Sometime in November, the North Korean regime publicly executed eighty people in seven cities across the country. In each instance, a crowd was forced to watch as ten people, their heads covered with white bags, were tied to stakes and machine gunned to death.
The "crimes" for which these people were put to death were "watching or illegally trafficking South Korean videos, or involvement in prostitution, [or] possessing a Bible."
That's right. Possessing a Bible.
While what happened last month was horrific, it should not come as a surprise. North Korea "enjoys" the dubious distinction of being the "most hazardous nation on earth in which to be a Christian" for eleven consecutive years.
That's according to Open Doors, an organization that monitors persecution of Christians around the world.
There's another reason why the executions shouldn't come as a complete surprise: we are in the midst of what John L. Allen has called a "global war on Christians."
That's the title of his new book. In keeping with the subtitle–-"Dispatches from the Front Lines of Anti-Christian Persecution"-–Allen provides snapshots of the suffering of Christians around the world.
And nowhere is that suffering more pronounced than in North Korea. There, the regime engages, in Allen's words, "in systematic barbarity against Christians and other perceived dissidents reminiscent of the world's most appalling human rights violations, such as Auschwitz, Treblinka, and the killing fields of Cambodia."
An estimated one-quarter of the country's Christians are behind bars. There, "as many as 70 percent of these prisoners are 'severely malnourished,' and 'torture, rape, and public executions are common.' "
For those who aren't behind bars, life in this police state/mass cult is just as bad. In a scene that hearkened back to the early church in the Roman Empire, pastors who refused to participate in the personality cult built around the ruling Kim family experienced their church bulldozed with them in it.
As horrendous as these stories are, they're unfortunately only a small part of the persecution Christians face every day all around the world. As Allen notes, according to a study by the Pew Forum, "between 2006 and 2010 . . . Christians had been harassed in a total of 139 nations, which is almost three-quarters of all the countries on earth."
The International Society for Human Rights has estimated that "80 percent of all acts of religious discrimination in the world today are directed against Christians."
This harassment and discrimination takes many forms: institutional and employment discrimination, suppression of missionary activity to the ultimate form of discrimination, death.
Allen notes that estimates of the number of Christians who are killed because they are Christian range from 7,300 to 100,000 every year. Even at the low end, that represents nearly one per hour.
As Allen writes, "[I grew] up a Catholic in western Kansas during the 1970s and 80s, and the closest I ever came to suffering for the faith was eating fish sticks or macaroni and cheese on Fridays during Lent."
Researching Christian persecution around the world drove home the fact that "there's something so precious about faith in Christ and membership in the church that, when push comes to shove, ordinary people will pay in blood rather than let it go."
That's why we're going to spend the next few days discussing Allen's book. We owe it to our suffering brethren to make their stories known. Please tune in.