The best way to counter potential violent, anti-Christian extremism in South Africa is to “spread the love of Jesus”, said Jan Gouws executive director of Open Doors Southern Africa (ODSA) during a virtual media conference today.
He was responding to the question: “What is the possibility of Islamists persecuting Christians in our own country?” asked by one of the conference attendees following the release of Open Doors’ 2021 World Watch List which notes a sharp rise in violent persecution in Africa, including in Mozambique.
“At Open doors we say we are not against anything — we actually say we are pro Jesus. We also say the world ‘ISLAM’ is an acronym for ‘I sincerely love all Muslims’.
“So we must spread that love to all people and if we don’t spread that love they will come to us with swords and with weapons. So, for me, personally: spread the love of Jesus, and in that way counter the acts of extremists in our country,” he said.
Michellé Burger communications and marketing manager at ODSA added that the WWL is released to give people insight into how to support, pray for, and speak out on behalf of persecuted Christians.
“The World Watch List should never incite fear in our hearts because of what is going on. It should do the opposite; it should equip us to be the salt and the light where we are,” she said.
Responding to a question on whether current restrictions on church gatherings in SA might pave the way to future persecution of Christians in the country, Gouws said he believes the restrictions “are not because of religious freedom but because of the pandemic”.
He said that unlike countries such as China where online gatherings of Christians were monitored and could lead to persecution, Christians in SA were free to hold Internet meetings.
“My personal view is: let’s use this space that we have in South Africa to be the Church. You know, once the Church doors are closed we can be the Church out there. We in SA have an ideal opportunity to be the Church in this day and age.”
Asked what was the one prayer that could be prayed for all persecuted Christians, he said the cry of the most persecuted believers around the world was not for relief but to “please pray for us that we will stand strong in this storm”.
“So, the number one prayer is to pray for them that the Lord will help them to stand firm, so that they, in the midst of where they are. will have the courage to be the salt and the light,” he said.
He said believers in Southern Africa who enjoy legally-sanctioned religious freedom “must continue to hold this very dear to our hearts because this is not a given”.
He said the Church in Southern Africa should be aware of what is happening around and about in terms of religious freedom and persecution of Christians.
“We must continue to stand for religious freedom in our own country by pressuring our government to not only assist here but to assist our neighbouring countries to act fairly. We must be thankful and cherish our rights to religious liberty.”
He invited Christians who are touched by the plight of believers in neighbouring countries to act by partnering with ODSA by signing up for its newsletter and prayer calendar, downloading the 2021 World Watch List map as an aid to focused prayer, or by helping to support persecuted believers’ need for Bibles, discipleship training and other support.
ODSA forms part of the Open Doors International ministry, which serves persecuted Christians in over 60 countries across the world by delivering Bibles and Christian literature, visiting persecuted Christians, discipleship and training, offering emergency aid to victims of persecution and natural disasters, and speaking out and raising awareness through advocacy.