"This is our last cry for help. If the world will not listen to us now then they do not care. Where are the Christians of the world when we need their voices and help?"
Those were the words of an Iraqi Christian following the Aug. 1 attacks on five churches. The bombings killed 11 people and wounded over 50.
The bombings, killings and harassment of Christians in Iraq by Muslim fundamentalists continued after the Aug. 1 attacks, resulting in the exodus of thousands of Christians to such countries as Syria and Jordan.
"When one of us Christians leaves the house, one doesn't know if he will return safe and sound," another Iraqi said. "Christian families are afraid for their children and women. Because of this, many are fleeing from the country"
In a review of events during 2004 in the Persecuted Church, Iraqi Christians took the world's spotlight; caught in the crossfire of the increased violence in that besieged country.
But there was also significant persecution in such countries as Nigeria, Eritrea, Vietnam and China, as well as in many other countries worldwide.
In Nigeria, Muslim fundamentalists increased their attacks, resulting in the deaths of at least 1,500 Christians. Over 9,000 Christian children lost their parents. Open Doors mounted a campaign to rush food and clothing and Christian materials to the homeless in Nigeria.
In 2004 there was a brutal crackdown against evangelical Christians in Eritrea. Since the start of the year, hundreds of believers have been arrested, subjected to interrogation and tortured. Over 200 Christians remain in prison
In Vietnam, a new restrictive religious law targeting Christians went into effect Nov. 15. Also, Mennonite Pastor Nguyen Hong Quang and five other leaders were given prison sentences for meeting with other Christians and supposedly resisting arrest. All were reportedly beaten while in police custody, according to Compass Direct.
The situation in China over the past six months has been troubling as there has been a concerted effort to clamp down on unregistered house churches, especially in rural areas. Hundreds of church leaders have been arrested, including Pastor Zhang Rongliang earlier this month. He is one of China's best-known and most respected house church leaders.
While there were tears and sorrows among members of the Persecuted Church around the world in 2004, there was also rejoicing in how believers stood firm in their faith and how millions of Christians in the West supported their brothers and sisters - through their prayers and letters.
"I often think of Soner Onder, who was released from a Turkish prison this year," says Open Doors USA President Dr. Carl Moeller. "He was a man who made a decision to stand firm for over 12 years while he was falsely imprisoned. And he said the prayers and cards of thousands of Christians were a real encouragement to him.
"Then I think of Christians in Nigeria, China, Vietnam and all over the world who also faced a critical decision in 2004: 'Will I continue to serve God, or will I deny him because of persecution?' The tens of thousands of believers who made a decision to continue to serve the Lord made 2004 a year of triumph for the Persecuted Church."
Other highlights of 2004 included the early release of Indonesian Pastor Rinaldy Damanik from prison; the release of Indian national Brian O'Connor from a prison in Saudi Arabia and the involvement of thousands of Christians during the International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church (IDOP) on Nov. 14.
An estimated 200 million Christians worldwide suffer interrogation, arrest and even death for their faith in Christ, with another 200 to 400 million facing discrimination and alienation. Open Doors serves and strengthens the Persecuted Church in the world's most difficult areas through Bible and Christian literature distribution, leadership training and assistance, Christian community development and prayer and presence ministry.
To partner with Open Doors, call toll free at 888-5-BIBLE-5 (524-2535) or go to their web site at www.odusa.org.