Persecuted Church

Jesus House Senior Pastor Agu Irukwu and his wife Pastor Sola Irukwu took their faith and compassion to Parliament on January 11 to join the effort of raising awareness and action for the plight of the persecuted church around the world. The occasion was the launch of the 2017 World Watch List (WWL), the annual report compiled by the charity Open Doors which documents the global persecution of Christians. Over 100 parliamentarians were in attendance to learn about the worldwide prevalence of violent incidences against members of the Christian faith.

WWL is published as a list ranking the top 50 countries where Christians face extreme resistance having or practising their faith and their godly values. Jesus House is committed to raising awareness about the plight of our Christian brothers and sisters who encounter physical brutality for embodying and sharing Christ’s love. With so much evil going on around the world, the church is praying for and standing alongside members of God’s flock who need a light and support in these dark times.

Theresa Villiers, a constituency MP in the London Borough of Barnet where Jesus House is situated, hosted the event. As a member of the Conservative Party and a former cabinet minister, she has previously lent her support to the WWL. At the 2016 list release, she expressed her alarming at the growing number of extreme incidents:

“Supporting the Open Doors campaign has opened my eyes to the scale of suffering and injustice which so many Christians face around the world. The persecution of Christians is getting worse in every region in which Open Doors operates. In a long list of countries, people have been brutalised, have lost their dignity or their liberty because they share the same Christian faith as many in this country. Freedom of religion is a right that everyone should enjoy, and here in this country we should feel a special sense of responsibility towards Christians around the world who are being forcibly prevented from living and worshipping in the way they choose.”

As she introduced the 2017 list, Villiers highlighted the link between religious persecution and the global displacement crisis, a key finding of this year's World Watch List report. She said, "Never before have so many Christians been on the move as conflict and religious persecution combine to have devastating consequences for millions of families."

In attendance at the Westminster launch event was Pastor Aminu from Yobe State in Nigeria, who gave first-hand reports about the harrowing atrocities and marginalisation of Christians in North East Nigeria. He and his congregation have faced severe brutality since the rise of the Boko Haram sect in 2011, resulting in the destruction of lives, homes and their places of worship. His congregation has dwindled from a regular attendance of 500 people to just 15. Both the threats and displacement continues as the perpetrators seek to erase any trace of Christianity from the North East of Nigeria.

Pastor Aminu pleaded for intervention from the global community, particularly from the UK, which he said has the influence to advocate for persecuted church members. He stressed that Christians are a minority in the WWL’s most violent regions and rarely have government representation. “We don’t have a voice and we don’t have people to speak on our behalf,” he explained in a BBC interview.

Now in its 25th year, WWL uses data from Open Doors field workers and external experts on Christian persecution to quantify persecution worldwide. Severity of persecution is calculated by analyzing the level of violence, plus the pressure experienced in five spheres of life: private, family, community, national and church. The rankings and report are audited by the independent International Institute for Religious Freedom.

The highest levels of persecution are found in the following countries: North Korea, Somalia, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Sudan, Syria, Iraq, Iran, Yemen and Eritrea. However, both Kenya and Nigeria increased their ranking on this list of shame.

According to Lisa Pearce, CEO of Open Doors, the findings confirm that “religious persecution is a significant driver of forced global migration.” Over 50% of refugees come from countries in the WWL’s top 10, particularly as they are forced to flee regions where national and religious identities are in opposition. Documented incidents of persecution included church burnings, vandalism of homes and houses of worship, beatings, imprisonment, public execution and mass killings.

Commenting on the event, Pastor Agu Irukwu said, “It is both alarming and disconcerting to see the scale of persecution towards our Christian brothers and sisters right across this global village that we all live in together. The pain and suffering of one part of the body affects the whole body. We will stand shoulder to shoulder in the cause of highlighting and advocating against these evil practices. Sola and I are tremendously grateful to The Rt. Honourable Theresa Villiers MP for her leadership in championing the fight against these injustices.”