Saudi Arabia is the country that we are focusing on this week for the 5-5-5 Challenge. It ranks as the second most difficult place to be a follower of Jesus in the world on the Open Door’s World Watch List (second only to North Korea).
There is no provision for religious freedom in the constitution of Saudi Arabia. All citizens must adhere to Islam and conversion to another religion is punishable by death. Public corporate worship of Jesus is forbidden and worshippers risk imprisonment, lashing, deportation and torture. Evangelizing Muslims and distributing non-Muslim materials is illegal. Muslims who leave Islam to follow our Lord Jesus risk honor killings.
Doesn’t sound like a super appealing place to live as a Christian, does it?
Well recently an American Christian named Mike* got on a plane to Saudi Arabia’a place many of us have no plans on visiting. He just received his visa to go back to Saudi Arabia to live for a set amount of time.
Mike is looking forward to going back to Saudi Arabia, despite the potential trials that lay before him.
“Saudi Arabia is home to Mecca and many Saudis are very wealthy,” says Mike. “Being Saudi is something that the people of Saudi Arabia take pride in. They live in a society which adheres to a strict observance of Islam. While there are many devout Muslims, there are some Muslims who are functional atheists.”
As Mike shared, it became obvious that Saudi Arabia was a very unique mission field. I couldn’t help but think of the rich young ruler in Mark 10, when Mike described the wealth that was woven through Saudi Arabian society. In that passage, Jesus said that it was easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of heaven. In a nation of such great wealth, it was vital to find the right way to witness to non- Christians.
“Honor is probably the most important thing to Saudis,” Mike shared. “We in America come from a background where the gospel is appealing because we are empowered when we have Christ. Many Saudis already feel empowered (because of their wealth and their religion), so it is important to focus on how when we have Christ, we are honored. He is the only one who can bring us to the honorable state of being with God the Father.”
Mike’s main objective while in Saudi Arabia is to share Jesus with Muslims there. He knows that it is a very dangerous task, as it is illegal to evangelize to Muslims. As noted before, Saudi Arabia is a very difficult place to be a believing Christian.
“You are usually ok being a Christian in Saudi Arabia, as long as your faith is not displayed publicly,” says Mike. “Since it is such a pervasive Islamic society, it is vital that Christians don’t do anything to stand out. Many Christians end up not eating during Ramadan, partially so they do not stick out and partially because it is so difficult to do so (all of restaurants are closed during the day). Non-Saudi Christians from ‘first world’ countries tend to have more ‘wiggle room’ than other Christians. However, Non-Saudi Christians from ‘third world’ countries like Eritrea, Ethiopia, or the Philippines face much more persecution. Saudi Secret police have raided their house churches and I have heard reports of those Christians being arrested for a year, before they are deported to their homeland.”
“There are very few Saudi Christians, but they do exist,” Mike continued. “These believers can be victims of honor killings if their faith is discovered. I have heard reports of a Saudi believer being tortured for their faith and another killed. If a Saudi’s faith is not discovered, they often have no outside resources, no church, no support group–they are all alone.”
I was struck by an empathetic feeling of loneliness’ I couldn’t imagine how difficult it must be to be a Saudi Christian. Not only do these believers live in a constant fear of having their illegal faith discovered (an act punishable by torture or death), but they also have no support group, no one to share their struggles with in a native context.
This is why it is so important for us to be One With Them. In places like North Korea and Saudi Arabia, Indigenous believers in Christ often feel isolated and alone. But God can use our prayers to bring them comfort and encouragement in their darkest moments. God can (and has) changed the hearts of leaders and governments who were once so opposed to His gospel. This is why it is vital for us to pray.
Mike asked us to pray for this specifically: that God would reveal Himself to the Muslim people of Saudi Arabia.
“God is doing a work in this country,” says Mike. “Please pray that God would touch the ears, eyes, hearts and minds of the Saudi people. That He would reveal His truth to them in a way that opens past wealth or other cultural factors. That more people would be drawn to a saving relationship through Christ.”
*Name has been changed for security reasons.