On Easter, some Christians become targets for persecution
For Christians in America, Easter is a time for pastel-colored egg hunts and chocolate candies, warm family gatherings and celebratory church services. But for the faithful in many places around the world, Easter can be a time of trepidation and violence.
From Southeast Asia to Sub-Saharan Africa, those who gather to worship and remember Jesus’ resurrection during Holy Week may face an elevated risk to their lives and livelihoods. Believers in many of these countries are routinely persecuted throughout the year, and they become easy targets on Easter. Time and again, the world has witnessed how religious extremists, oppressive governments and bad actors violently exploit these holiest of Christian holidays.
The American church needs to wake up to the challenging realities that many of our brothers and sisters around the world are facing because of their faith.
The 2019 Sri Lankan Easter bombings are a tragic example. That’s when suicide bombers who pledged allegiance to ISIS coordinated a series of ruthless attacks on three churches during Easter Sunday services, along with three hotels. More than 250 people were killed and as many as 500 were injured, mostly members of the country’s Catholic community.
Although shocking, this incident is hardly isolated. Around the world, similar acts of violence are carried out against Christians who are simply worshiping together. On Easter 2012, a car bomb suspected to have been set off by the militant Islamist organization Boko Haram killed 41 people outside a church in Kaduna State, Nigeria. And a Good Friday attack by gunmen in Benue State, Nigeria, killed 11 worshipers who were returning from church.
Last year in India, the world’s largest democracy that supposedly protects religious freedom, a mob of nearly 100 radical Hindu nationalists barged into a home where an Easter service was being hosted. They beat the congregants with sticks, including women and children, injuring several. While these Christians were under attack, another affiliated group of extremists damaged three more houses belonging to believers and ransacked the families’ food preserves.
Christians in the Middle East may also be at a heightened risk. On Palm Sunday in 2017, Islamic State devotees carried out twin attacks on Egyptian churches, killing at least 47 people. In Indonesia in 2021, two suicide bombers stormed a Catholic church compound on Palm Sunday, injuring 20 churchgoers. Two years earlier, at least 10 people were killed and 30 injured when an off-duty Indonesian police officer plowed his car into a crowd participating in an Easter procession.
But we must not forget China, where believers suffer not only at the hands of anti-Christian mobs but also under the thumb of an anti-Christian government. Whenever Chinese Christians gather to worship corporately, especially at Easter, it becomes even easier for the Chinese government to track their movements. Millions of cameras have been installed throughout the communist country, many utilizing advanced facial recognition systems and artificial intelligence. Images recorded by the software can be connected to large databases, including China’s “social credit system,” which monitors the loyalty of citizens to communism — and is opposed to Christianity.
And severe persecution isn’t just something that happens “over there.” Much closer to home, throughout Latin America, Christian persecution has spiked dramatically. Nicaragua reportedly has banned traditional public Easter processions this year for all parishes in the country. This action is part of the growing crackdown on the Catholic Church by Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega, whose government controversially sentenced a bishop to prison for 26 years and deported 222 political opponents to the United States. He has accused the Catholic hierarchy of “grave crimes and horrors” and likened the Vatican to a “mafia organization.”
This Easter season, many American Christians will eat chocolates and hunt for eggs. But we also need to pray for the countless persecuted Christians who cannot enjoy the same fearless fanfare that we in the West do. We have much to learn from the courage of our global brothers and sisters who demonstrate incredible resilience in the face of often overwhelming aggression. The American church has many examples from which to draw inspiration, but we need to wake up first.