Saeed Abedini is an Iranian-American who has been held in an Iranian prison since September, ostensibly for sharing the Gospel with Muslims. He is an American citizen who makes his home in Idaho; he returned to Iran to visit family and friends. In recent days, he is reported to have been tortured.
Asia Bibi is a Pakistani mother of five who is being imprisoned for her Christian faith. That’s her crime: Sharing the good news about Jesus Christ.
Alimujiang Yimiti has been in a Chinese prison since September 2007 for “preaching Christianity among people of Uyghur ethnicity.” Formerly a Muslim himself, Alimujiang talked about his faith with other Uyghurs, a people-group in China that is overwhelmingly Muslim.
There are two common themes in these stories: First, across the world, men and women are being imprisoned simply for talking about Jesus. And second, they frequently are imprisoned because those with whom they speak about their Savior are Muslims.
In societies where Sharia law is regnant, or where Islamists hold sway in the government, religious liberty is seen as a form of blasphemy: Anyone not bowing toward Mecca is an infidel, and must be converted or forced to submit to Islam – or killed.
It should be noted that the overwhelming majority of Muslims are not terrorists and that many Muslims, here and abroad, are offended by the persecution of Christians. Furthermore, in nations like North Korea, exercising Christian faith is viewed as a crime against the state, regardless of Islam.
As American Christians prepare to celebrate the birth of the Son of God with family and friends, safe from the threat of physical persecution and ensconced in our national cocoon of religious liberty and security, let us not fail to “remember the prisoners, as though in prison with them, and those who are ill-treated, since you yourselves also are in the body [of Christ]” (Hebrews 13:3).
Does this mean we cannot rejoice with loved ones, have a “feast day” where presents and food overflow, and honor Christ with glad hearts? Should we hang our heads and mourn without respite, eschewing merriment and worship?
No; remembering the prisoners doesn’t mean forgetting the joy of the newborn King or the closeness of family. Remembering the prisoners is to pray for them, and for their persecutors; to write their captor governments urging their release; to write to the prisoners themselves, letting them know they are not forgotten; and writing our own government to request appropriate American diplomatic action to help them.
There are some wonderful ministries with which we can partner to stand with, and advocate for, our brothers and sisters in the One Who came to Bethlehem. They provide opportunities to help in real, tangible ways. Among them are:
For a primer in international Christian persecution, a good place to start is to view FRC’s Webcast, “The Cry of the Martyrs,” in which FRC president Tony Perkins joins with Voice of the Martyrs’ Todd Nettleton and interviews some of the leading advocates for the persecuted church. They also outline practical steps we can take to help.
Let’s remember the prisoners this Christmas, even as the Savior Himself does: “For the Lord hears the needy and does not despise his own people who are prisoners” (Psalm 69:33).
Robert Schwarzwalder is senior vice president of the Family Research Council.
Publication date: December 21, 2012