Sunday, January 31, 2016

Paying Back Old Debts, and Christian Persecution Today

George Weidenfeld died on January 20. 

I’m embarrassed to say that, until my friend Belle Jarniewski of the Freeman Family Foundation Holocaust Education Centre drew my attention to his passing at age 96, I had no idea who he was—or what this Jewish Holocaust survivor had done to help Christians in danger from the Islamic State.

Born in Austria in 1919, Weidenfeld escaped to Britain in 1938 before the Nazis invaded Europe and launched their “final solution” against Jews.

In those early years in a new country, he credited British Christians—especially the Plymouth Brethren—for helping him escape and for providing food and clothing.

Weidenfeld went on to become a successful publisher, building Weidenfeld & Nicolson into one Britain's most influential publishing houses. He was also a passionate supporter of Israel and Jewish causes.

What caught my attention was the Weidenfeld Safe Havens Fund, an initiative he created last year to rescue Syrian Christians from the war in that country. In launching the fund, he said he had “a debt to repay” to Christians who had helped him.

That debt, he added, also “applies to so many of the young people who were on the Kindertransports. Quakers and other Christian denominations brought those children to England. 

"It was a very high-minded operation and we Jews should also be thankful and do something for the endangered Christians.”

Last summer, the Fund helped the first group of 150 Syrian Christians escape to Poland, where they will receive up to 18 months of support.

They are the lucky ones. The same week that Weidenfeld died, Open Doors USA, which tracks Christian persecution around the world, released its annual report of the top 50 countries where it is dangerous to be a Christian.

The organization, which defines persecution as imprisonment, torture, death, the loss of home and assets, loss of a job or rejection from a community, said that 2015 was the most violent for Christians in modern history, rising to "a level akin to ethnic cleansing."

In total, more than 7,000 Christians were killed in 2015 for "faith-related reasons," up from 4,000 in 2014. 

At the same time, about 2,400 churches were attacked or damaged, a figure double the number of churches attacked in 2014.

"The levels of exclusion, discrimination and violence against Christians is unprecedented, spreading and intensifying," said David Curry, president and CEO of Open Doors USA.

For the 14th consecutive year, North Korea ranked as the most dangerous place to be a Christian. Open Doors USA estimates that between 50,000 to 70,000 Christians are imprisoned in labour camps in that country.

But most of the persecution faced by Christians today occurs in predominantly Muslim nations, the organization said.  Rounding out the top ten are Iraq, Eritrea, Afghanistan, Syria, Pakistan, Somalia, Sudan, Iran, and Libya.

But it’s not only radical Islamic groups like ISIS, Boko Haram and al-Shabaab that are victimizing Christians.

"Less well known are the tens of thousands of Christians leaving the 12 sharia states of northern Nigeria, where 27 million Christians remain second-class citizens," the organization stated.

"In Kenya, many Christians are fleeing from the Muslim-majority areas. Tens of thousands continue to brave desert and trafficking gangs to leave Eritrea.”

By releasing the report, Open Doors USA hopes Christians in the West will be reminded to not only pray for fellow believers worldwide, but also call on Western governments to put pressure on countries like Saudi Arabia and India—both in the top 50 of the organization’s list of countries where Christians are persecuted.

"We believe in religious freedom for all," Curry said, "and that does not happen in countries that we do business with every day."

A report like this reminds those of us who are Christians in Canada that, compared to the experience of Christians in many other nations, things are very good in this country.

And while we might not be able to emulate George Weidenfeld’s example by peronally rescuing people who are endangered because of their beliefs, we can be like him by praying for everyone who is being persecuted and suffering because of their religion.

From the Jan. 30, 2015 Winnipeg Free Press.

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