Are you getting excited? There is always a special buzz this time of year as our neighborhoods and shopping malls once again boldly display their holiday decorations. For believers in Jesus’ supernatural invasion into our world, Christmas is a reason to sing our joy from the roof tops.
But what if Christmas decorations and songs targeted us for those set on ending our lives? Hard to imagine, right? Yet there are places in the world where those threats are a reality. These are the areas where religious extremism is growing against Christianity. These are the “Red Zones.”
For believers living in Red Zones, Christmas will look very different. Most will find it difficult to celebrate with their families and their underground churches that are in very real danger. But maybe there is a way we can help change their story. Let me explain…
PAKISTAN: Pakistan proclaims religious freedom for Christians, but the underground reality is much different. Ministries have been firebombed, pastors have been brutally beaten in the streets, and missionaries are hunted by Muslim extremists.
Despite all they face, Pastor Ollie and Nadia are two on-site partners in Pakistan who are pushing back the onslaught against their brothers and sisters in Christ. Ollie has worked diligently to plant the first known churches for Pakistan’s most unreached people group, while Nadia has established secret safe house gatherings for underground believers along the border of Afghanistan. These are areas populated with radical jihadists, requiring special care for discipleship and evangelism outreaches.
Around the time we are meeting openly in our congregations for Christmas Eve services, the underground Pakistani church will also gather. In small groups they will huddle around an iPad screen or Skype signal via cell phone, tools you as supporters helped purchase. From a remote location, Nadia can lead them in some hymns about Jesus’ birth and then walk them through the Christmas story. It will not be an extravagant celebration, but it will bring the much needed hope that our Savior is known for.
NORTH AFRICA: Alpha Relief supports a special training and restoration center in North Africa for missionaries and church planters. Most of these brave students have suffered for their faith in Christ but are now committed to going back into Red Zones to reach their persecutors with the Gospel. Amazingly, some students are even former African-Islamic extremists who persecuted believers. After radical encounters with Jesus, they too want to bring the same freedom to their families.
Ezekiel graduated from the school and is now supported by your gifts as a church planter in a North African Red Zone where more than 70% of the population follow Islam. He leads a small gathering of former Muslim believers, all of whom he led to Jesus. Recently, the Lord moved Ezekiel to take a huge risk and speak openly about his faith with a respected Islamic teacher. After days of gently sharing the truth of the Gospel, the teacher finally admitted that he was convinced Jesus was in fact Lord.
Ezekiel conveyed this to us: “Now, I am waiting for the day of his final decision. I believe that in his heart he is already a follower of the Messiah. He is afraid of the community to declare it. I need prayer support that God would change his life. Although he knows that our talk does not expose him as a Christian, still he is afraid that he may be stoned to death.” As Christmas day dawns in this North African Red Zone, there is a very real chance that this teacher will be joining Ezekiel’s small church in celebrating the birth of his new Savior.
Friends, these amazing Christmas stories are possible because of your prayers and support. The celebration of Jesus’ birth in Red Zones looks much different than our own and is much more dangerous than we can possibility understand. Even so, every person in Christ’s family is connected by this miraculous hope: Jesus entered the world and rescued us!
Would you prayerfully consider continuing that rescue story for many others who desperately need the freedom Jesus offers? Heroes like Ollie, Nadia, Ezekiel, and the churches they serve, need us to come alongside them. Your support this Christmas can ensure their mission continues to thrive, as well as the mission of many others in Red Zones all around the world. On behalf of our family around the world; Merry Christmas, and thank you for ensuring hope!