“I live in permanent fear,” says Fati (not her real name), a young mother and wife. “Whenever I hear a gunshot, I get scared, and I think they are back to kill us all.”
Living in fear is a daily reality for believers like Fati in Burkina Faso, where Islamic militants have driven more than two million people from their homes since the insurgency in Mali began spilling over in 2016.
The attacks don’t stop
Fati remembers the first time the militants attacked her Christian village. They spent the day firing their weapons, before leaving and returning three days later. “This time, they went through the entire village shooting at everything and everyone,” she recalls. “They set fire to the marketplace, set fire to people’s houses, their possessions and their animals. The cattle and flocks were doused in petrol and burned alive. Those who were able to run hid themselves, but many people were burned alive in their houses.”
After a third attack, locals began taking supplies to a nearby village, in case they had to flee – but the militants caught wind of their plan. “The terrorists then placed explosives along the road to stop the displaced people from reaching safety,” shares Fati.
The attacks on Fati’s village continued with increasing devastation, including one occasion when Fati was in a nearby village dropping off supplies whilst her husband and children were at home attending a prayer meeting. Learning of the attack, Fati ran home fearing the worst. “When I got to the village, I couldn’t find the children or my husband. I finally found them hiding in nearby bush.”
“God will be with us no matter what”
The family fled to the nearby village before heading to the capital, Ouagadougou. “On our way to the city, the few things that I was able to save from home were stolen,” continues Fati. “We were empty-handed, and we didn’t have any food or housing.”
When they arrived in Ouagadougou, Fati and her family found support from the local church. “When we came here, the church received us with love,” she says. “They cried with us and they comforted us. They helped us with money and food and also comforted us with the Word of God.”
Through the upheaval, trauma and loss, the family know that they’ve never been alone. “The Bible says that we will face trials in this world. But He says He will make a way for us. We believe these words written in the Bible. And this gives us life. It strengthens our faith and brings joy into our lives. When I think God has forsaken us, I remember His words in the Bible. He tells us that He will be with us no matter what.
“I’d like to thank all those who supported us in prayer,” adds Fati. “You helped us to carry our burden. God has answered your prayers. He saved us from hardship, problems and temptations.”
2022 was no small year for us at Open Doors, and likely not for you, either. Amidst the busy-ness, grief, pain, joy, excitement, and the myriad of other things that the year brought, here are four truths that we were reminded of in 2022.
1. You can’t believe in resurrection without crucifixion
Persecution is never the end of the story.
Jesus’ triumph over sin would not have been possible without first His death. We know that persecution is biblical. And while that doesn’t mean that we’re running towards persecution, glorifying it, or ignoring it, it does have implications for what we do.
That’s why our mission is not to end persecution. Instead, our mission is to make sure that no Christian suffers persecution alone; to go to even the most dangerous places to strengthen the Church so that when persecution does come, they are equipped to stand in the face of it. To ensure that the hope of Jesus is proclaimed in the darkest places, knowing that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us (Romans 8:18).
2. No greater honour than to be called a disciple of Jesus Christ
In September 2022, the founder of Open Doors, Brother Andrew, passed away. Before he died, Andrew recorded some thoughts on what he might want on his tombstone.
“I have options,” he said. “One of my ideas— ‘He is not here, he has risen!’ Another option is, ‘He did what he couldn’t,’ or, like Oswald Chambers’ gravestone, ‘Oswald Chambers, a disciple of Jesus Christ.’ That gives glory to God: a disciple of Jesus Christ. Is any further explanation needed?
“Is there a greater honour than to be called a disciple of Jesus Christ?”
It’s so easy to be caught up in who we think we are, or even who we think we should be. In how other people perceive us, or how we want to be remembered. Yet we are not called to build lives for ourselves that will be remembered on our own merit. Rather, we are called to build lives that will help others remember Jesus.
Our lives are not our own; we were bought at great cost, and now have the honour of being called disciples of Jesus Christ.
3. Indifference can be worse than persecution
Brother Andrew once said:
“Persecution is an enemy the Church has met and mastered many times. Indifference could prove to be a far more dangerous foe.”
As we hear the stories of our persecuted family, stories of those who have endured devastating pain because of their love of Jesus, we are reminded of the holy priesthood that being in the body of Christ entails. We are one body, even if we forget. Persecution for following Jesus makes indifference difficult to live in.
The ministry of Open Doors helps strengthen those being persecuted, while at the same time offering others a nudge, or a prompt, out of indifference. Understanding the persecution that others face can show us all aspects of our lives where complacency or indifference have found a footing.
4. We’re hear to talk about Christ Jesus
A Christian in Egypt called Matta shares about their expectation of suffering. He quotes 2 Timothy 3:12, saying persecution is the normal expectation of godly living and that the church has been under pressure from the book of Acts onwards. He says, “The Bible says it; don’t complain about it.”
But it’s not about glamorising persecution. Far from it. Matta says that believers agonise over it and grieve every time a brother or sister suffers for the sake of Christ. He says emphatically, “We’re not here to sell persecution; we’re here to talk about the victory in Christ.”
Victory in Christ – what a wonderful perspective! It’s the perspective of the Apostle Paul when he writes from prison (Philippians 3:10, 20). It’s the perspective of the exiled Apostle John when he writes to persecuted believers at the end of the first century (Revelation 1:17-18). And it’s the type of perspective that equips all believers throughout the ages to deal with whatever adversity lies before us.
Thank you for partnering with Open Doors to strengthen the persecuted church in 2022! We are so grateful for your support, and we look forward to seeing what God has in store for us all in 2023.
He smuggled Bibles behind the Iron Curtain, met with the underground church in communist China, shared about Jesus with leaders of Islamic extremist groups in the Middle East and established the ministry of Open Doors in 1955.
We honour the life of Andrew Van der Bijl, better known as Brother Andrew, the founder of Open Doors, who passed away peacefully aged 94 on Tuesday 27 September.
When he was 24, Brother Andrew prayed a powerful prayer that would forever change the trajectory of his life.
From that moment, Brother Andrew dedicated his life to following God’s calling, no matter the cost.
The Bible smuggler
Image: Brother Andrew and his collection of over a thousand bibles, in different languages.
In 1955, he travelled to Poland to share the gospel at a youth festival. Over the next two years, Brother Andrew spent over 10 weeks behind the Iron Curtain, sharing the gospel and delivering Bibles to communities who were persecuted and isolated for their faith.
From there, Brother Andrew’s ministry continued to grow as he carried the transformative message of the gospel to spiritually hungry communities and empowered believers around the world to stand firm in their faith.
In 1981, the ministry of Brother Andrew, now known as Open Doors, carried out a radical mission. The operation known as ‘Project Pearl’ saw 1 million Bibles smuggled into China overnight. After the success of Project Pearl, another 5 million pieces of Christian material were delivered across Latin America in 1985, bringing much-needed hope and wisdom to believers for generations to come.
Image: Brother Andrew befriending a Muslim leader, Abu Nassar, in Gaza.
Later in his life, Brother Andrew turned his eyes towards the Muslim world. He visited the Middle East several times throughout the 1990s, meeting with Muslims of all backgrounds to discuss faith and share the life-changing message of Jesus. He also met with Christians throughout the region, seeking to find a place for peace and unity — encouraging Palestinian and Israeli Christians to meet as fellow believers.
Image: Brother Andrew at his home in the Netherlands, in 2020
Brother Andrew’s story is one of humble faith in action, sharing Christ’s love and strengthening others to remain firm in the hope of the gospel.
He believed every door was open to the gospel of Jesus Christ and said, “You can get in anywhere if you go to serve.”
Though he is no longer with us, Brother Andrew’s powerful legacy continues to live through the ministry of Open Doors, as we help people follow Jesus no matter the cost in over 70 countries.
As we remember Brother Andrew and the legacy he left behind, please pray for the ongoing work of the ministry and consider supporting the persecuted church in the most dangerous places as they follow Jesus, no matter the cost.
1. Learn more about Brother Andrew. Get our free Brother Andrew NANO youth session outline or order a free comic copy of his book ‘God’s Smuggler’…
2. Add you your light to our interactive prayer map and help make hope last across the Middle East. Do that here…
3. Learn more and pray: Get our free glow-in-the-dark World Watch List Map and find out more about the places where faith costs the most. Get your map here…
4. Pray regularly: Every Monday night at 7pm we’ll be praying one prayer for one minute for the one in seven Christians around the world who face persecution. Set an alarm and tune in…
You know the Christmas story already right? Angels appearing and sayng, ‘do not be afraid’. A really long journey involving a heavily pregnant woman. The lack of hotel rooms and then Jesus being born and laid in a manger. The shepherds and wise men following a star and finding Jesus. So, as the nights start getting colder and longer, you may be thinking that you need a rest, rather than hearing that same familiar story all over again?
We can know a lot about Jesus and the Christmas story. Kind of like social media – you can follow a load of people and know a lot about them, but do we really know them? It can be the same with our faith – do we really know Jesus?
Image: Boy looking out over a city in Egypt – illustrative image – this isn’t Adel.
Knowing about to knowing: Adel’s story
Adel is 10 and he lives in Egypt. He’s grown up knowing his family are called ‘Christians’. He’s learnt the Lord’s prayer, goes to church at Christmas and is treated differently because of his faith. But he didn’t really understanding what being a Christian means. Adel knew about Jesus, but didn’t actually know Him.
From a young age Adel was forced to start working at a rubbish filtration workshop. If he didn’t bring home enough money at the end of the day, his dad would beat him.
Meanwhile, at his job, Adel was humiliated by his boss and teammates: he says he was paid less than his Muslim co-workers, and they would make fun of him and call him ‘crazy’ because he was known as a Christian. Remember, he’s only 10. That’s a lot to deal with.
Adel was understandably unhappy. He heard about a children’s group that was meeting during his break time and decided to go. Here, for the first time, Adel heard about a God that had created him and loved him. One of the most important topics he learnt about was ‘God as a father’. This was massive for Adel, as his idea of God had been distorted because of his own experience with his father.
A new chapter opened in Adel’s life. “Knowing God makes me feel happy.” Adel says: “I know I have a Father in heaven that I can always talk to. That’s amazing.”
Adel changed. Before he knew about God. Now he know’s God. He knows he has a loving Heavenly Father, and amazing truth, especially if our earthly dads aren’t what we hoped they would be.
What about you?
So here’s the question: Are we so familiar with the story of Christmas that we forget how amazing it is to get to know God? For Adel knowing there is a God he can always speak to has changed how he sees himself and his life. For us, choosing to get to know Jesus could be the best possible way to celebrate Christmas this year.
“No one has ever seen God, but the one and only Son, who is himself God and is in closest relationship with the Father, has made him known.”
As you hear or watch the Christmas story this year, we are praying you will see and know Jesus more.