Silence was a beautiful film, but very difficult to watch. Not just because of the many, many scenes of torture, but because it was painfully long, repetitive, and slow, even laborious. Though it is beautifully shot and there are some poignant moments of theology and insight into the human psyche, it’s not an enjoyable movie in practical terms. If for no other reason than that it is just too darn long.
Yet, I think what it has to say, and even more, the way it made me think, is incredibly important. That’s why I think this is a film that every believer should watch. Not just watch. Experience.
Silence was a passion project of unparalleled director Martin Scorsese, a film he has been trying to get made since he first read the book on which it was based in 1989 – Silence, by Shūsaku Endō. It tells the incredible story of two Portuguese Jesuit priests who go on a mission in 1640 to find their mentor, Father Ferreria, who they have been told denounced his faith under severe persecution in Japan. They cannot believe that he could have ever denied God, no matter how great the persecution, so they go on a mission to find Ferreira and clear this slander from his name.
What follows is a long, painstaking journey into the world of persecution. Real persecution. Not getting upset because Starbucks doesn’t make a Christmas themed paper cup or that there isn’t prayer in public schools anymore or even that you may have been passed over for a promotion because you were standing up for your moral principles. Real persecution. People, your friends, your flock, being tortured to death in front of you because you refused to deny Christ.
It is so intense and so absolute that it doesn’t feel real. You don’t believe it actually happened. Like when you tell kids about the Holocaust for the first time – “People didn’t actually do that to other people, did they?” But it is true. It is real. AND it is still happening, all over the world today. People are literally being beaten, tortured, and killed for their faith in countries where Christianity is illegal or seen as a threat to the government. It’s not just a movie.
I experienced so many emotions watching this film, none of them good – sadness, anger, frustration, helplessness, guilt, fear, worry, doubt. I asked myself so many questions. What would I do? Would I have the courage to not denounce my faith? Is that courageous or is it stupid? If he just gave in to save those people’s lives, wouldn’t God forgive him? He forgave Peter for denying Him, right? But then there was Daniel and Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. They all stood firm in their faith and were ready to go to the fiery furnace and the lion’s den, whether God saved them or not. And they changed the world with their faith.
Then quoting Paul to myself, “For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” To die is gain. Do I really believe that?
Then the feeling of “Thank you, God, that this isn’t me. That I don’t have to make that choice.” Then the guilt that I just thought that, when others around the world don’t have the privilege to thank God for not having to make that choice. And back through the string of emotions I go.
We have no idea how easy we have it as Christians here in America. No idea. Even after watching this film, I literally cannot fathom what those people went through, what people around the world are going through. Hard as I try, it’s still a movie to me. I watch with tears and I ask myself hard questions, but at the end of the 3 hours, I get to walk back out to my car and drive home to my safe little world where I can worship whoever I want as openly as I want.
But the journey and the questions are important. It opens my eyes, helps me to see, helps me to think, helps me to challenge my easy cozy little faith. It pushes me to look online for ways I can help those who are being persecuted – ministries I can support, ways I can pray, how can I can be a voice. It pushes me to dig deeper into my heart and what I say I believe. It exposes the places where I am weak and leads me to lean even more on Jesus.
That is what great film is supposed to do — take us on a journey that makes us think. That is what makes Silence, though not traditionally “enjoyable,” a powerful film.
For more information and to know how to help Christians who are persecuted around the world, visit The Voice of The Martyrs:https://www.persecution.com
By Samuel Smith, The Christian Post. As conflicts in Iraq and Syria have forced millions of residents to flee their homes over the last several years, a leading Christian persecution activist has explained that over 80 percent of Christians have left Iraq in the last 13 years, while nearly half of all Christians have fled Syria since 2010.
Before the United States military went into Iraq in 2003, captured dictator Saddam Hussein, and opened up a power vacuum, Iraq was home to about 1.5 million Christians. But after sectarian violence commenced and the brutal Islamic State terrorist organization rose to power in 2014, fewer than 300,000 remain.
Meanwhile, in neighboring Syria, civil war has ravaged the country over the last five years and the rise of IS (also known as ISIS or ISIL) inside the country has compounded problems, thus creating one of the worst refugee crises in the 21st century.
Prior to the mass exodus from Syria over the last five years, Christians comprised about 10 percent of Syria’s population.
In a recent interview with the British news outlet Premier, Lisa Pearce, the CEO of Open Doors U.K. and Ireland, explained that the Christian population in Syria is only half of what it was in 2010. Additionally, she said that only about 17 percent of the Christians who lived in Iraq before the start of the Iraq War remain.
“Since the war began in Syria, about half of the Christians have fled the country,” Pearce, the head of one of the most prominent Christian persecution watchdog groups in the world, said. “In Iraq since 2003, five out of six Christians have left because they have completely given up hope of a future there.”
The Bible is full of stories reminding us that, whatever the opposition, God is always victorious.
It’s the story of Joseph before Potiphar’s wife, of Moses before Pharaoh, of Daniel before the lions, of Esther before King Ahasuerus, of Peter and John before the Council. Supremely, it’s the story of the Lord Jesus, who was crucified and rose for our salvation.
Scripture is clear that God often uses his people’s suffering to advance his kingdom. In his providence, the Islamic regime’s strategies to stamp out the Persian-speaking church in Iran have backfired—resulting in further church growth. Here are five examples.
1. Banning the Bible has backfired.
In addition to banning the printing of the Bible in Persian, closing down the Bible society, and burning Bibles, Iranian government officials have warned citizens against reading the Bible. Apparently, this warning has caused many Iranians, already disillusioned with their government, to become all the more eager to obtain a copy of the Bible. And many have put their faith in Christ after finding and reading one.
A few years ago, a government official waved one of the New Testaments printed by our ministry (Elam) on national television and warned the population to avoid it. Demand for the New Testament soared as a result. Many who receive a copy through our street evangelism efforts say they’ve been searching for a copy. Some say they’ve been searching for years.
2. Closing church buildings has backfired.
The Iranian government’s closure of churches over the past few years has forced Christians of Muslim background to meet in underground house churches.
More reports of the brutal treatment that Christians and other minorities experienced at the hands of the Islamic State emerged during May. One account told of a couple who, after their children were abducted by ISIS militants, answered their door one day to find a plastic bag on their doorstep. It contained the body parts of their daughters and a video of them being brutally tortured and raped.
Another Christian mother from Mosul answered the door to find ISIS jihadis demanding that she leave or pay the jizya (protection money demanded as a tribute by conquered Christians and Jews, according to the Koran 9:29). The woman asked for a few seconds, because her daughter was in the shower, but the jihadis refused to give her the time. They set a fire to the house; her daughter was burned alive. The girl died in her mother’s arms; her last words were “Forgive them.”
The Islamic State reportedly beheaded another Christian leader on February 18. No media reported it, except for one Italian paper in May: “There are reliable reports are that Father Yacob Boulos, was beheaded by the terror group’ militants after he prayed on the altar of his church. He was punished for his faith.”
“In yet another disturbing example of the genocide facing Christians and other religious minorities in the Middle East, on 12-13 May a group from Islamic State (IS) entered a town near the city of Hama in Syria, populated only by Christians and Alawites, killing an as yet unspecified number of men, women and children. Men were beheaded, whilst women were raped and then murdered. Many children were also killed. It is not yet clear exactly how many people have been killed.”
A local Christian leader said,
“Where are the leaders of the West, Ban Ki-Moon (Secretary-General of the United Nations), the EU, WHO (World Health Organization), and other Christian organisations? How long will my nation tolerate and stay. We don’t hold arms and weapons, but we are melting like a candle! Is it possible for our voice to reach to all others?”
Father Douglas Bazi, an Iraqi priest, who was kidnapped by ISIS in 2006 but later escaped, recounted his experiences as a captive:
“They destroyed my car, they blew up my church on [sic] front of me. I got shot by AK-47 in my leg. The bullet is still in my leg. And I [have] been kidnapped for nine days. They smash my nose and my teeth by hammer. And they broke one of my back discs.”
He was released after his church paid for his ransom, but eventually had to flee the region after continued persecution by ISIS. “To be Christian in Iraq, it’s an impossible mission,” said Father Bazi, adding, “But even so, I’m not actually surprised when they attack my people. I’m surprised how my people are still existing. Please talk about our stories. Let the world know what happens to us.”
The rest of May’s roundup of Muslim persecution of Christians around the world includes, but is not limited to, the following …
Persecution threatened to wipe out Iran’s tiny church. Instead, the church in Iran has become the fastest growing in the world, and it is influencing the region for Christ.
By Mark Howard, The Gospel Coalition.
Everyone loves a good story. As Christians, we especially love stories that tell us how, when all seems lost, God makes a way.
One such story is about the church in Iran—and it’s one of the greatest stories in the world today.
It’s a simple story that can be summarized in just two sentences: Persecution threatened to wipe out Iran’s tiny church. Instead, the church in Iran has become the fastest growing in the world, and it is influencing the region for Christ.
As simple as it is, such an amazing story is worth examining deeper.
Growth Amid Persecution
The Iranian revolution of 1979 established a hard-line Islamic regime. Over the next two decades, Christians faced increasing opposition and persecution: All missionaries were kicked out, evangelism was outlawed, Bibles in Persian were banned and soon became scarce, and several pastors were killed. The church came under tremendous pressure. Many feared the small Iranian church would soon wither away and die.
But the exact opposite has happened. Despite continued hostility from the late 1970s until now, Iranians have become the Muslim people most open to the gospel in the Middle East.
A priest is slaughtered at Mass in rural France. This is what life is like for Christians in the Middle East
By Damian Thompson, Catholic Herald.
Father Jacques Hamel
An 85-year-old priest has had his throat cut by an Islamic fanatic while saying Mass in a church in Normandy. For people in the West, this is a scene of almost unimaginable horror. Catholics in particular will be revolted and profoundly disturbed by a bloody killing perpetrated during the act of holy sacrifice around which our faith is built.
Catholics in the West, that is. For Catholics and other Christians in the Middle East, the atrocity at Saint-Étienne-du-Rouvray is far from unimaginable. They have been living with this sort of terror for years, while Western politicians and the liberal commentariat looked away.
If I were to mention the Baghdad church massacre of October 31, 2010, how many of them would know what I was talking about? Come to that, how many Catholics are familiar with the details?
On that Sunday evening, Mass in the Syrian Catholic church of Our Lady of Salvation was cut short by Islamist gunmen who took the congregation hostage, screaming: “All of you are infidels… we will go to paradise if we kill you and you will go to hell.”
One priest, Fr Thaer Abdal, was shot dead at the altar. In total, 58 innocent people were murdered. Their killers were members of an Iraqi faction of Al-Qaeda that had declared war on churches, “dirty dens of idolatry”, and in particular “the hallucinating tyrant of the Vatican”.
The Baghdad massacre was one of countless atrocities that have reduced ancient Christian communities in the Middle East to shrivelled and terrified ghettoes or underground churches.
They know – even if Western public opinion does not – that Christianity in itself is among the most hated of all the targets of Islamic terrorist groups.
New York Times bestselling author Eric Metaxas says that many Christians in the United States have adopted an “American version of Christianity” and lack a true understanding about what it means to be faithful to God’s word under the threat of persecution.
Metaxas, the author of several books including the recent title If You Can Keep It: The Forgotten Promise of American Liberty, gave a one-hour keynote speech to kick off The Bridge, an annual 3-day conference focusing on the persecuted church hosted by collaboration of groups led by the persecution watchdog group International Christian Concern.
As Metaxas has authored biographies of historical, influential philanthropists like William Wilberforce and Dietrich Bonhoeffer, his address focused on how Bonhoeffer played an instrumental role in awakening the German church to stand up to the atrocities committed against the Jews by the Nazis and he compared some of the similarities between the German church during the Holocaust to today’s church in America.
Metaxas said that Bonhoeffer realized that the role of the church in a functioning society is to be the “conscience of the state” and challenge the state every time it persecutes the people and creates injustices.
Metaxas said that the problem with the German church was that it fell into a “trap” of getting too cozy with the state and too comfortable with its position in society that it overlooked the grave injustices committed against the Jews.
Another issue that the German church faced was “fussy” theological differences that prevented German Lutherans, Catholics and others from uniting. But just as the church in Germany was too proud to be German or too proud to be Lutheran, Metaxas said that too many Christians in America are more proud to be American or Baptist than they are to be Christian.
“I started realizing that [Bonhoeffer’s] primary mission was to wake up the church because he knew that the church had the ability in that generation to stand against the Nazis, to be a powerful force if they would stand, if they would count the cost, if they would do what God called them to do, to not be afraid of death, to have courage. In other words, if they would actually be Christian,” Metaxas said. “If you are actually Christian, you don’t fear death because there is no such thing as death. Jesus defeated death. Like he actually defeated death, it is not a metaphor. You die, you don’t die.”
“Well, the church in the bush, the church in the jungle, the persecuted church, they know this stuff,” Metaxas added. “They know this stuff but the American church doesn’t know it and the German church didn’t know it. We have forgotten that these things are true that people are living their lives in faith everyday and under persecution you have to decide, ‘Do I actually believe this stuff or don’t I?’ I really think the irony is that it is the American church and Western church that needs this. We don’t have this and we wonder why we have a lot of problems is because we don’t have this faith. It is a bit of a catch 22 — If you get persecuted, you kind of find this kind of faith.”
Hundreds of thousands of Christians across India are faced with a sobering ultimatum: hide their faith, or risk harassment, intimidation, and even death.
Threats against churches, arson attacks on Christian property, and the harassment and violent abuse of new converts to Christianity are all on the rise in India, where just 2.3 per cent of the population identifies with the faith.
Two young women who have experienced such persecution are Meena, 32, and her 25-year-old sister, Sunita (names have been changed to protect identity).
They were severely beaten by a group of men from their village in Odisha state after news spread that they had converted to Christianity. Remarkably, they praise God for their experiences.
“We knew about persecution in theory because the Bible speaks about it,” Meena told researchers for Christian persecution charity Open Doors. “And when it happened, we thanked God for it.”
The sisters came to faith though a Christian radio show in 2004, and initially felt compelled to hide their conversion for fear of repercussions from local Hindu hard-liners. Two years later, though, they were baptised and began to attend church services. “My faith had grown stronger and I thought, ‘If I die, I will be resurrected,'” Meena explained.
However, about a year later locals held a meeting and decided that Christians were not welcome in their village. They called the sisters’ father, and pressurised him to force the women out of the house. He refused, but stopped paying for their food and clothing.
“We had to take care of ourselves,” Meena recalled. “The entire village rejected us, but we were blessed by the Lord.”
This essay is a revised version of a sermon preached in several churches in the US and Europe. It calls us to consider the recent, extreme levels of discrimination, persecution, or even martyrdom currently faced by Christians in almost every continent in the light of three passages from the New Testament: Romans 13:1–7; Revelation 13:1–10; and John 13:34–35. Because it may be helpful for the reader to review these biblical texts before reading the sermon, they are written below.
By Thomas K. Johnson, Evangelical Focus.
Romans 13:1–7: Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and you will be commended. For the one in authority is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for rulers do not bear the sword for no reason. They are God’s servants, agents of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer. Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also as a matter of conscience. This is also why you pay taxes, for the authorities are God’s servants, who give their full time to governing. Give to everyone what you owe them: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor.
Revelation 13:1–10: The dragon stood on the shore of the sea. And I saw a beast coming out of the sea. It had ten horns and seven heads, with ten crowns on its horns, and on each head a blasphemous name. The beast I saw resembled a leopard, but had feet like those of a bear and a mouth like that of a lion. The dragon gave the beast his power and his throne and great authority. One of the heads of the beast seemed to have had a fatal wound, but the fatal wound had been healed. The whole world was filled with wonder and followed the beast. People worshiped the dragon because he had given authority to the beast, and they also worshiped the beast and asked, “Who is like the beast? Who can wage war against it?” The beast was given a mouth to utter proud words and blasphemies and to exercise its authority for forty-two months. It opened its mouth to blaspheme God, and to slander his name and his dwelling place and those who live in heaven. It was given power to wage war against God’s holy people and to conquer them. And it was given authority over every tribe, people, language and nation. All inhabitants of the earth will worship the beast—all whose names have not been written in the Lamb’s book of life, the Lamb who was slain from the creation of the world. Whoever has ears, let them hear. “If anyone is to go into captivity, into captivity they will go. If anyone is to be killed with the sword, with the sword they will be killed.” This calls for patient endurance and faithfulness on the part of God’s people.
John 13:34–35: Jesus said, “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”
In 2007 a young Turkish man, the father of two children, was planning to take a theology class that I was scheduled to teach when he was brutally martyred. Two other Christians, one Turkish and one German, were also murdered with him in the office of their Bible printing shop in Turkey. They were cut up with knives! I felt like I had been kicked in the stomach when I first read what had happened. Shocked and angry, I became deeply involved in reporting on and drawing attention to this terrible incident.
Afterwards I felt compelled (by God, I think) to consider how Christians face discrimination, persecution, and sometimes even martyrdom in many countries around the world. This included thinking about the different types of governments we see in different countries, since governments usually have some important role in relation to discrimination and persecution. I also contemplated our international duties within the Body of Christ, since we now live in a post-globalization world. This message shares some of what I have learned.
We find in the New Testament two complementary views of the State or of government, which we must hold together in our minds and in the practice of Christian discipleship. On one hand, Romans 13 describes what a state should be and do. This passage is very comfortable for us who live in free countries where we have official protection of human rights and the rule of law. “The one in authority is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for rulers do not bear the sword for no reason.” Therefore we should generally obey the law and pay our taxes.
But on the other hand, in Revelation 13, we have a description of what a state or a government can become when everything goes wrong. A state can become a devouring beast, destroying everything in its path, and especially attacking Christians with demonic hatred. This was not only the experience of the church in the first century, under the persecutions by Nero in the sixties and Domitian in the eighties; it is also the experience of tens of millions of Christians today. A few months ago I was at a meeting with representatives of persecuted churches from dozens of countries. When someone claimed that the slaughter of Christians in Syria and Iraq should be called genocide, no one disagreed. On the contrary, Christians from other countries responded by saying that what was happening in their nations should be considered genocide too! We may have multiple Christian genocides occurring right now at the hands of multiple, beastly governments. The beast of Revelation 13 is not just a reality from ancient history; the beast is back!
In this light, we Christians who live in free countries, where the government generally fulfills Paul’s vision in Romans 13, need to carefully consider the challenging words of Jesus in John 13:34–35: “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”
More than 7,000 Christians were murdered because of their faith in the last year with millions punished for their beliefs.
North Korea remains the worst place to be a Christian while Iraq has replaced Somalia as the second most dangerous place to be a Christian.
Eritrea, now nicknamed the ‘North Korea of Africa’ due to high levels of dictatorial paranoia, follows at number three.
Afghanistan, Syria and Pakistan are the next most difficult places for Christians.
India, the second most populous country in the world, has seen persecution levels rise dramatically for the third year running, rising to number 17 from a ranking of 31 in 2013.
Christian charity Open Doors, which complied the list, said extreme Islamic fundamentalism is rising most sharply in sub-Saharan Africa, where more people are killed for their Christian faith than anywhere else in the world.
Lisa Pearce, CEO of Open Doors UK & Ireland, said: “The persecution of Christians is getting worse, in every region in which we work – and it’s getting worse fast.
“In many parts of the world, despite the pressure and the often terrible cost, the church continues to grow.