Vaccinations in Asia and the Persecuted Church
While Asian countries scramble to get their hands on vaccines to bring an end to the devastating COVID-19 pandemic and lockdowns, the persecuted Church in those countries brace themselves. Will we get the vaccines or will we be ignored? It is the latest way in which COVID has impacted the persecution dynamic.
“The vaccine is expected to be a game changer for churches,” says Ina, an Indonesian church worker. Her country has recorded over 860,000 covid-19 infections. “Many churches in my country may not survive the pandemic. Having fellowship in a physical way is very important for believers’ faith journey, especially those who do not have online access, like people in remote areas, villages or those who cannot afford the Internet during this pandemic. This is a big group of Christians. They are being cut off from encouragement and support during this difficult season. Once the restrictions are lifted in our country, we can reach out to them again.”
Indonesia has adopted a unique approach. The first to receive the Chinese vaccine CoronaVac is the working population: citizens between 18 and 59 years old.
Vaccines for everyone?
The coronavirus crisis amplified certain persecution dynamics in 2020. In Central Asia, Christians who come from a Muslim background didn’t receive vital help from their family members. Authorities in countries such as India ignored Christians in their relief efforts. In many countries Church life moved to the internet and the Christians were monitored more severely or even targeted because of what they said online.
In some countries where Open Doors work through partners, the Christians are skeptical about the vaccines available in their country.
A small church separates its chairs for distanced worship
They have reasons not to trust their governments, says one pastor from Kazakhstan: “We can’t be sure that the vaccine that our government purchased for the citizens and the one was created in the country are really effective, and nobody knows about long-lasting effects. What if it will bring more harm than protection from the virus? There were not enough tests and time to prove that it is really useful and not dangerous. So, we would like to avoid the vaccination.”
Christians in Bangladesh have a different concern. “We think the believers will join spontaneously the vaccination campaign. But we wonder about the selection and distribution system,” shares Omar, a local Open Doors field partner. “Since Bangladesh has a huge population but less manpower, it’s still not clear how the vaccination program will be done. We assume there might be discrimination in the selection for the vaccination. Especially if the selection process is entrusted to the local leaders, then the believers might be ignored intentionally, but we hope it won’t happen.”
The pressure of the pandemic in 2021
Open Doors leaders in Asia ask for prayer for the believers and the vaccination campaigns. The pressure on the persecuted Church during this pandemic remains enormous - Open Doors teams and partners are still providing food and other relief aid to the most vulnerable persecuted Christians. At the same, the hope is to transition from relief aid to more sustainable income generating projects, although that’s very hard under the current circumstances. We have also developed new ways, both offline and online, to distribute Bibles and materials, to do presence ministry, to give Biblical training, to provide local advocacy for believers in trouble and help with vocational training.
“The vaccination campaigns provide hope for improvement of the lives of persecuted Christians, assuming the vaccines produced in Asia are reliable and rolled out well,” says Jan Vermeer, Communication Director for Open Doors Asia. “At the same time, many Christian communities still find themselves in a live or die situation this year. We feel the urgency to come alongside them. Our teams and partners take risks to help them, but we have to strengthen them. Our goal is that no persecuted Christian feels alone and that we enable them to be salt and light in their own communities. We call upon the help of our brothers and sisters around the globe to make this vital ministry possible.”
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