Persecuted Christians: What Happens to the Children?
With the immense amount of persecution the Christian Church has seen in 2011, the Christian community moves into 2012 with a hopeful focus on the church's future generations to carry the message of peace and faith.
Christians now wonder what happens to the children of persecuted parents, who, with their past experiences, are sure to carry the word of Jesus Christ with strength and conviction.
Christians living in China, Nigeria, South Sudan, Egypt, Bangladesh, and Pakistan have all seen momentous persecution in the past few years.
In some rare cases of persecution, government officials take orphans under their wing, at least financially, as seen in the Nigeria Christmas Day bombings.
On Christmas Day in Nigeria, Islamist terror group Boko Haram set off five bombs in the northern region of the country, three of which hit Catholic churches. The most devastating attack was on St. Theresa Catholic Church in Madalla, where 40 victims died and several others were injured.
Nigeria's Minister of the Interior, Patrick Abba Moro, has promised free scholarships to children Nancy Maduka and Master Chiedu, who were orphaned in the Madalla attack. Moro told reporters Dec. 29 that he will "be the father to the two children" as far as their educational pursuits are concerned.
Other organizations sometimes offer educational facilities to orphaned children, as seen with Stephen's Center International, located in Abeokuta, Nigeria. The school offers education for many children of persecuted parents, and is a sister organization of The Voice of the Martyrs USA, a nonprofit organization dedicated to helping the persecuted Christian Church throughout the world.
Todd Nettleton, media director at The Voice of the Martyrs USA, told The Christian Post that it is schools like the Stepehn's Center International that give children a "chance [at] the future."
Nettleton says he would remind children of persecuted parents "that they’re not alone [and] that this happens all over the world […] and that God is faithful. Even in the most difficult of circumstances we can entrust our children into His care.”
Another organization that aides children of persecuted parents is Christian Freedom International. Christian Freedom International's founder, Jim Jacobson, has risked his life delivering Bibles to underground churches in China and supplying medical aide to refugees in Burma.
Jacobson has adopted eight children from the religiously restrictive country of Burma. One of his adopted sons, Winner Lynn Jacobson, known as Mark by his friends, was orphaned at 6 years old when the Burmese militia murdered his father due to his Christian faith.
Mark was then placed in a "freedom house," or orphanage, in Thailand before he was adopted by Jim Jacobson and moved to the United States.
"It’s tough. You really want to be with your family, with your parents," Mark told The Christian Post.
Mark revealed to CP that, although times were tough, he would go to Sunday school and pray for those who killed his father, and reminded himself that his father "is in a better place."
"All you have to do is forgive those enemies and pray for them," he said.
Mark, an active Christian, now works for Christian Freedom International. The organization has several orphanages for those of the persecuted church in oppressive countries, including Egypt, India, and Thailand.
"I am so proud of my father. It was a tough time. It didn’t matter what they did to him, he still held onto his faith," Mark said of his deceased father.
As for advice for children who have also lost their parents to persecution, Mark said: "It doesn’t matter what happens, we still have a father in God. Be strong in your faith, move on in life. Just follow God’s will and He will use us. It’s not the end of life. If you move on God has a greater plan."
"God has opened up a better way for me. I'm in college now," he added, sharing that he is a freshman at Pensacola Christian College in Florida.
Open Doors USA is another nonprofit organization dedicated to letting the light of Christ shine in the most oppressive countries.
Jerry Dykstra, director of media operations at Open Doors USA, told The Christian Post that it is not just orphans of persecuted parents who suffer, but also children who must live their daily lives dealing with religious discrimination.
Children can be affected directly, such as being a victim of violence in their community. They can also be affected specifically, such as not being able to attend certain schools due to their religious faith, or having to live double lives, respecting the religion of their society while practicing Christianity in the privacy of their own homes. Lastly, children can be affected indirectly, such as losing parents due to violence or arrest.
Dykstra contends that "no parent would choose to keep their child in a land of famine if they had a choice, and very few would choose to keep their child in a war zone if they had any alternatives."
Yet every day, Christian mothers and fathers must walk the faulty line between keeping their children safe and staying true to their faith in Jesus Christ.
"The courage and conviction of many parents in the persecuted church is both inspiring and humbling, but often comes at a great cost – and the price is paid by both the parents and their children," Dykstra told CP.
Pastor Zhang Rongliang is a prime example of a persecuted parent who was eventually allowed to return to his two sons after being released from prison.
Rongliang was one of the original founders of China for Christ Church, which now has 10 million members. He was arrested in Dec. 2004 for "attaining a passport illegally” and "illegal border crossing," which was seen merely as a tactic by the Chinese government to punish him for his religious faith under the ruse of criminal charges.
Rongliang was released in August after spending seven years in a Chinese prison. Shortly after his release in August, Rongliang sat down with The Voice of the Martyrs to describe the obstacles he had to overcome while in prison and unable to spend time with his children.
"We have taught our children that this lifestyle is our duty. When we teach, we put more focus, more emphasis on the will of God and on the position that He has given to us," Rongliang told The Voice of the Martyrs.
"I know that many foreign pastors say that we must put the family first. I don't agree with this philosophy. God is Number One. God and His will must always be first in our lives. After that, He will take care of all other things," Rongliang added.
According to a report released by Aid to the Church in Need in March, 75 percent of the world's persecuted population are Christians. The report found that Iraq, Egypt, Nigeria, and Pakistan are among the worst places for believers to live.