On August 6, 10-year-old Egyptian girl Jessica Boulous was shot dead while walking home from Ahmed Esmat Street Evangelical Church with her Sunday school teacher.
This is just one recent and tragic example of Christian children facing hostility and discrimination in places where Christians are a persecuted minority.
As the next generation of the church, they desperately need our prayers and support. Christian children in Syria are especially in crisis. They are suffering acutely in the bloody conflict that has engulfed their country. According to our contacts in the country, thousands of children in Syria have been killed, and many more have been injured and disabled. Children are being tortured and used as shields during combat. Christian children are especially at risk of being attacked or murdered by rebel forces, who particularly target believers.
Abduction and abuse
Sexual violence has become rife, and teenage Christian girls are very vulnerable to abduction and abuse. Mariam, a 15-year-old Christian girl from al-Qusair, was abducted and gang-raped by Islamist fighters. Each day for 15 days, a different man ‘married’ Mariam and raped her before then repudiating her. Mariam’s abductors eventually killed her.
Thousands of children in Syria lack access to food, education and safe shelter. Many Christian families have been forced to flee their homes, losing everything. The price of essentials has been driven up beyond the reach of many, and shortages of food, water, medicines, petrol and electricity are forcing many children to go without the basics we take for granted.
Some children have not been to school since the conflict began more than two years ago; schools have been bombed, used as military barracks and shelters for displaced people or closed. It is too dangerous for some Christian children to travel to and from school, and for many children in Syria, the classroom is now a place of terror and trauma rather than a safe haven.
Children of Courage campaign
There seems little earthly hope for a settlement in the near future, and if an Islamist government were to prevail, the future of the church in Syria would be greatly under threat. As part of Barnabas Fund’s Children of Courage campaign, we are launching a major child sponsorship initiative in Syria to enable believers in the West to reach out to persecuted Christian children.
Sadly, the suffering of persecuted Christian children is a world-wide tragedy. Being born into a despised or persecuted Christian community often means growing up hungry, because discrimination bars many parents from all but the poorest paid jobs. Their little ones grow up without proper nourishment, and some children are deprived of a childhood because they have to work to help support their family. In Pakistan, many parents are forced to choose between feeding their child and paying for school fees.
Even when Christian parents are able to send their children to school, they have no certainty that the children will be well treated there. Christian schoolchildren in many countries face discrimination in the classroom and pressure to convert to the majority religion. They could even be deliberately failed in their exams, an injustice that destroys their opportunity to lift their family out of poverty. And some children are not safe from violence in the classroom. Ayman Nabil Labib, a 17-year-old Christian schoolboy in Egypt, was beaten to death by his classmates in 2011 because he bravely refused to conceal his cross. His teacher was involved in the violent attack.
Because they are unable to escape and often have no defenders, Christian children are easy targets for violence. They may be the specifically intended victims of attack, sexual violence or even murder. For example, a nine-year-old boy, John Ian Maina, was killed in September 2012 when his Sunday school class in Kenya was bombed by Islamist terrorists. In Pakistan and Egypt, Christian girls are at risk of being kidnapped, raped and forced to convert to Islam and marry their Muslim abductors.
In the face of these many and increasing pressures, persecuted Christian children need both practical support and spiritual encouragement if they are to be courageous in the years ahead. Barnabas Fund helps provide for these needs in more than 60 countries. Christian young people in the West also need to stand firm in their faith as it is publicly undermined and marginalised. They too need our prayers and support.
Raising tomorrow’s church
You can join believers around the world in remembering persecuted Christian children as part of a special week dedicated to the suffering church. The theme of Barnabas Fund’s Suffering Church Action Week 2013 will be Children of Courage: Raising tomorrow’s Church. The week will run from October 27 to November 3 and will include a worldwide Day of Prayer on Friday November 1 to pray for the next generation of courageous Christians.
Dr. Patrick Sookhdeo is the International Director, Barnabas Fund.
Please prayerfully consider how you and your church could get involved in Suffering Church Action Week. A free Children of Courage Inspiration Pack will be available to order. For more information, please visit www.childrenofcourage.org