We’re all overwhelmed with information about the coronavirus. There is constant breaking news about increasing cases of COVID-19, business closings, social distancing, and an overall sense of instability—both economically and medically.
While this is truly a global phenomenon, these uncertain times are affecting every nation differently. How you’re experiencing the coronavirus depends on where you are around the world. This means that our Christian brothers and sisters overseas are facing a new kind of hardship and persecution.
How the Middle East is experiencing the pandemic
From Morocco to Iraq, our Field Ministry Teams are reporting various forms of lockdowns, strains on hospitals, food shortages, even martial law. And yes, they’re also facing toilet paper shortages.
These strains put more pressure on already-stressed communities. The potential spread of the disease among refugees and displaced populations could be catastrophic. Many of these groups, which include persecuted believers, have no financial safety net and poor medical infrastructure.
The governments of many Middle Eastern nations, like Iraq and Iran, were slow to restrict travel or cancel public events. This inaction has allowed for the spread of the coronavirus within these countries.
For an already war-torn country like Syria, the pandemic has taken the situation from bad to worse.
“We are free from the armed militia in Aleppo, but prices here are soaring,” said Kareem, our Syrian Field Ministry Team leader. “We’ve all signed up to receive bread from the government, and the needs are overwhelming.”
In Turkey, many of the persecuted families we have supported are Iranian converts from Islam. These new believers fled Iran after being imprisoned or tortured due to their faith. Now, Turkish locals blame them for the spread of the coronavirus. The Turkish government has cut off all assistance, and many Christians have lost their employment.
One woman and her children we are helping in Egypt are unable to flee to safety because of the lockdown in their community. Her husband has already been arrested because of their conversion to Christianity – and now the police are looking for her too.
Christians living in these nations were already facing difficult challenges. The global pandemic has only served to make things more dire for them and their families.
5 things to remember and act on now
Even those of us who live in countries free from religious persecution are still facing difficult times. The continued spread of the virus and the widening economic impact is affecting us all. Add to that our isolation from one another and it’s easy to have doubts and fears.
1. Jesus remains the same
We all can take comfort in the words of Hebrews 13:8 that say: “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever.” Even in the face of instability and uncertainty, we know that there is a God who loves us and will continue to provide for us.
2. God’s Word protects us
Remember that God’s Word is our best encouragement and medicine. Proverbs 30:5 tells us: “Every word of God is flawless. He is a shield to those who take refuge in Him.” Even those of us who are not refugees from political persecution can still find safety and hope in reading the Scriptures.
3. Pray without ceasing
In times like this, we should remember to pray without ceasing. The Bible tells us we need to go to the Lord with our trials and problems. And certainly, this virus is a serious problem. In Philippians, Paul tells us: “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.”
4. Guard your heart
Be sure to also guard your heart. We must not let this virus discourage us. If you’re struggling with this, look to the book of Isaiah, which says: “For I am the Lord your God who takes hold of your right hand and says to you, Do not fear. I will help you.”
5. Serve others
Even though you likely have many needs during this time, use it as an opportunity to serve others. Ask God how you can serve the most vulnerable around you. Because as it says in Galatians 6:2: “Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.”
What Help The Persecuted is doing to help
1. Distributing food, hygiene items, and other critical support
The risk our Field Ministry Teams face operating in these hostile nations is present every day. That risk is perhaps even higher than ever because of the outbreak and lack of supplies. And because of that great risk, there is always a level of fear involved with the work they do.
“Fear exists,” said one of our Field Ministry Team members. “You can’t will it away. But the Lord grants courage to those who ask for it.” For those of us who are fearing today, take hope in this message.
One way to eradicate your own fear and uncertainty is by trusting Christ and providing hope to others. By standing together (even if that’s not literally), we remember that we are not alone. You have the opportunity to join that cause and reach others without leaving your house.
Donations to Help The Persecuted will go directly to providing life-saving items and other critical support. As our team members deliver food and hygiene baskets, medicine, and rent money – they do it all in the name of Jesus Christ. One desperate family who recently received help were so grateful and said,
“You are God’s image on this crooked earth. Thank you for showing us His love!”
In the best of times, your gifts remind persecuted Christians that they are not alone. In times of global crisis, your gifts are life-sustaining.
2. Creative solutions to novel problems
In the midst of chaos and crisis, God’s people become more creative and resourceful. Because of difficult circumstances, our team and the persecuted populations we serve are forced to get creative with solutions to unprecedented problems.
For example, medical supplies are in high demand, especially in areas where the resources are thin. And often protective gear can often mean the difference between getting infected or not—which may be a literal issue of life and death.
That’s why several resourceful people in the affected areas are finding ways to make their own medical masks and disinfectants, with the assistance of Help The Persecuted. This process not only keeps them active, but also gives them the protection they’ll need to stay healthy and alive.
Our team in Egypt became creative when a persecuted woman they had been in touch with was about to lose her job as a tailor. With Help The Persecuted funds they purchased her a sewing machine so she could continue working from home. She can now continue providing food and rent for her family during these difficult days. When our team leader Tarek delivered the sewing machine the woman was overwhelmed and asked why we did this for her. He replied, “It is the love of Christ that urges us to move! You are not alone.”
3. Using technology for evangelism
The coronavirus pandemic has forced us all into a new way of living—including social distancing and working from remotely home. Some of our Field Ministry Teams members are also adapting to similar circumstances. And in their case, this involves adopting digital evangelism and discipleship.
Take Amin, our Team Leader in Lebanon, for example. While in quarantine, Amin has focused his outreach efforts on Facebook and social media. That’s where he started a conversation with a devout Muslim man from Egypt.
The exchange started with the Egyptian’s criticism of Christianity, but Amin responded with a defense of Christ. Amin shared his testimony, which included the story of how Jesus transformed his life. After much back and forth, the Egyptian man gave his life to Christ!
Amin connected the man to our Egyptian Field Ministry Team Leader, Tarek, who is working on connecting the man to a local church. Even though they never met in person, Amin was able to witness to a stranger using an internet connection and his faith.
Despite the limitations and hardships that are coming from this epidemic, God is still at work. In fact, it may very well be the uncertainty and isolation of the disease that are causing more people to search for Christ.
While stuck at home in such a dire situation, many people around the world are questioning their faith. Many people are asking and seeking for answers. It’s an encouragement that our Field Ministry Team can provide answers in the form of Jesus Christ – whether they do it in word or deed.
As Kareem in Syria shared: “The Gospel is spreading faster than the virus!”