How Christian women are standing firm in the face of persecution

The Tears of Gold exhibition by Hannah Rose Thomas, sponsored by Open Doors, shows portraits of persecuted Christian women in Nigeria.(Photo: Open Doors)

Around the world, ordinary Christian women are suffering and being mistreated for no other reason than their faith. Christian Today speaks with Henrietta Blyth, CEO of charity Open Doors, to hear about the unshakeable faith of the persecuted Christian women they serve and how God has been working through the organisation.

How has God been using Open Doors to reach out to persecuted women?

Open Doors exists to strengthen the Church in the places where Christians face the most severe persecution and discrimination. We do trauma counselling to help people with traumatic experiences they may have had. We also connect the persecuted Church with churches in less persecuted countries like the UK and Ireland and we ask people here to speak out on behalf of our persecuted brothers and sisters to bring pressure to bear on our own MPs. The MPs in turn can influence and bring pressure to bear on their peers in other countries. We also pray because this is a spiritual battle and it will be won through prayer.

The women Open Doors support are being persecuted for their faith. Has their faith even been shaken given their circumstances?

There is an easy way to stop the persecution - just stop being Christian - and lots of these women are really pressured to give up Jesus. My experience from the women I have met is that despite what they have faced, it has actually strengthened their resolve to follow Jesus, and lots of them have had an extraordinary personal experience of his presence as well.

What is the greatest need?

Often when I travel ask my persecuted brothers and sisters 'what can I do for you?' and they say 'please pray for us' and 'please encourage other people to pray for us'. They ask that we don't pray for the persecution to stop, but rather pray that they will stand firm in the face of persecution. They also ask that we pray for their persecutors, that they will come to know Jesus for themselves.

When the Taliban took over in Afghanistan in 2021 we knew they were going door to door to hunt down Christians, and if Christian men were found they were executed on the spot. If Christian women were found they were often raped, sometimes trafficked. Sometimes the young girls were given to Taliban fighters. At the time Afghanistan was the most dangerous country in the world for Christians. Our brothers and sisters asked that we pray for them to remain faithful to Jesus and for those Christians that have left Afghanistan, that they remain faithful to Jesus even when they reach the comfort of other countries. I thought that was amazing.

Asking not to pray for the persecution to stop is quite profound.

What they know is that God is achieving His purposes through the persecution. Jesus was really clear with the disciples. He said, "Blessed are you when people persecute you for my sake ... because great is your reward in heaven." And he also said, "You are the salt of the earth. What use is salt if it loses its saltiness?" If you think about it, Jesus himself was falsely accused and convicted under anti-blasphemy laws and then he was executed. As he said, if it's happened to me, it's going to happen to you.

We are speaking at the Tears of Gold exhibition of portraits by artist Hannah Rose Thomas, who powerfully depicts female refugees and persecuted women - an exhibition that has been sponsored by Open Doors. What are your thoughts on Hannah's portraits?

I think they are extraordinary and I think they are powerful because so much of the persecution of women happens behind closed doors. And often because of the shame and stigma, women do not want to talk about it. A lot of these women think no one knows about it. We started the See Change campaign at Open Doors because we want these women to know that we see them, we value them, and we are doing everything we can to help them achieve their God-given potential.

The portraits help us to really see them. Their self-portraits I think are just so touching, the way they reveal their inner world and how they feel as a result of what has happened to them. I think it is really powerful that in Hannah's book she has painted women from all over the world, demonstrating the universality of the female experience. That is extraordinarily powerful.