This week offers a tremendous opportunity for prayer that those of the Muslim faith visiting Saudi Arabia encounter Christ.
This week, men and women from as many as 190 countries will make the journey to Islam’s holiest city in order to complete haj — a pilgrimage that all Muslims are expected to complete at least once in their lifetime if they are financially and physically able. As over two million Muslims converge on Mecca, Saudi Arabia for the pilgrimage that started on Oct. 13 and ends Oct. 18 this year, pray they might have dreams that point them to Christ or that they even meet Christians as they travel to the kingdom to fulfill their religious duty.
Saudi Arabia is ranked as the second-most oppressive nation for Christians. Even foreigners visiting the country risk jail, expulsion, lashings, torture and even death for sharing their Christian faith with Muslims or even practicing it.
In this country that allows no religious freedom, men and women who have decided to follow Christ do so despite the great costs. Some must flee for their lives. In May 2013, a woman known only as “the girl of Khobar” fled the country after her father threatened to kill her because she had converted from Islam to Christianity. The woman’s family accused two of her male coworkers of brainwashing her and helping her flee the country. One, a Saudi, received 200 lashes and two years in prison for helping her flee. The other, a Lebanese Christian, was sentenced by authorities to 300 lashes and two years in prison for converting her.
Like the Lebanese man, Christian expatriates from other countries, particularly Eritrea, India and the Philippines, are often targeted by Saudi religious police and face severe punishment for proselytizing or even meeting together for private worship. Mussie Eyob, a 33-year-old Eritrean Christian and a convert from Islam, was arrested in Feb. 2011 for preaching to Muslims and sentenced to death. Numerous groups, including The Voice of the Martyrs’ readers, prayed and contacted authorities, and instead of death, Eyob was deported back to Eritrea in Nov. 2011.
On Jan. 21, 2011, just prior to Eyob’s arrest, Indian Christians were targeted by religious authorities who raided their prayer meeting. Four escaped, but Vasantha Sekhar Vara, 28, and Yohan Nese, 31, spent 45 days in prison and were subject to beatings and harsh conditions in the overcrowded prison. When pressured to convert to Islam, both men remained committed to Christ. Vasantha told his pastor, “If I have to die for my God, I will die for him here.” Released and deported to India in July 2011, the two are examples of what Christians often face in Saudi Arabia. Their house church is still in danger of being discovered by religious police.
YOUR TURN: How will you pray for Christians and Muslims in Saudi Arabia during this week of heightened spiritual significance?
Sources: VOM sources, Reuters
Ann Kay is a writer for VOM. She learned about VOM five years ago when she read Tortured for Christ and began receiving the newsletter. She is passionate about reaching the world for Christ and sharing stories of the persecuted church.