Beautiful mountains receding into a desert with camel caravans and the hot, sunny beach by the Red Sea make up the fascinating topographical contrasts of a country in the Horn of Africa. Finnish missionaries first brought Pentecost to this region in the middle of 20th century. In the 1990s I met the national Pentecostal leaders, brothers Haile and Kuflu, who became my friends. At that time, I could not imagine that after several years, at the beginning of the 21st century, their country would be one of the worst in regard to religious liberties. My African brothers have been in prison for more than 10 years, and hundreds of other believers there have experienced both longer and shorter imprisonments.
I also witnessed the persecution in Eastern Europe when I visited many of its countries before the collapse of Communism. I knew Rudolf Bubik, the Pentecostal leader from the Czech Republic. In the mid 1980s, together we witnessed the baptism of several believers by moonlight in a river of the Tatra Mountains. Just a few months previous, Bubik was in prison. I visited Eastern Europe again after the collapse of the Iron Curtain and saw how the power of prayer had changed the minds of its leaders. For many years the Nordic countries held a prayer campaign for the USSR: local churches prayed specifically for different cities within the USSR, so it was well-targeted intercession.
Persecution has followed Christians from the very beginning of the Church. Todd M. Johnson estimates that some 70 million Christians have been murdered for their faith throughout Christian history. According to him, the rate of martyrdom has been remarkably constant at 0.8 percent. The sad thing is that Christians have persecuted other Christians, causing about 5.5 million of the martyrdoms. With this fact in mind, it was a historical moment during the consultation on discrimination, persecution, and martyrdom in Tirana, Albania, in November 2015 when Christians asked forgiveness of other Christians for the atrocities committed throughout history. All major groups of the Christian church including Pentecostals were represented at that forum.
Johnson estimates that over half of the martyrs have been Orthodox Christians (Russian Orthodox, East Syrian Rite, Ukrainian Orthodox and Armenian Apostolic Christians). From 1921-1950, 15 million people died because of their Christian faith—and this figure encompasses Pentecostals.
In eastern Asia, 50 years of anti-religious rule produced 1.2 million martyrs (Johnson), but that has not hindered the spread of Christianity, and the number of Christians has grown to more than 100 million. Thomas Schirrmacher of Germany believes that globally around 7,300 Christians are murdered every year.
The forms and degrees of persecution vary. Marvin Newell defines six stages in the progress of persecution: prevented, rejected, detained, abused, pursued and killed. When we look at all those forms, the number of suffering Christians is very large. In spite of the fact that the Lisbon Treaty of the EU guarantees a high level of religious liberty, Europe still faces violations of the rights of Christians. The Pentecostal Church in Greece recently underwent a court case because of a Christian evangelistic media ministry due to the old law against proselytism influenced by the Greek Orthodox Church: the Church’s theology still holds to the idea of the canonical territories, meaning that no other religious group has the right of entry into those territories.
According to Open Doors, the top regions for persecuting Christians lie within Asia, the Middle East, Central Asia and the Horn of Africa. We need to direct our prayers and actions to help our brothers and sisters in countries where they are discriminated against and suffering. Before the Korean War, there were more Christians in North Korea than in South Korea. Now it is the opposite.
Can what took place in Albania in 1991 happen also in the countries persecuting Christians now? Albania was the only country ever to claim to be atheistic. It was very difficult to influence the country for Christ, even through radio waves and other means. The number of Christians could be counted on the finger of one hand. However, God opened the door. I was among the first Pentecostal missions leaders to visit the country in 1991 and was able to be a part of the first large evangelistic campaign there. Thousands of people suddenly were able to hear the gospel, and many of them accepted Jesus as their Savior and were baptized in the lake of Tirana, Albania’s Central Park. Now the Pentecostal Church is established there, and its Bible college is producing pastors and missionaries.
For God, everything is possible!
— Dr. Arto Hämäläinen is a member of the WAGF Commission of the Religious Liberty and chairman of the World Missions Commission of PWF.