How do you see persecution? According to Open Doors, 1 in 8 Christians worldwide experiences persecution for their faith. That’s 1 in 8 of us whose faith can come at great cost — in some cases, even at the cost of life itself. This month, in response to this painful statistic, we will be sharing stories in solidarity with our brothers and sisters who so often live out their faith in the shadows. We pray this would shine a light in the otherwise-darkened corners of our world and connect us all to these hidden members of the body of Christ.
Much of the persecution suffered by Christians around the world isn’t carried out by governments or even religious hierarchies. Instead, it is inflicted by family members, by neighbors or within local communities.
TWR’s national partner in Sri Lanka hears from numerous radio listeners who share that they have experienced abuse of this kind. They often go on to thank TWR Lanka for providing spiritual nourishment and encouragement to help them navigate the hard times. It’s evident that these believers just need to know that someone beyond their immediate environment understands what they are facing and will walk with them – even though from afar.
One listener who wrote to say thank you to the TWR Lanka team also managed to find a silver lining amid the negative clouds surrounding him.
"I come from a rural area, and we can't share about Jesus Christ there,” the listener wrote. “Our church is facing a lot of persecution. But here, no one can stop listening to the radio, and so this [radio program] is a great opportunity to spread the gospel and for people to know the Word of God.”
Beginning in the early 1980s, the South Asian island nation suffered through nearly three decades of what has been called ethno-religious violence, pitting the largely Buddhist majority Sinhala population against the mostly Hindu Tamil rebels. In contrast to many other regions, both Christians and Muslims in this country can be described as persecuted minorities.
On Easter Sunday 2019, however, hostility toward Christians appeared to have entered a darker phase when suicide bombings of churches and hotels killed nearly 300 people. Fighters of the Islamic State group, also known as ISIS, claimed responsibility for the attacks. Most of the victims were Christians.
As horrifying as this kind of terrorist attack is, it’s the less sensational day-to-day ill-treatments that have the greatest impact on the lives of most persecuted Christians. Another believer who got in touch with TWR Lanka, for example, shared that the programming that the seven members of his family receive teaches them many truths and encourages them to share the gospel with others.
"My church is located in a rural area,” the listener added. “Almost all of the people in my community are from another faith. As Christians, most of the time we face a lot of persecution.”
Undoubtedly, the most spiritually challenging abuse of all is the kind inflicted by a loved one determined to crush the faith of a close family member. One such victim named Tharushi* thanked God for the “great ministry” of TWR Lanka and then opened up about the heartbreaking circumstances she endures every day.
Tharushi is a Christian, but her husband of 12 years is not, and he won’t allow her to attend church.
“He is a very cruel man,” she said. “He blames me, using filthy words. He never sets an example for our 11-year-old son. My husband has very abusive sexual behavior, and he does [improper] things to me in front of my son.”
Even more appalling, the son takes his cue from his father and treats his mother the same way. “I feel ashamed and sad,” Tharushi revealed.
Through their consistent broadcasts and listener interaction, TWR staff have become her spiritual brethren, her mentors, her confidants and worship team.
“I listen to this program every Sunday, and it encourages me whenever I am down,” she wrote. “I don't go to church. But I have faith in God because of this program. … I know God can change my family.”
Sometimes the faithfulness of a believer stymied by persecution flips the intimidation upside down and turns it into an effective witness for the Lord. Consider, for instance, the listener who said her mother-in-law and the extended family rejected her because she had recently given her life to Christ.
“But after the radio program was played in our house, everyone in my family, and particularly my mother-in-law, also sat down to listen to it with a lot of interest,” the listener wrote. “This program allows us to develop our faith.”
* Pseudonyms and stock images are used to protect the individuals’ privacy.