Foreign Affairs

NGO shelters, rescues Christians at risk in Muslim countries

NGO shelters, rescues Christians at risk in Muslim countries
Banner in Pakistan photographed by a Rescue Christians team member. (Courtesy)

After two years operating in Pakistan, the leader of the group dedicated to rescuing Christians facing violent persecution for their faith spoke to Human Events about its expansion into countries such as Syria, Iraq, Turkey and Jordan.

Theodore Shoebat, a founder of the non-governmental organization Rescue Christians, announced the push into the additional countries in December on his Facebook page and the NGO’s website RescueChristians.org.

What came to be called the Arab Spring created a dangerous situation for Christian minorities in the affected nations, as dictators and regimes fell and in some cases were replaced by mobs and mayhem rather than democracy, Shoebat said.

The uptick in lawlessness came an uptick in violence against Christians, he said.

“We needed to do something about this, as human beings and as Christians,” Shoebat said.

When he and his father Walid Shoebat, a Christian who grew up a Palestinian in Israel, observed an increase in violence against Christians as dictatorships crumbled in the Middle East in 2010 they wanted to help, he said.

“We were especially driven by our faith, saying, wait a second? This is an obligation to help the persecuted in some way, within our limits, so we needed to do something about this,” he said.

At first he started looking into NGOs that helped Christians, but found rather than helping anyone escape dangerous or life-threatening situations most existing organizations only helped build awareness, he said.  After hitting that dead end, he and his father started an NGO themselves in 2010.

Rescue Christians started their operations in Pakistan and had helped over 1,000 Christians facing legal issues, violence or harassment by 2013, he said.

“We started it because we were getting emails from people from Pakistan who were saying: ‘We’re being persecuted. Mobs are pursuing us,’” Shoebat said.

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Among other hardships, Christians in some countries face blasphemy laws that make the practice of Christianity functionally illegal, attacks by radical Muslims, or violence connected with civil wars and Islamic militants, he said.

Christians in Pakistan face legal consequences under a system of law, based on Islamic texts such as the Quran, called Sharia law, he said.

“It’s against the law. You can be put into prison for life for blasphemy against the Prophet Mohamed. There is a Sharia court in Pakistan,” Shoebat said.

Rather than just giving out Bibles or making videos to raise awareness about the issue of Christian persecution, like some of the organizations Shoebat researched, Rescue Christians began an effort to actually get into countries where Christians face persecution, he said.

“We made contact with a man who has a team in Pakistan. He wanted to work with us, and his team actually wanted to work with us,” he said.

Shoebat said he runs much of the fundraising for Rescue Christians while Keith Davies, the executive director, said a primary need of the NGO is funding, to support what can in some cases include rescue from kidnappings.

Davies, who  interacts with the team in Pakistan, and runs the operations of the NGO on a day-to-day basis, said generally the support team on the ground helps in court cases by providing legal aid, provides support to those who lose their homes to destruction by mob violence, and runs safe houses for those under threat of violence because of their faith.

The climate of violence in Pakistan puts pressure on the legal system by forcing judges to issue convictions or put their own safety at stake, he said.

“If they let people off, even with the evidence being that there is no evidence there, they are in danger as well of being assassinated by the extremists,” Davies said.

In extreme cases Rescue Christians has to actually extract Christians from Pakistan and relocate them to other countries.

Also, the team in Pakistan is forced to function like a kidnap and rescue outfit when Christians are taken and held by extremists. “We chase after the people, find where they are, and get them released.”

Davies said the NGO also finds some Christians forced into a kind of slavery, if they need medical treatment,. Illegal loans make it possible for the family to pay back interest, but never pay back the principal.

Some of these cases led the organization to relocate individuals, so that they could rebuild their own lives, he said.

“Our actual objective is not to provide ongoing help, but to basically restructure their lives so they can actually fend for themselves in the future,”

From here in the United States, the matter of greatest concern for Rescue Christians is funding, but for the team in Pakistan these operations require the commitment to put life and limb on the line.

“On one occasion one of my people got shot twice–he was lucky to escape with his life,” Davies said.

In order to continue expansion – possibly adding two new countries to the list of host countries for extracted Christians – Davies said funding becomes an important component.

He said extremists see the Christian minorities in the countries Rescue Christians is moving into as targets.

“There is 100 million who live as minorities in these countries, and their objective is to kill them all,” Davies said.

“It is happening right in front of our eyes and our eyes and our media is ignoring it, the same way the media ignored the Jewish Holocaust, which got very little attention by the media until it was too late in the late to mid 1940s,” he said.

“The same thing is happening to Christians. If you really want to understand what is going on, and you understand what is going on, it is your human duty to help with this effort.”

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