March 9, 2011

Praying for Saudi Arabia

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What do we know about Saudi Arabia?

(Source: Open Doors, World Watch List)

Ranked #4 of World’s Worst Christian Persecutors

The conditions worsened in Saudi last year, but the country dropped from #3 to #4 because of the rise of persecution in Afghanistan. The worsening conditions in Saudi Arabia are explained by reports we received of several Christians being physically harmed for their faith during the past reporting period, which was not the case during the previous period. Presumably the total number of Christians facing this kind of persecution will be much higher, but it is hard to receive sufficient information on this from a closed country like the Wahhabist Kingdom. Also, 12 Filipino Christians and one priest were arrested while attending a religious service in a private home on October 1. They were charged with proselytizing and temporarily released (one of them on bail). In addition, a number of Christians fled the country because of oppression for faith-related reasons. In some cases their lives were at stake. Most Christians in Saudi Arabia are expatriates who live and work temporarily in the country. The majority of them are from the Philippines. These foreign workers, besides being exploited and poorly paid, are regularly exposed to verbal and physical violence because of their Christian faith. There are a number of converts from Islam who live their faith in deepest secret.

Religious freedom does not exist in this heartland of Islam where citizens are only allowed to adhere to one religion. No protection, legal or otherwise, is provided for non-Muslim residents. The legal system is based on Islamic law (sharia). Apostasy (conversion to another religion) is punishable by death if the accused does not recant. Although the government recognizes the right of non-Muslims to worship in private, the religious police “the Muttawa’’ often does not respect this right. It was also this Muttawa which arrested the above mentioned 13 Christians in October. The public practice of non-Muslim worship is prohibited as well in Saudi Arabia. Worshippers who engage in such activities risk arrest, imprisonment, lashing, deportation, and sometimes torture. Believers from a Muslim background also run the risk of honor killing if their family or others in their social environment discover their new faith.

Click here to see the 2011 World Watch List of 50 worst countries for Christian persecution.

What else do we know about Saudi Arabia?
(Source: Operation World)

Land: About the size of Alaska and Texas combined. Almost entirely desert, with 25 percent of the world’s known oil reserves

Population: 26 million (about like all the people in Texas and Indiana combined)

Capital: Riyadh, 4.8 million people (about the size of the Washington DC metro area)

Other Major Cities: Jiddah, 3.2 million people; Mecca, 1.5 million people

Urbanites: 82 percent (same as in the United States)

Population under 15 years old: 32 percent (United States is 20%)

Life Expectancy: 72 (United States is 79)

Unemployment: Ranges from 20 to 40 percent (United States ranges from 9 to 20%)

Religion: Saudi Arabia is an Islamic state committed to the role of custodian of Islam and its holiest sites. People of other faiths can live in the country, but they may neither practice their religion openly nor gather privately. Estimates are 92% Muslim, 5% Christian and less than 1% Hindu and Buddhist.

Challenges for Prayer:

1. Saudi Arabia is the birthplace and stronghold of Islam. From Mecca, Islam holds sway over billions and permeates many cultures.

2. Saudi Arabia’s record on religious freedom and human rights is notorious and among the world’s worst.

3. Saudi Arabia faces great stresses:

a. Economic – Over reliance on oil exports and foreign labor has taken its toll. The growing gap between the rich and poor, and widespread unemployment and discontent amount the younger generation, often push towards extremism.

b. Social – One of the most controversial and contradictory issue is that of women’s rights. Driving, voting, working, even going out are prohibited or severely restricted for women. Despite harsh societal restrictions, alcohol and drug abuse, sexual immorality and HIV/AIDS are hidden but real problems.

c. Military – The battle between the military and Islamic terrorists intensifies each year. The presence of Western military forces rankles many.

4. Saudis who come to faith in Jesus Christ face the death penalty if discovered; executions are definitely known to occur. Despite this, increasing numbers are secretly seeking and finding Jesus, and there are believers in every Saudi city.

5. Life is difficult for expatriates. The benefits of money made from working here are offset by stifling social restrictions, often cruel working environments, endemic racism, and a total lack of personal and religious freedom.

6. Christian expatriates live under strict surveillance. Even meeting in homes as a group of believers is forbidden. Those caught can be subjected to humiliating beatings, imprisonment, expulsion, and even execution. This is particularly true for Asian Christians, who are often the most effective witnesses and whose governments have the least international influence.

Click here to go to Operation World’s website.

My Bridgebuilder colleague, Donna, reminds me this morning of God’s Word in Psalm 31, for the persecuted church.  A few verses that spoke to me today were:
 
1 In you, O LORD, I have taken refuge; let me never be put to shame; deliver me in your righteousness.  2 Turn your ear to me, come quickly to my rescue; be my rock of refuge, a strong fortress to save me.  3 Since you are my rock and my fortress, for the sake of your name lead and guide me.  24 Be strong and take heart, all you who hope in the LORD.
 
And we pray for the persecutors (Luke 6):
 
27 “But I tell you who hear me: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28 bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.  37 Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned.  Forgive, and you will be forgiven.  38 Give, and it will be given to you… For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.”
 
 
Loving the Journey,
 
Kevin
 

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