In China, enjoying a Christmas party could mean jail time for the relatives of Communist Party Members.
In Pakistan, Christians eagerly await donations of bullet-proof vests to wear to Christmas services to protect them in the event of a jihadist attack. And in Egypt, the state is ready to deploy 230,000 security personnel to churches when Coptic Christmas rolls around on January 7.
Christmas can be a stressful, dangerous time for Christians in countries where communist and Islamic majorities see them as enemies of the state, and the state often cannot or will not protect their right to celebrate.
“We had sung songs, and children had presented a Christmas program. Pastor Simon Bashir had finished his sermon, and we were moving towards the altar when we started hearing gunfire outside the church,” Sohail Yousuf, who lost one teen daughter and has a second in critical condition, told the World Watch Monitor.
“The recent church attack in Quetta, Pakistan points to an ongoing fixation by the Islamic State and jihadi wannabes to target Christians around the world,” investigative journalist Lisa Daftari, who runs the Foreign Desk News daily newsletter, explained.
“Over the years, we’ve seen unfair charges brought against Christians living in Pakistan such as the case of Asia Bibi, the young woman convicted in 2010 when she drank from the same water bucket as Muslims and was then accused of insulting the Prophet Mohammad.”
“Pakistan ranks eighth on the World Watch List of countries where Christians face persecution, according to human rights groups,” she notes. “More recently, persecution and violence against Christian minorities has become systematic in Middle Eastern and North African countries, both in local attacks such as abductions and rapes as well as more organized, targeted ones like the recent church attacks in Egypt and Pakistan.”
Wilson Chowdhry, founder and chairman of the British Pakistani Christian Association (BCPA) said that he expects Pakistani Christians to continue celebrating Christmas despite these threats.
“Pakistani Christians are a hardy bunch,” he notes. “Terror attacks and martyrdom go hand in hand with practicing one’s faith there.”
“They will continue to prepare to celebrate the birth of their Savior Jesus and churches will be packed to the rafters despite the great anxiety many of them will be feeling. They will sing louder and will pray more fervently then ever- fully aware that God is their only hope in these desperate times.”
He notes that Christian leaders will likely request the government aid the community with added security, and “teams of volunteers amongst the young men will be involved in security teams and they will sacrifice themselves if need be for the good of others.”
Christians abroad are aiding Pakistanis with collections for safety materials, he added:
“Christians in the UK and other western nations have been buying bullet-proof vests and sending them to family members in Pakistan especially the young men who will be involved in the volunteer security teams at churches. My wife had to go through the sombre process of buying one and sending it to her brother. Pakistani Christians across the globe will be praying for relatives and phoning, whats-apping and skyping them before and after their celebrations. It will be a stressful time for all but no-one is calling for celebrations or church services to be abandoned.”
Across the border in India, home to another ancient Christian population, many fear that attack from Hindu extremists are possible. The NGO ADF International highlights the case of 32 Catholic seminarians currently facing charges of forcibly converting Hindus, which they incurred after a session of door-to-door caroling. “When other priests came to inquire about the allegations, a mob approached and torched their car in front of the police station,” ADF International notes.
In China, caroling itself can be a crime, not just the implication of conversion. China views the Christmas holiday as “Western spiritual pollution” and the Communist Party has banned both its members and relatives from engaging in any activity that could be interpreted as a Christmas celebration, including making and selling artificial snow.
“Christmas is China’s day of shame,” the Communist Party Youth League posted on its social media sites this month.
The communists are battling a groundswell of mass Christian conversion. An estimated 100 million Chinese people identify as Christian, far more than the 80 million members of the Communist Party of China. China has established an official Catholic Church and a Protestant “Patriotic” Church, deeming all Christians who reject these two denominations, wholly controlled by the state, “illegal” practitioners of the religion. “Unauthorized” practicing of Christianity may result in hefty prison sentences, the demolition of religious buildings, or “disappearance.”
Egypt permits the practice of Christianity and, under President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, has vowed to protect its Coptic minority. In practice, that mission has met stiff resistance from jihadist groups, who killed 26 people in a Christmas season attack last year and have continued to pose a significant threat to the lives of Christians. In May, jihadists attacked a bus convoy of Christians, killing 29 and prompting protests from the Christian community that Sisi was not doing enough to keep them safe.
This year, Sisi has promised to keep 230,000 security personnel on call during Christmas celebrations, traditionally held by Coptics on January 7, protecting 2,626 churches. Police will install metal detectors at these churches to prevent anyone from entering a service armed.