Covid-19 has considerably changed daily life for most people in most countries around the world. This worldwide crisis, however, has a devastating influence on the persecuted Church and Christians in countries closed to the Gospel.
Open Doors, an international organisation, aiming to support and strengthen persecuted Christians in more than 60 countries worldwide, is at the forefront of the fight against Covid-19 by serving through various projects to create hope and help isolated Christians through the coronavirus pandemic.
According to Jan Gouws, Executive Director of Open Doors Southern Africa, at least 25 countries with positive cases of Covid-19 are among the world’s worst persecutors of Christians. The present circumstances make life even tougher for persecuted Christians, as their income and security are less stable than before. These people often lack family and community support, which makes them more vulnerable and isolated during a crisis.
“We can feel the effect of Covid-19 everywhere around us. People are isolated in their homes because many countries are currently in different stages of lockdown. Social activities are forbidden and churches are empty. Christians in countries not familiar with persecution are now for the first time experiencing what it’s like to worship in isolation,” says Gouws.
“Nobody understands isolation and lockdown better than the persecuted Church and secret believers living in countries closed to the Gospel. Our new reality of isolation is part of their daily lives. Their courageous faith amidst the storm teaches us to build our own faith throughout this pandemic and how to start home churches”.
Countries with worst persecution
Countries where Covid-19 and the lockdown have the worst impact on persecuted Christians include:
China: Pastor Huang Lei leads a church in the city Wuhan, which is the epicentre of the Covid-19 outbreak. According to him, online Christian meetings have flourished in China during the pandemic. Many house churches and some state churches began livestreaming their church services, prayer meetings and home group meetings to stay connected during the lockdown. But in Shandong Province, churches are ordered to refrain from sharing or livestreaming their preaching online.
Syria: Covid-19 created a dire situation in this country, which has been crippled by civil war for the past nine years. The government enforced a strict coronavirus lockdown, which has fuelled great desperation among believers. Some Christians are crying with hunger because there is no food available.
Iraq: In this country, which is also torn apart by war and persecution, the Church deals with the Covid-19 crisis by organising digital tools such as online prayer sessions and Bible studies at home to encourage persecuted believers.
Ethiopia and other sub-Saharan Africa countries: Christians struggle to find enough food because they are expelled from their communities and are not allowed to work. They are now doubly vulnerable to the restrictions due to the impact of the global pandemic.
Somalia: The radical Islamist al-Shabaab group is telling Muslims that the coronavirus is spread by Christians who have invaded the country. Islamic militants are spreading the claim that the virus cannot be picked up by true Muslims.
Russia: A state television station falsely reported that an evangelical church in St Petersburg continued to meet after the lockdown and had caused mass infections in the area. The report led to an attempted arson attack on another evangelical church.
Indonesia: Some church leaders have no income due to the current crisis. However, they are helping the government stop the virus from spreading with the production of handmade masks for people. This project started as a charity deed by one woman, but now they produce masks in large quantities and the income helps them to survive the current economic situation.
Message of hope
Open Doors and its local partners launched several charity projects among Christian communities to combat the negative impact of the Covid-19 crisis and to spread a message of hope. These projects include clothing for medical personnel, food parcels for isolated Christians and prayer campaigns.
Open Doors is helping to provide protective clothing and equipment to Christian nurses in a country in Asia. For security reasons, the country and the healthcare workers involved cannot be named.
In some countries, Christian nurses are especially singled out to care for Covid-19 patients because it is dangerous, and the nurses who are non-believers do not want to take the risk. In addition, Christian nurses are denied the necessary protective clothing.
Food aid for hungry believers
Through local partners, Open Doors is providing food aid to hundreds of families in India who are under lockdown. Several Christian families have been helped with enough groceries for one month. Local partners also spent a week in prayer when the pandemic hit India.
India’s Church, which has seen an increase in attacks in recent years, is at the forefront of this country’s battle against the Covid-19 virus. India’s President Ram Nath Kovind appealed to religious organisations to help with combating the virus. Subsequently, a network of Christian healthcare providers from various denominations offered the government the use of its facilities, which includes some 1 000 hospitals countrywide.
Support is vital
Gouws emphasises that despite the crisis, both persecution and the work of Open Doors to strengthen the persecuted Church continue. “As believers are now doubly at risk, practical support and prayers are urgently needed to help them survive. I want to appeal to the public to support us and get involved with our projects among persecuted Christians. With your support, we can help provide food, resources and online training programmes to isolated believers without an income”.
For more information on how to get involved with Open Doors during the worldwide coronavirus crisis and lockdown, visit www.opendoors.org.za.