Persecuted Christians may be among the last things on people's minds this Christmas, but a ministry is seeking to change that with its 2008 Christmas Catalog that features gifts for the oppressed and too often forgotten believers.
"The freedom with which we celebrate Christmas in most Western democracies can make it easy to forget that the birth and life of our Savior was and is opposed by many who still walk in darkness," writes Jeff King, president of International Christian Concern, in a recent newsletter promoting the Christmas Catalog.
"That opposition means December is a time when our ministry is on special alert for attacks against Christians," he added
Last year, violence broke out in India over a nativity scene, claiming the lives of at least five Christians, while Christians living in the Gaza Strip observed a somber Christmas after the murder of a well-respected Christian leader.
The Christmas season is also a time of great tension for Christians in Indonesia, the world's most populous Muslim country. Police often have to stand guard in front of major churches during Christmas services to prevent attacks from Muslim militant groups in the country.
The ICC Christmas Catalog for the persecuted includes funds to support underground pastors, provide bicycles for pastors, support short-term or long-term training for workers on the frontline of mission, give sight to the blind in Sudan, help churches fight legal battles pertaining to religious freedom, and fund an investigative trip to the persecuted.
Gift donations can be in the amount of $1 or more, with the complete gift amount for most items ranging from $40 to $100.
Also, ICC highlights that a major donor has pledged to match the donation for the "Where Most Needed" fund. In other words, each dollar donated will actually be $2 towards the fund.
"Where Most Needed" money will be used towards whatever is most urgently needed without a category fund.
In one country, for example, ICC realized that the government was discriminating against elderly Christians in its distribution of social services. The local church wanted to take care of the older believers that were being discriminated against and asked ICC to help. ICC used the "Where Most Needed" fund to help the elderly in this community because the situation did not fit any other designated funds.
"As you consider how to prepare for your Christmas celebration, we pray the Father will remind you of His heartbeat for His children who are obediently sharing in the suffering of His beloved Son so that Jesus' life might also be manifested in them to shine in a darkened world," King encouraged.
The persecution hotspots this year are India, where over 30,000 Christians have been displaced from their homes by Hindu militants, and Iraq where more than 15,000 Christians were driven out of Mosul by Islamic extremists.
It is estimated that 100 million Christians worldwide suffer interrogation, arrest and even death for their faith in Christ, with millions more facing discrimination and alienation, according to Open Doors USA.
North Korea is ranked as the worst persecutor of Christians, followed by Saudi Arabia, then Iran, in the 2008 World Watch List by Open Doors. Afghanistan ranked seventh while China rounded out the top 10 in the last spot.
On the Web: www.persecution.org