By Dr. Chuck Missler
The Chinese Church has felt free enough in recent years to finally show its face above ground after decades of hiding. To the south and east, the Christians of Burma and North Korea still face violence and slaughter, but the number of Christians are growing. In the United States, millions of students gather to pray at the pole each fall, and Christianity is spreading in Cuba. Almost 2000 years after Jesus Christ's resurrection and ascension, his Church continues to grow around the world, even in the darkest places.
Pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi was released this month after 15 years of house arrest, offering some hope to the Burmese in light of corrupt November elections. Benedict Rogers, Christian Solidarity Worldwide's advocacy officer for South Asia, believes the move to release Suu Kyi was only made to get attention off of the fixed elections. Rogers said by phone, "I see no indication of the widespread discrimination, and in certain areas persecution, improving.”
Steve Gumaer, head of Partners Relief and Development, a Christian NGO working on the Thailand-Burma border, said that military leaders have not improved their treatment of Christians.
"They're still killing people, they're still burning down villages, they're still doing things they've been doing for years," Gumaer said. "Christian leaders are targeted in particular to be made an example of and quickly dealt with."
Tensions continued in 2010 between the Buddhist majority and the Christian and Muslim minorities, according to the US State Department's annual International Religious Freedom report. Yet, church numbers continue to grow. According to groups reporting church membership, the number of Christians has increased to an estimated 2.1 million in a country with 50 million people.
The Christians and animists in the south of Sudan will vote to secede from Sudan this week, and will possibly form a Christian nation there in Africa. Of course, while the United Nations might recognize the newly declared country, Sudan may not, just as China does not recognize Taiwan as a separate entity. The vote in January is at least a step toward freedom from the constant conflict with the Islamic Arab north.
The Soviets systematically destroyed the churches in Russia, and in 1991 there were just 7,000 operating Orthodox churches in the country. Those existed largely because they had been willing to cooperate with the communists. In contrast, over the past 20 years, 23,000 Orthodox churches have been built in Russia.
The return to Russia's historic Christian religion shows a hunger for the spiritual. At the same time, there is concern that, as the Orthodox Church grows in power, evangelical churches may be hushed along with other minority religions. Right now some evangelical churches in Russia are flourishing, while others face opposition from government – and the Orthodox church has often been used as an arm of the government.
"If this becomes a policy of the national government to freeze out evangelicals, obviously that's going to have a pretty big impact not only on freedom of worship," cautioned Joel Griffith of the Slavic Gospel Association, "but also on the proclamation of the Gospel."
Christians and followers of other minority religions faced a surge of violence in 2010. The economy has improved in Indonesia, but militant Muslim gangs have continued to attack Christians and the government has done nothing to stop it. Indonesia remains a fairly moderate country, but religious violence has risen, often with the help of local law enforcement. Soldiers were filmed torturing prisoners in West Papua this year, but have yet to be punished.
The Jakarta government did declare that 8,300 security personnel were sent to protect the 1,619 churches in Jakarta on Christmas Eve. The governor visited six of those churches and greeted thousands of Christians.
Christianity is spreading so rapidly in Cuba that churches are not being built fast enough to hold all the people. Congregations meet anywhere they can – in garages or on rooftops if necessary. From 1960 to 1990, the growth was outwardly very slow. For instance, only 28 new Baptist churches were built during those three decades. According to the Southern Baptist International Mission Board, about 6000 new Baptist churches have been planted in Cuba during the past 20 years, and the Baptists are struggling to make sure that the new congregations and leaders get the Scripturally-sound teachings they need. Cuban musicians are a major part of the growth, and discipling musicians has been a priority
In places where religious freedom has long been respected, as well as in places where tyranny and persecution have plagued the people, the Gospel of Jesus Christ continues to shine as a bright light in the darkness.
As we go into 2011, let us continue to pray for our Christian brothers and sisters around the world, who need our heartfelt and faithful intercession as they face often horrific circumstances. Let's also continue to pray for our own communities and governments, that the Spirit of God will continue to change lives and teach hearts about our Savior and King Jesus Christ.
Burma's 'Human Hope' - Christianity Today
Over 20,000 Churches Rebuilt In Russia In 20 Years - Ria Novosti
Arab Christians: The Escape from Extremism - Asharq Alawsat
Christians Safely Celebrate Christmas Eve in Indonesia - NTD News
Define The (South Sudan) Nation... - The Economist
Evangelical Christians at Risk From Russian Government - Mission Network News
The Gospel Train Makes An Extended Stop in Cuba - Mission Network News
Underground Chinese Church Goes Public - CBN News
Learn the Bible in 24 Hours - Chuck Missler (Book)