The Sorrow and Strength of Persecuted Women

A Syrian woman comforts her children after their house was bombed. AFP Photo / Zein al-Rifai

This past Sunday was Mother’s Day, a time set aside to honor the women who have nurtured and cared for us. For many, the day was joyful or reflective, complete with flower bouquets, brunch, and tender words. Even in the glow of that celebration, however, we are mindful of the deep sorrow endured by mothers and women facing religious persecution around the world.

“The greatest offense or violation one can bring to a community is to target their women and children,” said Kate Ward (whose identity is being protected). Ward organized an international conference on Women and Persecution in partnership with the International Institute for Religious Freedom and the Religious Liberty Partnership (RLP), where discrimination and violent attacks against women of faith were discussed. “We see this through the countless atrocities now being witnessed by many.”

If we listen carefully, we can hear the cries of women around the world — those who are devastated because of the brutality of others who wish to oppress them, often using religious texts to subjugate and silence them. Their stories break our hearts and shape our convictions.

In the last three years, the 21Wilberforce team has heard Yezidi young women tell of their horrific experiences before escaping from ISIS captors. We have listened to distressing stories of Iraqi mothers, including one whose three-year-old daughter was yanked from her lap and kidnapped by ISIS.

Their stories break our hearts and shape our convictions

In Nigeria, Boko Haram kidnaps children and women, burns their schools, sells girls into forced marriage, and kills many others. We have heard the sobbing account of the mother of one Chibok girl who is still held captive by terrorists after four years. We pray every day for 16-year-old Leah, who is the only girl left in captivity after confessing to being a Christian, even as Boko Haram released her Muslim friends.

A Syrian mother shared about the attack by Islamic terrorists on her village and how her daughter, who was only ten, witnessed horrific images worse than any seen by most combat veterans. We are haunted by the plight of Asia Bibi, a Pakistani Christian woman accused of blasphemy who sits on death row because she drank from a water bowl shared with non-Christians.

Yet even in the midst of these horrific stories, God is raising up strong and faithful women to be champions for religious freedom. When Christians were driven from their homes in the Nineveh Plains in Iraq, it was the Dominican nuns — themselves displaced — who organized clinics and schools for their people. As Boko Haram burns schools down in Northern Nigeria, Rebecca Gadzama and others work to replace them. Following the death last year of Chinese dissident and Nobel Peace Prize recipient Liu Xiaobo while under police guard, his wife Liu Xia continues to shine the light on Chinese oppression even as she remains under house arrest.

In history, William Wilberforce and Abraham Lincoln receive deserved credit for their role in abolishing slavery. Yet many would argue that it was Hannah Moore (England) and Harriet Beecher Stowe (author of Uncle Tom’s Cabin) who did more to sway public opinion against slavery through their writings than even these hallowed political leaders.

Another Mother’s Day is tucked into memory. As we continue to reflect on this greatest of all callings, let us not forget the women who daily endure persecution and continue the courageous fight for religious freedom.

Take Action:

1. Pray for Asia Bibi in Pakistan, Leah in Nigeria, Liu Xia in China and remaining Chibok girls in Nigeria to gain their freedom

2. Read the book Gloria! about Gloria Kwashi, who has been tried by fire repeatedly, yet emerged each time with a deepened faith

3. Consider being a point person to keep your congregation informed and involved in standing with the persecuted

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