When *Maya was just 19 years old, ISIS soldiers invaded her home in Baghdad, Iraq, and ordered that she and the rest of her Christian family either convert to Islam or pay a heavy fee to stay in their home. If they refused, they would be killed.
The family did not convert, but they tried to pay the fee. It wasn’t enough.
When the soldiers came back, they shot Maya’s brother in front of the family and kidnapped her sister. They warned that they would come back and kill the second daughter if the family did not leave or convert to Islam.
The remaining members of Maya’s family fled to Jordan, and happily learned that their kidnapped daughter had escaped to Australia.
It was stories like Maya’s that inspired Gia Chacon last year to found For the Martyrs, a non-profit organization that raises awareness of the plight of persecuted Christians throughout the world and advocates for religious freedom.
“I was so deeply impacted by the face of this young girl who is only 19, so scared,” Chacon told CNA.
“She had everything ripped from her, and lost family members, and still she had faith and she had hope in God, and she knew that nothing – nothing – was worth renouncing her faith. That Christ would pull her through.”
Through humanitarian work with refugees from Iraq and Syria, Chacon heard many stories like Maya’s, of Christians persecuted for their faith to the point of threats to their life and safety.
But she found that Christians in the West are largely unaware that Christians in 50 countries around the world face high levels of persecution.
Some of the countries with the worst persecution include North Korea, Afghanistan, Somalia, Libya, and Pakistan – countries where extreme ideas like communism or radical Islamism fuel hate towards Christians, she added.
“The Lord placed a heavy burden on my heart for the persecuted church,” Chacon said.
“I wanted to do something in the United States for the people of the West, to not only wake them up to the reality of what’s going on around the world, but also connect them to know that we’re one body of Christ. When one member suffers, we all suffer.”
This May, For the Martyrs will host the first March for the Martyrs on May 9 in Long Beach, California.
Chacon said she hopes the event “starts a movement” of Christians in the West who want to stand in solidarity with persecuted Christians throughout the world, and who want to do all they can through prayer and action to help them.
“In talking to the refugees, the number one thing that they would say is, ‘Thank you for remembering me. Thank you for knowing about my suffering and thank you for your prayers for me,’” Chacon recalled.
“So I think it’s really important for Christians of the West and the people of the West and the United States to know that one of the most important things we can do is just stand in solidarity, be the voice for the voiceless, and use our platform to raise awareness about Christian persecution.”
The march will be immediately followed by a ‘Night of Prayer for the Persecuted’ featuring speakers such as Sean Feucht from Bethel Music, Father Benedict Kiely, and others who will highlight the plight of persecuted Christians and what can be done for them.
“Our purpose for that night is to pray for the persecuted, worship the Lord for victory and for protection over the persecuted, but also to gain insight into the reality of Christian persecution and learn what we can do as a body of Christ in America for our persecuted brothers and sisters around the world,” Chacon said.
The march and night of prayer come at a critical time.
A recent poll conducted by McLaughlin & Associates on behalf of Aid to the Church in Need-USA found a 10% decline in the number of US Catholics who say they are “very concerned” about global anti-Christian persecution.
“The softening of the level of concern about Christian persecution among US Catholics is also evident in their ranking of the importance of global issues,” Aid to the Church in Need USA said in a March 4 statement.
“Global Christian persecution is ranked as less urgent an issue than human trafficking, poverty, climate change and the global refugee crisis. Catholics who identify themselves as being very devout are most concerned about the persecution of Christians, but even this group has ranked human trafficking the issue of greatest concern for three consecutive years,” the group added.
This decline in concern is coupled with an uptick in persecution – according to For the Martyrs, the persecution of Christians has increased by 20% in just two years, with more than 260 million Christians worldwide now facing high levels of persecution.
The issue of Christian persecution has gotten scant attention in the mainstream media in the United States, Chacon added. Part of the reason for that, she said, is because of a “misconception that Christians have some sort of privilege.”
“This is something that we hear kind of often. Last year there was a hashtag that was trending that said #Christianprivilege. It was talking about how if you’re Christian, you somehow have this religious privilege or you don’t struggle for your faith,” Chacon said.
“There’s an idea that Christians don’t suffer, when in reality, one-third of the world faces religious persecution and religious oppression, and 80% of that one-third are Christians. So, an overwhelming majority of people around the world are suffering for their faith in Christ,” she said.
That’s why she and For the Martyrs are working so hard to bring this issue back to the forefronts of the minds of Christians in the U.S., she said.
“Never underestimate the power of your voice, and especially joining with the voices of other people who are advocating for the cause of Christians.”
*Name has been changed to protect privacy