Merry Christmas from…everywhere. Yes, even countries where being Christian is a crime, punishable by death.
In the eye of increased Christian persecution around the world, a newly-launched Facebook campaign called My Treedom, posts daily photographs of Christmas trees and holiday decorations from some of the hardest places to live and practice as a Christian.
Launched by foreign affairs journalist Lisa Daftari, the project, which asks followers to send in their photos, is intended to celebrate “freedom from persecution and the right to Christmas everywhere around the world,” the page description states.
There are pictures from Pakistan where attacks on Christians have escalated in past years to Kurdish areas of Iraq, steps away from the conflict with ISIS. The page ensures that photos containing faces or details are blurred out for protection.
Some are photos of Christians celebrating in secrecy in underground churches and homes, while others, like one photo of a large Christmas display in a department store in Dubai, U.A.E., shows a more public celebration.
“The goal is to raise awareness about the increased threat of global Christian persecution that is often missing from political headlines these days,” Daftari, who has been covering human right stories in the Middle East for over a decade, said.
Daftari was first to break the story about Iranian Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani and later Pastor Saeed Abedini who were both arrested by Iran’s regime for their faith.
“We are talking about countries where Christians made up a sizeable and significant segment of the native population. Many have had to flee their countries or face brutal persecution, solely because of their faith,” she said.
The response has been overwhelming, according to Daftari, who says she has been shocked at some of the photos coming in from places like Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Iran and Somalia.
Each month, 322 Christians are killed for their faith and 214 churches and property belonging to Christians are destroyed, according to the human rights organization Open Doors, which works to raise awareness about Christian oppression.
The State Department cites that Christians in more than 60 countries face persecution from their governments or surrounding neighbors, with the 10 worst nations listed as North Korea, Somalia, Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, Sudan, Iran, Pakistan, Eritrea and Nigeria in a report conducted by Open Doors.
“Attacks on Christians around the world pose a grave danger to the lives of innocent people simply trying to live out their faith. Some are children, such as in Syria and Nigeria, who have done nothing to attract the aim of antagonists except belong to Christian families,” Jeff M. Sellers, editor of Morning Star News, a publication dedicated to the coverage of Christian persecution, said in an interview with The Foreign Desk.
“The plight of Christians worldwide has grown with the expansion of Islamic terrorist groups into international organizations with affiliates and sympathizers around the globe,” Sellers said.
While in some countries converting to or practicing Christianity is punishable by death, other violent acts such as the raping of Christian women or taking them as sex slaves have become common place, particularly by ISIS militants.
Previously, some Christians and other religious minorities were allowed to practice their religion by paying a minority tax, or Jizzya, but more recently, most are forced to convert or threatened with death.
“There’s an old saying in the world of radical Islam: first the Saturday people, then the Sunday people. We’re seeing this play out in real time today before our very eyes,” Christian Broadcasting Network host and political analyst Erick Stakelbeck said to TFD.
But it doesn’t stop with what is unfolding in the Middle East, according to Stakelbeck, who points to Christians in the West coming under increased scrutiny for their observance.
“When Christians feel uncomfortable in the home of Judeo-Christian civilization, we have a real problem,” Stakelbeck said, “which is why grassroots projects like #MyTreedom are so timely and important.”
“It’s a way for people–Christian and non-Christian alike–to stand up and support freedom and religious liberty while drawing attention to injustice and persecution. If history tells us anything, it’s that the same people who are persecuting Christians now will not stop there.”