As the days until Christmas dwindles, the greatest concern for some is completing the shopping list. However, for millions of Christians living in lands hostile to their faith – whether it is due to militant religious groups or the government – the greatest concern is honoring one of the most important Christian holidays while staying alive.
American Christians have voiced their concern for Christians celebrating Christmas in countries with high incidents of persecution, in particular Indonesia – a site of recent sectarian strife and the world’s most populous Muslim nation.
"We always kind of brace over the Christmas holiday," said Jeremy Sewall, International Christian Concern (ICC) policy analyst, on Thursday. "Because we know that usually over Christmas Muslim [extremists] will use this time to target Christians where Muslims are in the majority and Christians are in the minority."
Last year, bomb squads searched churches in Indonesia before Christmas Eve services and soldiers stood guard during the ceremonies. However, despite the heightened precaution around Christmas day, an Indonesian church was torched two weeks prior to Christmas and a bomb killed more than 8 people and left 48 wounded in a Christian market in the religiously divided province of Central Sulawesi on New Year’s Eve.
Years earlier on Christmas Eve of 2000, a series of bomb explosions occurred at churches and killed at least 16 people.
The struggle faced by persecuted Christians to practice their belief has stood as a challenge to some Christians living in countries where religious freedom is upheld by both the government and its citizens.
The Rev. Dr. Keith Roderick, Christian Solidarity International’s Washington representative, wrote Thursday: “After meeting with Christians who practice their faith under very difficult circumstances I am always ashamed by how little is my own faith.”
Roderick listed difficulties faced by many Christians to attend services and give sermons for fear of being kidnapped or assassinated. He believes, however, that the persecuted Christians will “overcome their fears” and witness to Christians living in countries where they can freely worship.
CSI is a Christian human rights group focused on working with Christians in Egypt, Iraq, Lebanon, Iran and other areas of the Islamic world, .
Yet some Indonesian Christian leaders have reassured concerned believers that the situation in Indonesia has improved.
"Despite constant bomb threats over the years, I believe that the situation is getting better," said the Rev. Hanny Ticoalu, vice head of the Central Sulawesi Pastor Association, according to Open Doors USA.
Nevertheless, he urged Christians in Indonesia to be alert of any suspicious packages that might contain explosive materials and to advocate interfaith relationships with the Muslim community.
ICC’s Sewall concluded: "The very reason to celebrate Christmas is to remember that Jesus Christ, God Himself, came down in human form and in the flesh to be with us. I think that is a great encouragement especially for Christians in persecuted countries to know that Christ is with them."