What’s the worst crisis facing the world today? Famine? Ethnic wars? Terrorism? Middle East tension? Chinese expansionism?

Those are all serious problems, to be sure. But, I think one could make the case that the greatest evil being perpetrated on the grandest scale is the systematic persecution of Christians.

Christians are not only the most persecuted group in the world today, says the international human rights group Freedom House. Eleven countries now practice systematic persecution of Christians, says Nina Shea, author of “In the Lion’s Den.” They are China, Pakistan, Laos, North Korea, Vietnam, Cuba, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Egypt, Nigeria and Uzbekistan. These 11 nations — and others that practice a more random brand of persecution — are dominated by one of two belief systems, Communism or militant Islam.

Between 60 million and 100 million Christians face persecution in China today, according to the Wall Street Journal. Think about the size of that group. That’s a church perhaps bigger than its counterpart in the United States — and it’s underground, illegal, cruelly oppressed.

Freedom House reports that Islamic Sudan has abducted or killed more than 1 million of its own people in a jihad against non-Muslims. Young Christian boys are held captive, forced to convert to Islam and then sold as slaves. There are even reports of crucifixions of Christians in Sudan.

When we think of Christian persecution, our thoughts turn to Rome and the Coliseum lions. Yet, what’s happening today is far worse — both in terms of numbers and brutality.

Never before in the history of the world have so many Christians been persecuted for their beliefs, reports the August Reader’s Digest. An estimated 200 million to 250 million Christians are at risk.

“We are not talking about mere discrimination,” says Nina Shea, director of the Puebla Program on Religious Freedom, “but real persecution–torture, enslavement, rape, imprisonment, forcible separation of children from parents.”

Two important new books have helped force this issue into the open — Shea’s “In the Lion’s Den” and Paul Marshall’s “Their Blood Cries Out.”

I recently saw a video smuggled out of China showing the activities and precautions of what they call the “home church” movement. When I had heard this term before, I assumed people met in small groups. Yet, this video shows groups of hundreds, perhaps thousands, meeting in heavily wooded areas and caves. Emotions run high. You wouldn’t mistake one of these meetings with an American church service. There’s dancing and singing and clapping and tears and laughter unlike anything I have ever witnessed before.

And it’s no wonder they are so energized. In China, thousands have been sentenced to “re-education camps” for simply attending one of these services or a Bible study meeting.

I could only imagine that the words of Jesus, recorded in the Gospel of John, must have been ringing in their ears: “If the world hate you, ye know that it hated me before it hated you. If ye were of the world, the world would love his own: but because ye are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you. Remember the word that I said unto you, The servant is not greater than his lord. If they have persecuted me, they will also persecute you; if they have kept my saying, they will keep yours also. But all these things will they do unto you for my name’s sake, because they know not him that sent me. If I had not come and spoken unto them, they had not had sin: but now they have no cloak for their sin. He that hateth me hateth my Father also. If I had not done among them the works which none other man did, they had not had sin: but now have they both seen and hated both me and my Father.”

These prophetic words ought to be a warning to believers in the West, too. It not only can happen, Jesus says. It will happen.

If the situation in China is bad, Sudan is worse — far worse. The Nuba Mountains are now a wasteland of mass graves, destroyed villages and camps filled with starving women and children, according to the Reader’s Digest report. Half a million Nuba Christians, virtually all men, have been killed in the past decade.

“The word genocide is thrown around too frequently,” says Marshall. “In the case of Sudan, however, it is a factual description.”

Michael Horowitz, senior fellow at the Hudson Institute, call Christians “the Jews of the 21st century.”

“It may be easier for me to see the eerie parallels between what is happening to Christian communities today and what happened to my people during much of Europe’s history,” he says.

He’s stunned that most American Christians seem oblivious to the problem. And to rectify that situation, Horowitz is helping the churches to organize an International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church on November 16. Horowitz says Christians can send the world’s tyrants a message that day.

It had better not be a message of apathy.

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