Christians from various parts of the world recently detailed for The Christian Post how they, their families, friends and ministries have been persecuted simply because they worship Jesus Christ.
On Wednesday, Open Doors USA rolled out its 2018 World Watch List and announced that as many as 215 million followers of Christ throughout the world are being persecuted for their faith.
Christians from Egypt, India and Vietnam traveled to the U.S. to attend the Open Doors press conference held at the National Press Club and to share their own experiences.
CP caught up with the international group of believers, who only provided their first names for security reasons, following the press conference to learn more about the types of persecution they face.
Tabitha, a 30-year-old Coptic Christian woman from Upper Egypt, told CP that the steady persecution of Christians in Egypt, which ranks as No. 17 on the World Watch List, is not a new phenomenon and has been prevalent since St. Mark spread Christianity to Egypt in the third century.
Tabitha said that persecution in her home country has become an even bigger problem following the Egyptian Revolution of 2011 that overthrew President Hosni Mubarak and led to the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood.
"They burned their monasteries, they burned lots of churches, they have been burning since 2011," Tabitha said of the Muslim Brotherhood extremists. "They kicked out the Christians from their houses. They kidnapped Christian girls and they forced them to marry Muslim men. They abused them. Lots of crazy stuff happening to the girls."
As for Tabitha and her family, who are shop owners, they know all too well what it is like to be persecuted by a radical Muslim.
"There is a very aggressive man. He threatened me that he wants to pour chemical acid on my face," Tabitha explained. "He said he was going to kill my dad and make me and my brother orphans. He said, 'I want to kidnap you, your mom and your dad.'"
The Muslim man, Tabitha said, has been a nuisance to her family since 2014, when he began to block off the entrance to her family's shop with a table of produce.
"He attacked my father in his store, in his business. He is persecuting us as a family," Tabitha said. "He is not allowed to be in front of the shop but he put a table full of fruits and vegetables and he blocked our shop. He attacked us and insulted Christians every day and insulted dad every day."
As the saga continues, Tabitha said that on one occasion, the man cut himself and went to the local police station to file charges against her father, who Tabitha says is a godly and wise man who would never hurt anyone.
"They were standing in front of the judge. The judge [sided] with this man only because he is a Muslim," Tabitha stated. "The judge made the man innocent and sent him free. But my dad, at the end of the case, they wrote down that he should go jail for six months. He was supposed to go [to jail] at the end of the case but we pay lots of money to the lawyer to save him."
When asked why the Muslim man is targeting her family and their shop, Tabitha said that it was "only because we are Christians."
"He hates Christians," Tabitha said.
A leader from an underground home church in Vietnam, who goes by the name "Jose," told CP about his fear that his church, which is attended by dozens of people, could be fined under Vietnam's new religion law.
The law, which was ratified in November 2016 and is the first religion law on Vietnam's books since being reunified in 1975, forces faith organizations to register with authorities and keep them informed about their religious activities. The law gives the communist government the right to refuse churches' requests and applications.
"The problem for us is we are requested to apply and give them a list of the name of the Christians [in our church community]," Jose said. "That is the problem. They will know exactly the full name of Christians and where the places are they are staying."
Jose said he and other Christian leaders fear that if the churches give up the names and addresses of their members, it could lead to future persecution and even cause them to lose their jobs.
According to Jose, churches will be fined and penalized if they do not submit the information the government has requested. He said that he does not plan to submit the names or addresses of people in his church to the government.
At this point in time, Jose said he is and his church community are in a wait-and-see mode, as they will not know if they will be fined and how much they will be fined until June.
Vietnam currently ranks as the 18th worst country on the Open Doors USA World Watch List and has a Christian population of about 8 million.
"Right now, the big city is OK because the government would like to show that Vietnam has freedom of religion and many foreigners will be there," Jose said. "The problem is in the villages and among the tribal or some city far away from the big city."
Under the leadership of Prime Minister Narendra Modi's Bharatiya Janata Party-led government, India continues to climb up the World Watch List. India jumped from the 15th worst country in the world for Christian persecution in 2017 to the 11th in 2018.
Samuel and Benida are underground Christian ministry leaders from New Delhi who told CP that the goal of the BJP, a right-wing party closely linked with the RSS Hindu nationalist group, is to make sure India remains a "Hindu nation."
"So [Hindu extremist] ideology is the same ISIS had," Samuel told CP, referring to the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. "They want to make sure that by any way, they want to bring that kingdom of God to their understanding,"
Christian persecution in the Hindu nation has gotten so bad that Samuel and Benida's ministry can't even transfer kids to a Christian summer Bible camp without being stopped and arrested.
The couple told CP that 10 of their ministry partners and about 70 children were detained last May by railway police when they were trying to transport the children to a Bible camp in the predominantly-Hindu Madhya Pradesh.
The 10 chaperones were charged with the crime of trying to forcefully convert Hindu children to Christianity. Such an act would be a violation of the Madhya Pradesh Religious Freedom Act.
Although the children were Christians sent to the camp by their parents, the government claimed that the children had Hindu last names and didn't have legal recognition as Christians, Samuel and Benida explained.
"In India, a Hindu name is very general so they see that they have a Hindu name and they say they are not Christian," Benida said.
Samuel explained that many Indians fear going through the legal formalities to officially change their religion to Christianity.
Samuel has noticed the rise in attacks on Christians since the BJP came to power in 2014 and explained that Hindu fundamentalists have been emboldened to carry out more egregious acts of persecution.
"The fundamentalists used to come to church just to disturb the worship services. Now, when they come, they not only just disturb the worship service, they beat up the pastor very severely. Even women and children, they beat them up, even older people," Samuel said. "There are many, many incidents that have happened where there are attackings on the pastors and people, they always attack on their head so that it will have a maximum impact on their life. If they don't die, at least they won't live a normal life."
"They do these planned attacks on the church, to destroy the church and to wipe the church out of the country and they have this intention," Samuel added. "When BJP government came into power in 2014, one of the RSS leaders said that by 31st December of 2021, 'We will wipe out the Christians from the country.'"
According to Samuel, most the attacks on Christians in India go "unpunished" by local authorities.
"Most people get acquittal in the court of the law because the justice is political against the Christians," Samuel said.
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