Author archives: Arielle Del Turco

We Must Never Forget the Tiananmen Square Massacre

by Arielle Del Turco

June 4, 2020

Every year for the past 30 years, crowds have gathered in Hong Kong on June 4th to light candles, hear from former Chinese pro-democracy activists, and mourn the infamous massacre of student demonstrators by the Chinese People’s Liberation Army in 1989. This year, no legal vigil was permitted, but that didn’t stop thousands from bringing white candles to a Hong Kong park to remember the tragedy that came to be known as the Tiananmen Square Massacre.

Hong Kong authorities refused to allow the annual public remembrance to be held this year, claiming to be concerned about the coronavirus, but such displays are always banned on the mainland. Many of the freedom-loving people of Hong Kong—who had long identified with those who called for freedom in Tiananmen Square—now fear the Chinese government is silencing Hong Kong dissenters much like they did in 1989.            

Beijing suppresses these annual memorials. Yet, the world must remember the tragedy that took place three decades ago because it reveals what the Chinese government is willing to do—even to its citizens: to squash perceived threats to its authority.

Thirty-one years ago today, the Chinese People’s Liberation Army fired live ammunition into crowds of their own people. Chinese civilians had been demonstrating in Tiananmen Square in Beijing for weeks, calling for a more democratic government. Their protests ended in a bloody crackdown that shocked the globe.

It is estimated that several hundred to several thousand people died that day, but an official death toll was never released. Family members of the deceased victims still beg for answers.

To this day, the Chinese government does not admit wrongdoing during the Tiananmen Square Massacre. When the government of Taiwan recently called upon Beijing to apologize for the violent crackdown three decades ago, a spokesman defended the legacy of communist party leadership. Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian declared, “The great achievements after the founding of new China fully demonstrate that the development path chosen by the new China is totally correct and in line with China’s national conditions.”

Yet, the often-violent legacy of Chinese Communist Party (CCP) rule is nothing to take pride in. Mao’s Great Leap Forward and Cultural Revolution took drastic human tolls and denied the Chinese people basic human rights.

The Chinese government still withholds such rights from its citizens today. Among them is freedom of religion, a right intimate and fundamental to the human conscience.

In the northwestern region of Xinjiang, the government is in a full-on assault against religion. At least 1.8 million Uyghur Muslims are forcibly detained in internment camps where they are brainwashed and abused. Outside the camps, the rest of the region is patrolled with facial recognition technology and other means to tightly control the oppressed Uyghur minority.

Throughout the mainland, Christians are intimidated, and churches are surveilled as crosses are torn down from their buildings. Well-known house church pastor Wang Yi sits in prison serving a nine-year sentence—a grave reminder to other pastors that they ought not step out of line.

Perhaps most alarmingly, evidence is mounting that the Chinese government is forcibly harvesting organs from political prisoners. These are thought to be mostly from Falun Gong practitioners, a long-persecuted faith group entirely undeserving of the abuse they endure. 

The Chinese Communist Party may want the world to forget its ruthless history, but it is critical that we keep the memory of the Tiananmen Square Massacre alive.

The Tiananmen Square Massacre exposed the blatant disregard with which the Chinese Communist Party views human lives. This disregard is unfortunately not relegated to history—it still affects the Chinese people, including religious believers. Today, we remember the Tiananmen Square Massacre and its countless victims. But let us also remember those who continue to suffer under the Chinese government’s oppressive policies.

Iran Sends More Christians to Prison

by Arielle Del Turco

May 22, 2020

Four Iranian Christians are on their way to prison after a Revolutionary Court set their bail at the equivalent of $30,000 each—an exorbitant price they were unable to pay. The exact charges against these four—Moslem Rahimi, Ramin Hassanpour and his wife Kathrin Sajadpour, and another Christian who wishes to be anonymous—remain unknown. The charges are likely related to the Christians’ involvement in a house church, an act that the Iranian regime considers “hostile” to the state and to be connected to Zionist groups.

For Muslims in Iran, converting to Christianity is itself a crime. Iranian law stipulates that Muslim citizens may not “chang[e] or renouc[e] their religious beliefs.” The punishment for apostasy can include imprisonment or even the death penalty, though it is rarely carried out.

The four Iranian Christians converted to Christianity from a Muslim background, and are members of the same church movement to which Iranian pastor Youcef Nadarkhani belongs. Pastor Nadarkhani has been in prison since July 22, 2018.

The Iranian regime classifies itself as an “Islamic Republic” and believes conversions away from Islam to Christianity undermines the regime’s authority. Consequently, Iranian Christians are often detained on trumped-up charges related to “national security.”

Maryam Rostampour and Marziyeh Amirizadeh know what it is like to be imprisoned in Iran for their faith. In 2009, the two friends spent almost nine months in Iran’s notorious Evin prison. They had been charged with apostasy, blasphemy, and anti-government activity because they converted to Christianity and dared to share their newfound faith with their countrymen. Before authorities caught them, they had managed to hand out 20,000 copies of the New Testament.

In their book, Captive in Iran, Maryam and Marziyeh describe the many challenges faced by Iran’s political prisoners. Facilities are filthy, access to health care is inadequate, and the trauma of life in prison—including knowing others who are executed by the state—is overwhelming.

However, despite the regime’s best efforts to stifle the Christian faith, reports indicate that Christianity is rapidly spreading in Iran. House churches are flourishing, and the regime is unable to contain their growth. This should be a lesson to governments around the world, that individual faith cannot be controlled in the long run, and religious freedom is the best policy for a healthy society.

To hear Maryam and Marziyeh’s story and learn what it is like to live as a Christian in Iran, watch the video of FRC’s event, Stories from Iran: Religious Freedom and the Secret Growth of the Underground Church.

A “Blasphemous” Text Put a Pakistani Couple on Death Row. They’re Illiterate.

by Arielle Del Turco

May 21, 2020

Today, a married couple in Pakistan is languishing apart in separate prisons, unable to see each other or their four children. Shafqat Emmanuel remains paralyzed from the waist down following an accident in 2004. His wife, Shagufta Kausar provided for her family by working as a cleaner. Shafqat and Shagufta lived simple lives on a church compound before their world came crashing down and a years-long nightmare ensued due to Pakistan’s draconian blasphemy laws.  

The saga began in June 2013, when a Muslim cleric claimed he received a blasphemous text message from Shagufta’s phone. The cleric said he showed the text to his lawyer, and both subsequently claimed that they received more inflammatory texts from the phone registered to Shagufta. The alleged texts were written in English.

There are a few problems with this dubious story. Shagufta and Shafqat come from a poor background and are illiterate. They could not have crafted such a text in their native Urdu, and certainly not in English. The couple suspects the cleric’s accusation is retaliation for an argument between their children and their neighbors.

Nonetheless, authorities arrested the couple and charged them both with “insulting the Qur’an” (under Section 295-B) and “insulting the Prophet” (Section 295-C). These crimes are punishable by life imprisonment and death, respectively. In April 2014, Shafqat and Shagufta were sentenced to death, and they are still appealing the court’s decision.

Blasphemy laws are an affront to human rights, and Pakistan has proven to be one of the foremost abusers of these laws.

A new report from the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan found that, as of December 2019, at least 17 people were on death row after being convicted on blasphemy charges.

Blasphemy laws prohibit insults to religion. Allegations of blasphemy made against religious minorities living in the Muslim world are often utilized to settle unrelated disputes. Religious minorities like Christians are particularly vulnerable to these accusations because of their marginalized place in society.

Unfortunately, blasphemy laws remain in many parts of the world. In its 2020 annual report, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom found that at least 84 countries have blasphemy laws, and even more have broad laws that are used to target speech deemed blasphemous.

The continued existence of blasphemy laws in so many countries makes this a global issue. Twenty-seven countries signed a statement of concern at last year’s Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom, held by the U.S. State Department, calling upon the governments that utilize blasphemy and apostasy laws to repeal them. The international community should continue to push for the end of blasphemy laws everywhere. It should be high on the agenda for the new International Religious Freedom Alliance spearheaded by the State Department.

Blasphemy laws restrict freedom of speech and freedom of religion—both fundamental human rights. No one should be put on death row for their faith.

To learn more about blasphemy laws around the world, check out FRC’s publication on Apostasy, Blasphemy, and Anti-Conversion Laws.

One Christian Family’s Story of Unending Persecution in India

by Arielle Del Turco , Lela Gilbert

May 14, 2020

For many westerners, India is an exotic travel destination, offering colorful cultural sites and warm-hearted hospitable people. However, thanks to the new Hindu nationalist leadership of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), today’s India is increasingly marred by religious conflict and Christian persecution. The Purty family’s double tragedy serves as a sad example of this. And for some Indian Christians, their story is not so unusual.

Chamu Hassa Purty was a Christian pastor from Sandih village in Jharkhand State. Late one night in October 2015, he was asked to pray for a sick child. He rushed to the family’s home, prayed for the boy and helped the parents admit him to a local hospital.

Shortly after Pastor Purty returned to his own home, eight armed men forced their way into his house. He and his wife urgently warned their daughters, Sharon and Neelam, to immediately leave the house through a back entrance.

In an interview with Morning Star News, Sharon recalled, “As we were about to move, two of them held us and brought us back to the front room. They fired at my father many times…”

Pastor Purty died of gunshot wounds that night.

After the murder, the Purty family left their village and rarely returned. But recently, because of the coronavirus, it was necessary that they be reunited in their home.

And very soon thereafter, on April 16, anti-Christian terrorists once again appeared at the Purty house. Sharon and her younger brother answered the door and found themselves confronted by two gunmen.

Is this the house of the pastor who was killed?” one of the intruders demanded.

Sharon stared at him as he ranted, “That pastor was killed but you didn’t learn your lesson. You’re still assembling in large numbers for Christian prayers. And where’s the woman who’s working as a spy?”

There are no spies here…”

At that moment Neelam, hearing angry voices, entered the room. The gunman shouted, “She’s the one! She’s the spy!” He aimed his gun and pulled the trigger.

Our father was shot to death in that same room,” Sharon Purty said later. “We cried for help as the two gunmen jumped on a motorbike and fled.”

Neelam Purty sustained serious injuries and was bleeding heavily. She was rushed to a hospital, where it was determined that a bullet was embedded in her thigh and her thighbone was shattered. Only after major surgery was she able to begin her painful recovery.

The police were notified. Evidence was recorded. But it should come as no surprise that there have been no reports of the gunmen being apprehended.

Attacks like those against the Purty family are on the rise in India due to a dangerous ideology gaining steam in the world’s largest democracy—Hindu nationalism. It asserts that India is a nation for Hindus, marginalizing Christians and other minorities.

This movement often inspires mob attacks against Christians. Such attacks, when committed by Hindus, are rarely rebuked by the present Indian government, and the legal system often fails to bring perpetrators of mob violence to justice.

In one instance earlier this year, an Indian pastor was dragged out of his church mid-service by a mob of Hindu nationalists and beaten for hours. Yet when the police arrived, they charged the pastor with violating a blasphemy law rather than charge the radicals for their violent assault.

Even Indian laws pose a threat to minorities, though according to the constitution, India is a secular country. Yet, anti-conversion laws remain on the books in several Indian states. These laws are intended to prevent forced conversions. In reality, they restrict the right to change one’s faith and discourage conversion away from Hinduism.

Some Hindu nationalist leaders are deeply paranoid about Hindus converting to Christianity or other religions. One former member of parliament and member of the BJP party called Christian missionaries “a threat to the unity of the country.”

Inflammatory rhetoric from national leaders, a growing exclusionary movement that ostracizes religious minorities, and draconian blasphemy and anti-conversion laws form a perfect storm for the persecution of Christians in India.

India’s dire religious freedom problems deserves far more international attention than they receive.

India is the world’s largest democracy and a strategic partner of the United States, so it is disappointing its government is failing to protect the fundamental human right to freedom of religion. This makes advocating for religious freedom in India a sensitive subject for some. But the United States has prioritized religious freedom in our foreign policy and must urge all governments around the world—whether friend or foe—to protect it. The United States has an obligation to speak up on behalf of religious minorities in India, even if it ruffles the feathers of our ally.

For its Most Filthy and Dangerous Jobs, Pakistan Prefers Christians

by Arielle Del Turco

May 7, 2020

In Pakistan’s largest cities, an army of sewage cleaners plunges clogged sewers by hand, often surrounded by cockroaches and without the protection of gloves or masks. The work is essential to maintaining Pakistan’s shoddy sewage system. But it is also highly dangerous, and sometimes costs workers their lives. For sewage cleaning positions, the most hazardous and filthy of jobs, local governments prefer to hire Christians. Last July, one Pakistani newspaper advertisement was so obvious as to say that only Christians need apply for jobs as sewer cleaners.

I have seen death from very near,” Pakistani street sweeper Michael Sadiq told the New York Times. He described how his friend had died after getting swept away by “putrid black water” in the sewers.

Most Christians in Muslim-majority Pakistan are descendants of lower-caste Hindus, who converted to Christianity by the thousands. The discriminatory legacy of the former Indian caste system haunts them to this day. Often derogatorily called “chuhras” by fellow Pakistanis, these lower-caste Christians are considered “untouchables” or “unclean.”

As some of the poorest people in Pakistan, Christians have limited options for work. They have high illiteracy rates and are often resigned to menial jobs as farmhands, sanitation workers, or street sweepers. But these jobs carry stigmas of their own, reinforcing cultural discrimination against them. According to International Christian Concern, at least 80 percent of Pakistan’s street sweepers, janitors, and sewer workers are Christians.

Street sweeping, like sewage cleaning, is a dangerous job thought to be too demeaning for Muslims. Last month, one Catholic street sweeper in Gujranwala was killed when he was hit by a police car in the road. The family is likely to face pressure to pardon the driver, as officers tried to compensate by giving the family an equivalent of $620 and hiring the man’s son to replace his father.

Cultural discrimination puts Pakistani Christians in real danger—in more ways than one. The vulnerable place that Christians occupy in society also leaves Christian girls disproportionately susceptible to human trafficking. The marginalization of Christians—and the difficulty they face rising out of poverty—makes them easy targets for foreign traffickers, who sell them as brides in China.

The government of Pakistan ought to address the stigmatization of Christians and ensure that religious minorities receive equal treatment in society. Pakistan’s religious discrimination leaves Christians and others vulnerable to real dangers. Pakistan’s government and culture must foster respect for religious freedom, or conditions for religious minorities will never get better.

Christians Met in a Private Chinese Home. Dozens of Officers Shut it Down.

by Arielle Del Turco

May 6, 2020

On May 3, dozens of local security guards and officers raided Xingguang Church, a Protestant church not registered with the Chinese government. The small group of Christians was singing hymns in a private home in China’s Fujian province when they were interrupted by authorities from the local Ethnic and Religious Bureau. These officers pushed their way into the house without warning and without proper legal documents.

Authorities insisted that the gathering was illegal. When church members started recording the raiding incident on their phones, the officers yelled at them to stop. When the officers saw that neighbors were also filming the incident, they removed the family for recording the raid.

Pastor Yang Xibo told Radio Free Asia, “The state security police came banging at the door, then they kicked it down and dragged those in the way outside the doorway, dragging them to the ground.”

This was not Xingguang Church’s first chaotic raid. Authorities previously raided the church on April 12, and accused the pastor of “violating several articles of the religious regulations.”

China’s regulations for churches are strict. Chinese President Xi Jinping has instituted efforts to “sinicize” Christianity. This means in order to get state approval, churches must amend their teachings to appeal to the values of the ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP). One element of this long-term plan is “retranslating and annotating” the Bible to find its similarities with socialism and to discover the “correct understanding” of scripture.

To submit a church to the authority of the state-sanctioned church associations is to submit to the influence of the CCP. Churches that refuse to do so, like Xingguang Church, often face harassment from the government.

Last week’s report from the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom found that China raided or closed down hundreds of house churches in 2019. Catholic Bishops who refuse to join the state-affiliated Catholic association faced harassment and detention.

The status of religious freedom is not improving in China. At the end of December, Pastor Wang Yi, who had founded one of China’s largest house churches, was sentenced to nine years in prison—a harsh sentence and a clear indication that China’s assault on religious freedom continues.  

Worshiping in an unsanctioned house church can expose Christians to abuse by the Chinese government. Yet, millions of believers persist in gathering every week. All because they want to worship God as they see fit, even with the risks involved.

To learn more about the status of religious freedom in China, see FRC’s publication, Religious Freedom in China: The History, Current Challenges, and the Proper Response to a Human Rights Crisis.

New Report Reveals Rising Hostility to Religion in China

by Arielle Del Turco

May 4, 2020

Last week, the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) recommended that China keep its designation as a “Country of Particular Concern”—a label the U.S. government gives to the world’s worst violators of religious freedom. USCIRF’s 2020 annual report found China deserving of this title because “religious freedom conditions continued to deteriorate” in 2019, noting abuses against Uyghurs, Tibetan Buddhists, Christians, Falun Gong, and other religious groups. USCIRF’s report offers policy recommendations for the U.S. government to address the swift decline of religious freedom in China, and American officials should take these recommendations to heart as religious believers endure persecution in China.

The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) detains an estimated 1.8 million Uyghurs and other Turkic Muslims in Xinjiang facilities the CCP calls “vocational schools” but operate as brainwashing centers. USCIRF noted that former detainees “report that they suffered torture, rape, sterilization, and other abuses.” It is not just the detained individuals who suffer; their families feel the effects as well. USCIRF’s report noted that almost half a million Muslim children are separated from their parents and left to be raised by the state. Communist party officials are sent to live with and report on other Uyghur families in Xinjiang.

USCIRF also found that Tibetan Buddhists continue to be victims of the CCP’s disdain. Last summer, the CCP displaced up to 6,000 Tibetan Buddhist monks and nuns after destroying their residences. The Commission also highlighted the Chinese government’s strange obsession with interfering in the reincarnation of the Dalai Lama.

By the end of 2019, the CCP proved it has no intention of slowing down—or even hiding—its accelerating religious persecution. Pastor Wang Yi, a well-known house church pastor who had long avoided the state-affiliated church association, was sentenced to nine years in prison in December 2019. USCIRF reported that several local governments offered money to anyone willing to inform on house churches in their area.

Meanwhile, the decades-long persecution of peaceful Falun Gong practitioners continues. Thousands of Falun Gong adherents were arrested last year alone, and evidence continues to mount that the government is harvesting the organs of political prisoners, including Uyghurs and the Falun Gong.

The Commission’s report also noted that, while the Hong Kong protests were not about religious freedom, many pastors joined the protests against the Chinese government’s encroachment into the semi-autonomous city. Church leaders feared that the extradition bill which sparked the protests “would have undermined their ability to advocate without fear of retaliation.”

Early 2020, which is beyond the reporting period of USCIRF’s report, saw the Chinese government scrambling to deal with the coronavirus. But during this worldwide pandemic, which originated within its borders, the CCP continued its oppression of religious believers largely uninterrupted.

While the rest of the world battled the virus, the CCP continued removing crosses from church buildings across China. In one case, Xiangbaishu Church in Yixing City was vandalized and completely gutted.

The government exploited the pandemic, using it as an excuse to further abuse the Uyghur Muslim minority. In Xinjiang, where most Uyghurs live, the coronavirus lockdown instituted by the government was particularly intense, enforced suddenly and without warning. Residents did not have time to store food and supplies, leaving many families hungry. Governments reveal their priorities by what they choose to focus on during a crisis. For the Chinese government, religious suppression is a priority.

To address China’s egregious religious freedom violations, USCIRF recommends the U.S. government take several actions. One notable recommendation is to express concern that Beijing will be holding the 2022 Winter Olympic Games while perpetrating grave human rights violations. Significantly, the Commission also calls for the U.S. government to support the Uyghur Forced Labor Act that has been introduced in the U.S. Senate. If passed, the U.S. would assume all products imported from Xinjiang are made with forced labor and thereby ban them unless the company can prove otherwise. The Uyghur Forced Labor Act would be an effective way to address China’s human rights violations because it prevents the government from profiting from their forced labor program, which is suspected of using Uyghur detainees in Xinjiang.

USCIRF’s latest report confirms that the ruling Chinese Communist Party has little tolerance for religion and that holding an allegiance to a higher power than the state can make you a target for government surveillance, intimidation, or arbitrary detention. While China seeks to consolidate global influence, its leaders continue to dig their heels in on their repressive policies toward religion. USCIRF has called upon the U.S. government to address China’s stark religious freedom violations. For the sake of millions of religious believers suffering at the hands of the Chinese government, the U.S. government should embrace USCIRF’s recommendations, and the rest of the world should be inspired to follow suit.

How to Learn More About the Plight of North Koreans

by Arielle Del Turco

May 1, 2020

In recognition of North Korea Freedom Week, Family Research Council is raising awareness about the plight of Christians in the world’s most secretive country. This three-part blog series highlights the dire human rights and religious freedom situation in North Korea. Read Part 1 and Part 2.

The challenges faced by North Koreans can be difficult to comprehend. North Korea is a completely isolated country where the government controls its citizens’ access to information, tightly restricts their movements, and forces them to idolize political leaders. It is also very difficult for the rest of the world to attain accurate information about this secretive country. Yet, we do know that North Korea is one of the world’s worst violators of human rights and religious freedom. The fact that 25 million people live under such an oppressive regime is a human problem—one that should concern us all. Therefore, we ought to pay close attention to what is happening in North Korea and raise awareness about what its people endure every day.

In order to make a difference, we must first become informed. Here are some ideas on how you can learn more about the plight of the North Korean people, including Christians.

Listen to the Stories of North Korean Defectors

The best way to learn what life is like inside North Korea is to listen to the stories of those who have lived there. The following are just a few of the many powerful stories of North Korean defectors.

Testimony of Ji Hyeon-a: Family Research Council hosted North Korean defector Ji Hyeon-a to share her story last year. Ji is a Christian who was beaten by North Korean authorities for her faith and experienced a myriad of tragic struggles before making her way to freedom in South Korea.

Under the Same Sky by Joseph Kim: Joseph was a young boy during the 1990s famine in North Korea, eventually leading him to beg and steal. He later escaped across the border into China, where he became a Christian, before making his way to the United States. His book paints a vivid picture of life in the hermit kingdom.

Nothing to Envy by Barbara Demick: Nothing to Envy features the stories of six North Koreans from different backgrounds. Well-researched and easy to read, this book is an excellent introduction to life in North Korea and the recent history of the regime.

Do Your Research

In addition to hearing the stories of North Koreans, it is important to understand how the regime abuses its people. Reviewing the following reports will give you a more comprehensive perspective of the evils perpetrated by the Kim family dictators.

UN Human Rights Report: This 2014 United Nations report revealed the many human rights violations perpetrated by the North Korean regime. The horrors include starvation, enslavement, torture, and murder.

USCIRF 2020 Religious Freedom Report: The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom develops an annual report on the world’s worst violators of religious freedom, including North Korea. This report is vital to understanding the plight of religious believers in North Korea. It also provides suggestions for how the U.S. government can start to address the regime’s grave religious freedom violations.

Follow Organizations that Support North Korean Defectors

Liberty in North Korea: Liberty in North Korea is an organization that helps North Korean escapees and gives a voice to their stories. Their documentary, The Jangmadang Generation, will change the way you think about the future of North Korea.

Voice of the Martyrs: Voice of the Martyrs raises awareness about the persecution of Christians around the world. Some of their ministry has focused on aiding North Korean Christians in China and giving voice to their stories.

Use Your Knowledge

Learning about the challenges of others is important, but this education should spur us on to engagement. Stay informed and inform others. Pray for the North Korean people and leaders, but also pray about how God might be calling you to act on their behalf. Learning is just the first step to making a difference—the next steps are up to you. 

How You Can Pray for North Korea and its Persecuted Christians

by Arielle Del Turco

April 29, 2020

In recognition of North Korea Freedom Week, Family Research Council is raising awareness about the plight of Christians in the world’s most secretive country. This three-part blog series highlights the dire human rights and religious freedom situation in North Korea. See the first one here.

With rumors swirling about the health of Kim Jong Un and speculation over whether North Korea really has “zero” coronavirus cases as claimed, the world’s attention has once again turned to the most secretive country on earth. This heightened attention should remind us to pray for North Korea’s estimated 300,000 Christians.

North Korea has absolutely no religious freedom. The atheistic regime, which exerts near-total control over all aspects of life, presents many challenges for Christians. They must keep their faith a secret, sometimes even from their own families.

Christians in North Korea are isolated from a faith community. They cannot meet with large groups of fellow believers for worship, for fear of someone informing the regime. Nor can they show any public expression of their faith. Doing so may land them in a labor camp—if they are not killed on the spot. The stakes are exceptionally high: if the government discovers a Christian, the Christian’s family often endures the same punishment.

As Christians, we are obligated to care for our persecuted brothers and sisters in Christ. When the early church was starting to experience persecution, the Apostle Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 12:26, “If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together.” Although it is difficult for American Christians to imagine the lives of North Korean believers, we should feel a connection to Christians there, as we are all children of God (Rom. 8:16-17). We should empathize with fellow believers who suffer for the faith. One way to do this is through prayer.

Here are three ways you can pray for North Korea and its persecuted Christians: 

1) Pray that God would strengthen the faith of Christians to withstand persecution, and that He would meet their physical needs.

The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit.” Psalm 34:18

Christians in North Korea are extremely isolated and may even feel pressure to hide their beliefs from their family members. Pray that God would give them the strength to endure difficult circumstances and that He would meet their practical needs. Pray for an end to persecution and to labor and prison camps. Pray that God would soften the hearts of North Korean leaders.

2) Pray for North Korean defectors who cross the border into China.

God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.” Psalm 46:1

When North Korean defectors flee, they most often escape through China, a country with many human rights issues of its own. Defectors—most of whom are female—are often trafficked. If caught by the Chinese government, defectors are usually repatriated back to North Korea and sent to a labor camp. Defectors who return to North Korea after becoming pregnant in China often endure painful forced abortions in the camps.  

Yet, those who escape North Korea are also more likely to hear the gospel in China. Chinese churches and South Korean missionaries that work along the Chinese-North Korean border minister to defectors and even help them escape to South Korea. Pray for successful escapes by North Korean defectors, for their safety while in China, and that they would encounter Christianity as many attempt to continue their journey to South Korea or elsewhere.

3) Pray for the future of North Korea.

But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.” Jeremiah 29:7

North Koreans have proved to be an industrious people. When their communist government failed them and a famine cost the lives of anywhere from 240,000 to two million people in the mid-1990s, many rejected communist propaganda and started trading and creating products to sell in local markets in order to feed their families. Most of these new capitalists are women, and some say this economic development is starting to change the country from the inside. Though the current North Korean regime is oppressive and its current ruler, Kim Jong Un, is a brutal dictator, North Koreans are capable of forging a bright future if given the chance. We ought to pray they get that chance.

If the rumors of Kim Jong Un’s ill health are true, the future of North Korea is even more uncertain. However, even if the reports come to nothing and the media hype fades, North Korea still deserves our attention. The Kim dynasty has developed one of the most oppressive regimes on earth, and North Koreans must live with that reality regardless of whether their country is featured in international news or not. The movement to advance human rights in North Korea faces monumental challenges. The desperate needs of North Koreans should spur us on to pray without ceasing and advocate for their freedom to the best of our ability.

Why We Remember the Armenian Genocide

by Arielle Del Turco , Lela Gilbert

April 24, 2020

On April 24, 1915, heavily armed troops rounded up hundreds of Armenian professors, lawyers, doctors, clergymen, and other elites in Constantinople (now Istanbul). These highly respected members of the community were jailed, tortured, and massacred. That April date marks the beginning of the annihilation campaign carried out by the Ottoman Empire known today as the Armenian Genocide.

The massacres were carried out in the most brutal ways.

After those first arrests and the subsequent murder of many husbands and fathers, family members who survived—mostly women, children, the ill, and the elderly—were forced to embark upon what has been described as a “concentration camp on foot.” They were told they would be “relocated.” In reality, they embarked on a death march—herded like animals, with whips and cudgels and at gunpoint.

These captives were provided with little or no food and water. Infants and the elderly were the first to die. Surviving mothers were gripped with insanity, helplessly watching their babies suffer and succumb. Eyewitness accounts and heart-wrenching photographs remain today. Corpses littered the roads; nude women were crucified; dozens of bodies floated in rivers. Soldiers proudly posed for pictures with decapitated heads or piles of skulls.

These photographs provide evidence of the gruesome reality forced upon Armenians due to their ethno-religious identity. An estimated 600,000 to 1.5 million Armenians fell victim to the Ottoman government’s determination to eliminate Christian Armenians and to secure Muslim Turkish dominance in the region.

Henry Morgenthau, U.S. Ambassador to Turkey from 1913-16, recounted in his memoir:

The Central Government now announced its intention of gathering the two million or more Armenians living in the several sections of the empire and transporting them to this desolate and inhospitable region… As a matter of fact, the Turks never had the slightest idea of reestablishing the Armenians in this new country. They knew that the great majority would never reach their destination and that those who did would either die of thirst and starvation, or be murdered by the wild Mohammedan desert tribes…. When the Turkish authorities gave the orders for these deportations, they were merely giving the death warrant to a whole race…

Shrouded under the cover of World War I, the genocide changed the region forever. There were once over 2 million Armenians in Turkey. By 1922, only 387,800 remained.

April 24, 2020, marks the first annual Remembrance Day since the United States’ House of Representatives and Senate both passed resolutions officially recognizing that the Armenian massacres were, in fact, a genocide.

Nonetheless, remembering the Armenian Genocide remains a sensitive issue because, unlike other 20th century atrocities, that annihilation continues to be disputed by an influential contemporary government, Turkey. And today’s Turkish strongman, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, an open Islamist, adamantly claims that the Armenian deaths were simply the result of World War I casualties. When the U.S. House of Representatives voted to officially affirm the massacres as genocide, Erdogan declared the declaration “worthless” and the “biggest insult” to the Turkish people.

Some historians insist that Armenia’s murdered Christians were “enemies of the Turkish State.” However, most agree that they were not killed because they were Armenian. They were killed for explicitly religious reasons: because they were Christians.

Sadly, even now, massacres due to religious identity are taking place in our world. In Nigeria, a slow-motion genocide is unfolding as Boko Haram and Muslim Fulani herdsmen ramp up attacks against Christians. In Myanmar, the Burmese military’s brutal efforts to drive out the Rohingya Muslim minority in recent years has killed at least 10,000 people and left almost 800,000 displaced. And in 2016, the United States officially declared the 2014 Islamic State attacks on Iraq’s Christians, Yazidis, and other religious minorities a genocide.

Why remember genocides of the past? Because they remind us how fragile civilizations have always been. Earlier tragedies should spur us to make consistently thoughtful arguments defending the inherent dignity of all human beings. And when attacks around the world fall along religious lines, the fundamental human right of religious freedom must be articulated and protected.

Today, many people are probably unfamiliar with the tragic massacres of Armenians that took place in Turkey over a century ago. However, students of World War II may be aware of it due to an infamous quote attributed to Adolf Hitler: “Who, after all, speaks today of the annihilation of the Armenians?” His question implies that the failure to remember atrocities of the past gives ill-intentioned leaders confidence that history will not remember their own misdeeds. Perhaps this is the most compelling reason societies should never forget the atrocities that occurred before their time—including the Armenian Genocide.

Arielle Del Turco is the Assistant Director of the Center for Religious Liberty at Family Research Council.

Lela Gilbert is Senior Fellow for International Religious Freedom at Family Research Council.

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