The world has a disturbing way of moving past its most glaring and persistent crises, but Hussam cannot move on, because he and his family are stuck in a refugee camp.
Once a young professional with a promising career in one of Iraq’s largest cities, Hussam was forced to flee his home with his family. ISIS had heard he was a Christian and put a target on his back. Hussam’s family fled in the middle of the night, braving minefields to avoid detection, and reached the refugee camp just as darkness broke into morning.
Hussam and his family now occupy the corner of an overcrowded tent in a refugee camp in northern Iraq. Basic supplies they once considered ordinary are a scarcity now — every day is a fight for another sip of water, another bite of food. The weather — whether snow, rain or sun — offers no respite, either.
Most days, Hussam looks at his family — studies the faces of his young children — and wonders why the world has forgotten them. He questions why everyone has given up on Christians.
Religious persecution is the world’s greatest and most enduring crisis. It’s followed us through millennia, from civilization to civilization, and has worsened through time. The ISIS suicide bombings of two Egyptian churches on Sunday that killed 47 worshippers is just the most recent example of the deadly assault on people of faith. In fact, a report released this past January says 2016 was the “worst year yet” for Christians in the past quarter-century.
According to the report, persecution of Christians has risen worldwide for three years in a row. In Nigeria the killing of Christians increased by a shocking 62 percent, while in India, a country where Hindu nationalists have spread an anti-Christian sentiment, an average of 40 incidents of extreme violence are now reported each month.
In total, 215 million Christians live in countries where they are subject to hostilities ranging from social discrimination and harassment to physical violence, imprisonment and even death. Christians are now killed in more countries than ever before and are persecuted in more countries than any other religious group.
For those of us who have been following the story of Christian persecution, this news does not come as a surprise. Instead, it serves as sad confirmation of what we have been witnessing over the past few years: a world that’s not only growing more intolerant toward Christians, but also indifferent toward their plight.
I have seen this firsthand.
I have made more than a dozen trips to Iraq where ISIS killed countless Christians and destroyed their homes, churches and crosses. I have seen the devastation — churches riddled with bullet holes, crosses torn down and smashed, Bibles burned to ashes — and I have heard the heartbreaking stories of decapitations, mass executions and torture.
These are not stories from another century or another era — they’re from 2016. I heard them from the lips of eyewitnesses. They’re the accounts of real people like Hussam, whose life has been turned upside down by people who hate his Christian faith. Yet, the world forgets their suffering and keeps moving on.
We must ask ourselves: How long will we allow Christians to be the most persecuted people in the world? Until there are none left in Iraq or Syria? Until Boko Haram wipes them out of Nigeria and Hindu nationalists completely ban them from Indian society?
It’s long past time for feeling shocked or even sorry for Christians. It’s time to act. Christians — and non-Christians alike — in the West and across the world must come to the aid of those who are suffering persecution because of their religious beliefs.
That’s what we’re trying to do at World Help, and I hope you’ll do the same. We might not be able to end a war or put a full stop to persecution, but we all certainly can do more.
• Vernon Brewer is the founder and president of World Help.