Throughout the globe, this is the choice of persecuted Christians struggling to survive in the midst of the COVID-19 global crisis.
In parts of the world like Southeast Asia, West Africa and the Gulf region, many believers are day laborers, living hand-to-mouth. Others in full-time ministry rely on church donations to survive.
“When the pandemic began to hit country after country, we started to receive phone calls and other pleas for help,” Open Doors’ Asia team director says. “We quickly realized that in many places, Christians were in a very vulnerable position. No income for the day often means no meal that day. Starvation became a real threat.”
Layered on top of the economic impact is the persecution that Christians, especially converts, say they are encountering from the state, as well as local leaders in tribal areas.
Sam*, an Open Doors local partner in Southeast Asia, explains that the economic impact of the lock downs have paved a way for persecution.
“Christians aren’t getting the support that people who follow the majority religion get,” he says. “In fact, sometimes it’s even worse. For example, in Bangladesh extremist Muslims may tell them: ‘We will give you food if you come back to Islam.’”
In this Muslim-majority nation bordering India and Myanmar, the government is offering widespread assistance to its citizens. But some Christians, especially those coming from a Muslim or Buddhist background in rural areas, aren’t receiving that support. Sam explains: “They are not able to receive the support because when it goes to the villages, the village head normally discriminates against the Christians. They say, ‘Well, you’re Christian. You became a Christian so you are not part of this support.’”
For new believers struggling to feed their families, especially in these rural areas, the deprivation of food and other resources can be a critical factor in the growth of the church.
“In tribal societies, community is the lifeline. No one can survive without it,” Sam explains. “The faith of many new believers in these areas is fragile. They need to become stronger in the Lord.”
Samuel delivers a sobering bottom line: “If they don’t have the means to survive, they may die or convert back to Islam.”
Bangladesh has been ranked by Open Doors as the 38th worst country to practice Christianity on the 2020 world watch list.