By Caroline Yablon | Reporter
United States citizens live in religious liberty and don’t have to worry about being arrested, tortured, kidnapped or even executed for their beliefs. However, 75 percent of people in this world live in a country where they do have to worry.
Dr. Randel Everett, president of 21st Century Wilberforce Initiative –– as well as a Baptist leader for the past couple of decades as a pastor, educator and former chairmen for the Baptist General Convention of Texas, spoke to Chapel students Monday about stories of how Christians, Muslims and people of others faiths are persecuted in countries such as Nigeria, China and Iraq.
New Braunfels junior Kaitlyn Anderson, who is a campus liaison for 21st Century Wilberforce set the tone for what Everett spoke about on religious persecution.
“Imagine a place where you can read your Bible safely, where you can choose your place of worship without fearing for your life; a place where you can talk about God without punishment. It’s pretty easy because this is our reality. But unfortunately, it’s not the reality for the majority of the world,” Anderson said.
21st Century Wilberforce Initiative is a Christian human rights organization based in Washington D.C., and their mission says they “are dedicated to empowering a global movement to advance religious freedom as a universal right of all people. As religious freedom advocates, [they] mobilize and equip partner networks of all faiths to advance freedom of belief and to safeguard against persecution in hostile places around the world.”
Everett’s message to students was about the global crisis of religious persecution and depression that is going on in the world, and he illustrated it through the stories of victims who have been deathly persecuted for their faith.
Everett began by explaining a crisis in Nigeria where a Muslim terrorist group called Boko Haram kidnapped 110 girls from their boarding school this year. These girls went through torture; some girls were raped, some forced into marriages and others murdered. The majority of the girls were later released back to their families; however, six girls did not make it back home.
One of those girls is named Leah. Everett explained that as the parents of the girls were reuniting with their daughters, Leah’s mother, Rebecca, could not find her. She began asking the other girls who were held captive where Leah was, and they told her that Leah did not return home with them. Leah’s reason for not returning home to her family was because she chose her faith in the Lord over freedom by not converting to Islam.
“What if you were in Leah’s place?” Everett said. “If they came to you and you knew you had an uncertain future of a terrorist group living in Nigeria where you may never see your family again, or have long to live, would it be easy to just be quiet and not say anything? Or perhaps you can justify pretending that you are something that you are not so that you can blend in and then stand up for your faith when freedom comes. Leah loved Jesus and going to church and singing in the choir. She couldn’t stay silent when her accusers were standing before her, and she alone made a public statement — ‘I’m a Christ follower,’ and they kept her and she is still in captivity,” Everett said.
He said there are still around 2,000 girls in captivity because of Boko Haram.
Everett said he goes to Nigeria and speaks to people who are affected by events of religious persecution and documents it. He said there have been 21,000 people who have been affected by violence, 900 churches have been destroyed and 7.5 million people have been driven out of their homes.
In China, Everett met with 1,800 religious leaders and listened to their stories.
“They told us the conditions were worse today than any time since the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976),” Everett said.
He said he knows people who have been in Chinese prisons for their faith, and thousands of churches have been destroyed. Christians aren’t the only ones being persecuted in China — Uighur Muslims are being treated just as the Nazis treated the Jews, Everett said.
“120,000 live in reeducation camps,” Everett added. “They are doing experiments on them — mentally, physically and emotionally.”
He said thousands have died and now mostly women and children are still alive; most of the men have been killed.
Everett explained the persecution in Iraq just after ISIS had come and drove out around 150,000 people out of their homes.
“[ISIS] gave them three choices: you can be killed, you can convert or you must leave,” Everett said.
He and many others got the pleasure of speaking to people who were affected and with the documentation they collected they wrote a paper called “The Edge of Disinfection.” Everett said that ISIS said that they were going after the jews before the Christians and Everett was only able to documents four jews that were elderly women who lived in Bagdad. He said there was a population of 2.5 million Christians in 2003 — now there is around 200,000.
Everett also told the story of 148 university students who were murdered at a Kenya university in 2015 by the terrorist group Al-Shabab.
“We saw a picture of 148 students … and they were stacked like wood in the midst of the courtroom,” Everett said.
These students were planning futures and getting an education to pursue a desired career and because of their faith in Jesus, their lives were taken from them in an instant.
Everett said there needs to be a revival in the church, a souls searching revival in response to this century’s religious depression.
“I believe the Church in America needs to wake up,” Everett said. “It’s a time of not just humility but humiliation. A time of desperateness. A time of calling out to God to make us holy and righteous and just; who will love mercy and hate injustice and stand with those who are being abused.”
He also said Americans need to understand religious freedom and learn how to keep it and export it to people who need it. Everett said Baylor University could be a trailblazer and encourage other universities to get on board to take action on this issue.