on his behalf in the United States. Within weeks, thousands of letters had arrived at his camp, and waves of prayer went up to heaven on his behalf. Soon, his case came to the attention of then British Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher. Thatcher interceded on his behalf with Gorbachev on Ogorodnikov's behalf, and the prisoner was released.

Now running a soup kitchen for Moscow's homeless, Ogorodnikov told me, "You don't know what it was like to discover that there were Christians who cared--who wanted me to live and who loved me."


Now that freedom has come to the former Soviet Union, Ogorodnikov and thousands of other Christian prisoners have been released and are free to share their faith openly with others. That is not the case in many other countries, such as Sudan. In six years, more than 1.3 million Christians and other non-Muslim people have been killed in this African nation -- more than Bosnia, Chechnya and Haiti combined.

"Sudan is characterized by the total or near complete absence of civil liberties," said Christian activist Nina Shea, during recent U.S. Congressional Human Rights Caucus hearings. "Individual Christians, including clergy, have over the past few years ... been assassinated, imprisoned, tortured and flogged for their faith."

That pattern is being repeated in country after country around the world, often in areas where Islam is strong. Christians in North America can easily forget the daily danger in which their sisters and brothers overseas live. We don't realize that our peaceful existence here isn't the standard experience of Christians around the world.

Is there anything we can do for persecuted Christians? Yes. We can pray. And we can support ministries that work to bring these Christians liberty.


Much of the persecution today is happening in predominately Islamic nations such as Indonesia. There, on June 9, 1996, as Christians gathered for worship, Muslim mobs attacked and destroyed ten Protestant churches in the southern Indonesian city of Surabaya.

According to a report by Open Doors Philippines, more than 5,000 Muslims took part in the riots, led mostly by Madurese radicals. Indonesia has the world's largest number of Muslims, with 83 percent of its 200 million people claiming to be followers of Mohammed. The Madurese are a large, Indonesian ethnic group, most of whom have not heard the Christian gospel.

In Pakistan, Christian evangelization is outlawed by a blasphemy law that prohibits speaking against the prophet Mohammed. Violations are punishable by death. A 12-year-old boy was last year sentenced to death for witnessing. He was freed only by international pressure.

In Iran, three prominent evangelical pastors were abducted and assassinated in 1995. "Many Christians have been arrested and tortured; others have lost their homes, jobs, and businesses," Charles Colson reported in a recent article in Christianity Today ("Tortured for Christ -- and ignored," March 4, 1996.) He added, "All ethnic Armenian and Assyrian Christian schools have been closed and taken over by Muslims."

In Kuwait, Robert Hussein, a convert from Islam to Christianity, was pronounced an "apostate" on May 29, 1996, by an Islamic court and sentenced to death. In August, Hussein fled to the United States seeking religious asylum.


But it is not just in the Muslim world that persecution still takes place. Cuba, for instance, is still leading the way in our hemisphere. But there, as in many other cases, the persecuted have turned oppression to God's advantage.

Cuban preacher Orson Vila was imprisoned on May 23, 1995, and released on parole on March 2, 1996. While he was in prison, the other prisoners asked this house-church leader if his conviction was a punishment from God. His answer was that God loved the prisoners and that "God has sent me here to tell you about Jesus." So Vila began a church among them.

Following his release, Vila preached in a small Pentecostal church in Camaguey attended by 400 people. Yet persecution in Cuba, a country I have visited on three occasions, continues unabated, with churches being closed and pastors harassed. "The authorities have tightened the noose around leaders and pastors," said one Cuban pastor. "As the government continues to shut down house churches, everything seems to indicate that the authorities will have serious conflicts with the church in the future."


China is another land where Christians, particularly those in the underground church, are constantly under attack. China recently launched a campaign of persecution against Christians who are not registered in the official state church. According to Compass Direct News Service, the campaign stems largely from government fear that the huge number of Christians in China could be swiftly galvanized into a vast anti-government movement.

Although estimates of the number of China's Christians begin as low as 10 million, those with access to China's unregistered house churches place the total at 50 million. Some have estimated the number to be as high as 90 million.

Despite their trouble with the government, Chinese Christians still seize on every opportunity to preach the Gospel. Open Doors recently reported that one woman, Wen Rou, even used her coffin as a pulpit. Wen became a Christian in the middle of a serious illness. She was bed-bound. Her family had ordered a coffin for her.

"Most of the villagers thought she had already died when they saw the coffin being carried into the house," said an Open Doors spokesperson. "However, some Christians in the area also heard about her illness, and came to speak and pray with her. Wen gave her almost destroyed life to Christ and was slowly but surely healed--but was no more the same. Her coffin became her pulpit from which she spoke to not-yet Christians."


In a recent edition in Christianity Today, David Neff points out that American Christians do not lead typical Christian lives. "The typical Christian lives in a developing country, speaks a non-European language, and exists under the constant threat of persecution --of murder, imprisonment, torture, or rape," he says.

"The persecutor's sword dangles by a hair over Christians in the still-communist countries and in lands where the rising tide of Islam overwhelms political efforts at fairness, tolerance, and due process." ("Our Extended Persecuted Family," April 29, 1996).

The persecution of Christians didn't end with the collapse of the Roman or even the Russian empire. It's still alive around the world. Like Alexander Ogorodnikov, our persecuted brothers and sisters need to know that the world holds other Christians who care and who love them.

Dan Wooding is an award-winning British journalist now living in Southern California where he is the founder and international director ASSIST (Aid to Special Saints in Strategic Times.) He is also the author of 33 books, the latest of which is Blind Faith, which he co-authored with his 88-year-old mother about her life as a pioneer missionary in Nigeria. Wooding is a commentator on the UPI Radio Network in Washington, DC.

This article is published courtesy of Ramon A Williams, The Religious Media Agency. If you would like to contact him, email Ramon A Williams.


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