Persecution Advocacy | 19 September 2023

Faith under surveillance


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In a region that we are unable to disclose to protect the security of our persecuted brothers and sisters as well as local partners, digital control is at an all-time high.

But this believer follows Jesus despite the cost. We will refer to him as Michael*.

In a dark alley, Michael loads the heavy boxes into the trunk of his car.

He knows the authorities in his country would not be pleased with the boxes’ contents—and he knows if he is caught, he’ll be arrested and probably sent to prison.

He pulls out his phone and texts his contacts. “I’m on my way to the old place,” he types. Then he turns off his phone and removes the SIM card so his location can’t be tracked.

What he’s doing could be considered a crime by the authorities. But what he’s loading his car with isn’t dangerous or going to ruin lives. His criminal cargo is Bibles.

And his mission is to give God’s Word to as many people as quickly and discreetly as possible.

Even in his text messages, Michael* is careful. “The old place” is code. In the region where Michael* is from, citizens’ phones are monitored, and their social media apps are highly controlled—any wrong word could cost him whatever freedom he has left.

Michael* knows all about the danger. He has counted the cost. He has been arrested before for doing the work of God in this severely restricted area.

He looks behind him as his breath fogs up in the cold air. There is no one on this sidewalk. No one is watching—except for the street cameras that are everywhere in the country he lives in. With one final look around, he pulls away, into the night, his precious cargo in tow.


Testing Michael's faith

Michael* path toward becoming a secret believer wasn’t easy. He comes from a part of his country where even hearing about the gospel can be difficult because the surrounding community has a different faith. In his country, persecution can look very different from place to place. With such a huge geographic area, and so many ethnic groups, following Jesus can be somewhat free in one area, yet heavily restricted in another.

And where Michael* lived was one of the most restrictive. The first time he encountered persecution for his faith was at home.

“I received Christ when I was in college,” he says. “I told my father about my faith and hoped he could accept me, but he did not accept me and reported me to the police. I was devastated that we could not reconcile.”

Michael* was confined to his home for a few months. Even after that, his father prevented him from attending school in their area. And so, Michael* was forced to relocate to a city in southern-side of the country, where he had to start from scratch.

“It was a pity that I could not finish college,” he says, “but I was too young to process the whole thing at that time.”

For a teenager with his ethnic background, starting over in a completely new city could have been extremely difficult. Yet, the Lord blessed his decision. Over the years, Michael* was able to take root in this new place—he felt freer because the restrictions from both community and government weren’t so tight. And there were several good churches that welcomed him.

In time, Michael* became a business owner and earned a good income—much more than what was expected of someone from his ethnicity and stature. He also fell in love with and married a beautiful woman, Hana*. They built a home and had a daughter.

At church, Michael* grew deeper in his faith in Jesus. “It was there where I learned much more about Christ and how good God is,” he shares. “This was also the turning point for me. Learning about Jesus has made me realize that my friends and community back home needed Him, too.”

The Lord touched Michael* and placed a burden on his heart, and prompted him in a still, small voice: “Go back to your hometown. Tell people about Me there.”

Michael* obeyed. He gave up everything he owned and moved back home—back to the city with all the restrictions, where the authorities ruled with an iron fist and neighbors were made to spy on each other. In faithful obedience, Michael* returned to a vulnerable spot, where his each and every move was observed, catalogued and filed away, to be used against him if necessary.


Still under surveillance

It wasn’t long before Michael* began making new connections in his hometown. He started leading small groups secretly, meeting believers in inconspicuous places to study the Word of God. It was exciting to be opening the Scriptures with others.

Michael* set up a new company with a group of other believers—it also served as a cover business so he could deliver Bibles. The business thrived for some time, but the day came when it was exposed. Michael* and his business partners were arrested. Miraculously though, he was set free. His business partners weren’t so fortunate. And they had lost the cover that Michael* and his fellow believers had worked so hard to set up.

“I was freed from all charges, but I lost my company,” Michael* remembers. “I had mixed feelings because [I knew it would be harder to dodge the police and I’d have to] live even more cautiously. I also feel terrible for my friends. However hard it is for me to swallow, I believe it’s God’s will that not all of us were jailed so that one of us could return and ‘clean up the mess.’”

But even out of jail, Michael* was still being watched—forced to stay under the authorities’ radar. Since getting out of prison, authorities still randomly show up and search his house. At first, it happened every two-to-three months. Now, they search his place once a year.

On top of his legal troubles, Michael’s family life crumbled. For their protection, he sent his wife and daughter back to his in-laws’ home. “I was living under the radar and needed to protect my family,” he says. “Because of my belief in Jesus, my father-in-law prevented me from seeing my wife and daughter. Now, he’s pushing my wife and I to divorce. “

This has left me speechless, but I can understand why. My wife has no say on this since my father-inlaw is the head of her family. He is a man with strong authority. And I also don’t want my wife and children to suffer.”


‘No one to trust’

The arrest, the loss of his business and the conflict with his wife’s family have all taken their toll on Michael*. After everything he’s been through, he has lost his trust in people. He knows that community members reporting on one another is prevalent in his area—and that the government encouraged this by offering incentives for information. Neighbors are encouraged to report their neighbors for any potential misdoing.

“I had no one to trust,” Michael* says. “I felt insecure and isolated.”

When you give a gift to Open Doors, you support believers like Michael*—Christians who risk everything to give people access to God’s Word. Your prayers and support help Michael* and other Christians to stand strong, even as they go through incredibly difficult circumstances. Open Doors partners are coming alongside Michael*, and your continued support will help him as his ministry resumes, even as he walks a very fragile tightrope. Nothing stops the authorities from taking him again.

“I need to make friends cautiously and identify the right people to share things with. Since there may be spies pretending to be Christians even in Christian communities, I need to stay vigilant.”

However, he is grateful for Brother Hezekiah*, an Open Doors local partner who has been praying with him, discipling him and journeying with him in his struggles.

“Brother Hezekiah is trustworthy,” Michael* says. “He is someone I can do life with. He visits me on a regular basis and has been mentoring me for years. At least twice a month, we pray and study the Bible together and walk in faith. We share happy and sorrowful moments together. Time after time, we have built a bond of trust, and I know I am with a brother who cares, who nourishes my relationship with the Lord.”

Slowly, Michael* is learning to trust again, Hezekiah says.

“Michael* is strong in faith, but I can tell he’s been mentally exhausted in this journey,” he says. “At the very beginning, he was so suspicious that he would trust no one. I believe the Holy Spirit moves in his heart and he has been able to develop trust again. I am also grateful that I can do life with him. Now, he is starting to lead a small group again. Please pray for our desolate land.”

With your support, Michael* continues to serve God in this difficult region, even as the atmosphere in this area grows tighter and tighter by the day. Because of how hard life is, many secret believers like him lose their faith in Jesus and decide to return to their old lives. At the risk of his own life and freedom, Michael* keeps on sharing God’s Word so that his people can hold on and continue to find their footing in Jesus. “No matter what happens, I know it is predestined by our Heavenly Father,” Michael* shares. “We listen and follow. He will guide our paths.”

*Names changed for security reasons

please pray

• Michael* has injured his back and the pain has been with him for quite some time. Now, it’s more difficult for him to move heavy loads. Please pray for his complete healing. Ask God to enable Michael* to continue his ministry.

• Pray for M’s relationship with his wife and children as they live apart—pray for the Lord to continue to strengthen Michael* with His peace, as he struggles with the loneliness of living life without his family. Pray for a change of heart in Michael’s father-in-law.

• Pray for more workers like Michael* to be sent to the field to serve ethnic minorities. There is a great demand for the gospel in these areas, but the workers are few. Pray that our local partners in Michael's country can find creative ways to do their work and minister to believers in the most sensitive areas. Please pray for their protection and wisdom from the Lord to help them make the right decisions. Pray for the hearts of the people to be receptive to the gospel.


Will you pray for and strengthen Christians today who are under intense digital
surveillance and tightened restrictions?

EVERY PHP 2,200 supports discipleship trainings for ‘secret’ believers to strengthen them as witnesses
for Christ in creative ways.

EVERY PHP 3,750 supports persecution-preparedness trainings for believers in the area of digital
surveillance, to help them remain resilient and fruitful.

EVERY PHP 4,550 gives Bibles to 16 believers in restricted countries.