The persecution of Christians, for being Christians, takes many forms in our world today. Martyrdom and imprisonment, although not the most numerous, are probably the most easily identifiable of these.
But violence does not always lead to death, and ill-treatment does not always result in a Christian being physically confined in prison.
To speak of the persecution of Christians in terms of oppression is to speak of an on-going condition.
In the Old Testament the people of Israel spent many years living in a state of oppression in Egypt. When in the days of Moses the Israelites cried out to God for help we read, in God’s revelation of himself to Moses in the wilderness:
“And now, behold, the cry of the people of Israel has come near to me, and I have also seen the oppression with which the Egyptians oppress them” (Exodus 3:9).
Oppression is the experience of many Christians today. In countries where Islam is the majority religion, for example, evangelising (sharing the gospel with) Muslims is prohibited and a Muslim who converts to Christianity is seen as an apostate deserving punishment (even death) if they refuse to recant. In such countries those from a Christian background are often treated perennially as second-class citizens.
In its early years Release International – then known as the Christian Mission to the Communist World – focused on the plight of Christians in the former Communist countries of Eastern Europe. Today, as then, Communism seeks to repress religion in general – and often Christianity in particular.
The ongoing nature of persecution as oppression requires an ongoing response from within the Body of Christ.
Through the work of its international partners on the ground, Release International seeks to provide support for those who are marginalised, ill-treated and oppressed for their faith in Christ. This will include the provision of life’s necessities, training and support for Christians to be able to earn a living, as well as discipleship teaching and training.
In the UK Release International challenges Christians and churches to express, in tangible ways, real Christian fellowship with those who suffer oppression for their faith.