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Starve to death or convert.

Throughout the globe, this is the choice of persecuted Christians struggling to survive in the midst of the COVID-19 global crisis.

In parts of the world like Southeast Asia, West Africa and the Gulf region, many believers are day laborers, living hand-to-mouth. Others in full-time ministry rely on church donations to survive.

“When the pandemic began to hit country after country, we started to receive phone calls and other pleas for help,” Open Doors’ Asia team director says. “We quickly realized that in many places, Christians were in a very vulnerable position. No income for the day often means no meal that day. Starvation became a real threat.”

Layered on top of the economic impact is the persecution that Christians, especially converts, say they are encountering from the state, as well as local leaders in tribal areas.

Sam*, an Open Doors local partner in Southeast Asia, explains that the economic impact of the lockdowns have paved a way for persecution.

“Christians aren’t getting the support that people who follow the majority religion get,” he says. “In fact, sometimes it’s even worse. For example, in Bangladesh extremist Muslims may tell them: ‘We will give you food if you come back to Islam.’”

A pandemic of persecution

This is not an isolated situation. Open Doors has learned that thousands of Christians throughout the world have been left out of government relief efforts and marginalized because of their religious choice. We have reports from Christians In Bangladesh, Malaysia, India, Vietnam, the Philippines, Nigeria and the Gulf region where believers are facing these types of injustices.

Most of the affected Christians come from a Muslim, Hindu or Buddhist background, Sam says. “Their families and communities don’t agree with their new faith and won’t provide any help in these circumstances.”

Open Doors CEO David Curry explains that the pandemic has become a “catalyst for faith-based discrimination internationally.” He points out that in many of these countries, Christians are consistently treated as second-class citizens, traitors and infidels.

“Now as the coronavirus ravages the health and livelihoods of all people, Christians and other religious minorities are facing a new punishment: discriminatory distribution of emergency relief and medical care,” Curry says.

Below, we share stories and details from areas throughout the world to help you get a big-picture view of the injustices happening right now to our brothers and sisters during this global crisis—and how Open Doors teams are working tirelessly to help them survive and strengthen the Church.

Covid-19 relief aid in Bangladesh

Bangladesh: ‘You are not part of this support’

In this Muslim-majority nation bordering India and Myanmar, the government is offering widespread assistance to its citizens. But some Christians, especially those coming from a Muslim or Buddhist background in rural areas, aren’t receiving that support. Sam explains: “They are not able to receive the support because when it goes to the villages, the village head normally discriminates against the Christians. They say, ‘Well, you’re Christian. You became a Christian so you are not part of this support.’”

For new believers struggling to feed their families, especially in these rural areas, the deprivation of food and other resources can be a critical factor in the growth of the church.

“In tribal societies, community is the lifeline. No one can survive without it,” Sam explains. “The faith of many new believers in these areas is fragile. They need to become stronger in the Lord.”

Samuel delivers a sobering bottom line: “If they don’t have the means to survive, they may die or convert back to Islam.”

Malaysia: A matter of life and death

Also in Southeast Asia, numerous reports indicate that Christians in Muslim-majority Malaysia are suffering a double layer of persecution in remote areas as Muslim villagers exploit the pandemic crisis. Already suffering for converting from Islam, Malays are struggling to survive and stand strong in their faith. Sam tells a particularly heartbreaking story of youth in eastern Malaysia who had recently become Christians.

“To serve them, our partners had been traveling four hours by boat and another two hours walking through the jungle to their villages,” he says. “But the COVID-19 lockdown shut down all transportation to their villages. When transportation opened last month, our local partners once again went to their villages to encourage them and bring them food. When they arrived, they learned that some of the youth had gone back to Islam.

We have more to do

Christians around the world—in places like Vietnam, India, Bangladesh, Syria and more—are desperate for help in the midst of the coronavirus crisis. We’re hoping to send 50,000 additional food kits to help thousands of Christians. Every PHP 2550 can provide a single aid kit—will you help?

“The only place in the area providing food relief was the local mosque. When the youth went to the mosque to get food for their families, they were asked to convert back to Islam.”

Sam adds that our partners on the ground continue to meet with the youth, in hopes of bringing them back to Christ.

These kinds of things are happening, Samuel says, because there’s “a matter of life and death. They don’t have food to eat. The only food supply is with[in] a mosque, and Christians could not go to the village. It was a very difficult situation and some of these Christians had to compromise on their faith to live and help their families survive.”

 

India: Social boycott in crisis

For Christians in Hindu villages, the pandemic has exacerbated an already difficult situation. Open Doors staff workers Samuel and Heena* detail the scenario:

“Imagine you’re a Christian family in a Hindu village. It’s very likely the villagers are socially boycotting you. They don’t allow you to buy from the local shop or draw water from the well. To live, you must go to nearby Christians’ homes or travel to villages where Christian opposition isn’t so strong. Now your village is in lockdown. You’ve lost your income. Government aid is being distributed to the local village committee who’s already boycotting you. So they won’t give you the food, even with a food ration card.”

Our India team and local partners have encountered many examples of Indian Christians being left out of aid efforts. They share a few below:

Since Nathan*, a Christian man living with a disability, and his family of six became Christians, the local people won’t give them any food. The family told Open Doors field workers they were also bypassed for COVID-19 relief.

Another Christian, Gerard*, was expelled from his village for leaving Hinduism; months later,  he tried to return to his home. While everyone in the village received emergency food rations, Gerard says he was excluded.

A day laborer, Adrian, shares a similar situation. Everyone around him received food to survive except Adrian—because of his faith in Jesus.

The same story for Davina*, an older Christian widow with nine family members.

The stream of stories from believers saying they were left out of aid relief continue to pour in.

Vietnam: ‘You are not on the list’

Quarantines have also created difficult situations in the northern and Central Highlands regions of Vietnam, especially in rural areas where Christians are striving to put food on their tables. “They consume their rice little by little every day,” says Nguyen Van Quan*, one of our on-the-ground partners in north Vietnam.

Although the country has already lifted its nationwide lockdown, the government still distributes food aid through the local villages to families with meager incomes or those who lost their jobs during the lockdown. But when 18 Christian families—a total of 107 people including senior citizens and children—went to gather their portion, local authorities told them, “You are not the list.”

“When they learned support was coming to their district, they were so happy,” Nguyen shares. “Instead, the authorities said: ‘You are Christians, and your God shall take care of your family! The government is not responsible for your families!’”

The persecution didn’t stop there.

When our partners learned about this injustice, they responded, delivering sacks of rice (55 pounds for each household) to these believers—but even this wasn’t easy. Local authorities soon found out about the distribution at a church member’s home and showed up, demanding they stop and immediately leave the village. Nguyen paints the scene:

“One of our partners, Pastor Foom*, bravely faced the authorities. He stood up to them and said, ‘Our church donated these sacks of rice to help them in this difficult time. Since you could not provide food for them and discriminated against them from receiving aid because they are Christians, our church decided to help them. Why are you stopping us from helping them?’”

Compelled to deliver the aid to the families, Open Doors partners took the sacks of rice to a different village where a believer willingly opened his house to store the aid, despite the risk of interrogation. Representatives of the 18 families discreetly went to the designated home where they finally received the aid.

Reports like these have come in throughout Asia. One partner reports in Southern Philippines, a village received government aid during the lockdown, but the only Christian family in the village didn’t get the support.

“When our team came to bring aid, the village head really wanted to attack our team, as well as tell the village that because this family had become Christians, the pandemic had come,” Sam shares. “This kind of situation happens all the time.”

Adds one Open Doors field worker in Asia: “The stream of messages we get in which Christians tell us they are starving and don’t receive help because of their faith is simply endless.”

*Names changed for security reasons.

We have more to do

Christians around the world—in places like Vietnam, India, Bangladesh, Syria and more—are desperate for help in the midst of the coronavirus crisis. We’re hoping to send 50,000 additional food kits to help thousands of Christians. Every PHP 2550 can provide a single aid kit—will you help?

 

 PLEASE PRAY

-Continue to pray for persecuted believers who are being deprived of the help and urgent aid that they need.

-Pray for the government and leaders of these countries that they would treat everyone with justice and fairness amidst this pandemic.