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Christians having to choose between faith and food to receive Covid-19 aid

by Tola Mbakwe

In some countries Christians are having to decide between keeping their faith and eating a meal as local authorities are denying them coronavirus emergency aid unless they renounce their faith.

Persecution watchdog Open Doors UK and Ireland said it has been "inundated" with reports of Christians worldwide who are being asked to renounce their faith in exchange for emergency Covid-19 aid.  

Christians from countries including Bangladesh, India, Sudan and Malaysia, say they are facing an ultimatum. 

Jan Vermeer, Asia communications director at Open Doors International said: "We have been inundated with reports of Christians telling us their communities would only give them food if they re-converted back to their original faith. 

"While some have returned to the dominant religion in their country, others have contemplated suicide." 

Pastor Sam, who coordinates Open Doors' work in South East Asia, says in rural Bangladesh people cannot survive without help from the community.  

"People may die or convert back to Islam if they don't have the means to survive," he said. 

Families in Bangladesh are given food aid during the coronavirus pandemic. Photo Credit: Open Doors

Meanwhile, Open Doors said Christian converts in Sudan face hunger and homelessness in lockdown unless they return to Islam.

A pastor in Western Sudan who cannot be named for security reasons explained: "Believers from Muslim backgrounds have to be entirely self-reliant because they aren't given any support from their family, tribes or community, because of their faith," he said. 

"But because people aren't able to work in lockdown they don't have money for food and are finding themselves being kicked out of their homes, unable to pay rent.  

"When Christian converts do ask for help from their Muslim community, they are told they have to give up Christianity if they want to be helped. It is a tragedy." 

Vermeer told Premier it's not an easy issue to tackle, as persecution against Christians is embedded in some communities. 

"You have to appeal to the governments of those countries that they take this into account. But it's really deeply ingrained in their cultures so it's very hard to change. And especially in remote need really fundamental changes."

In East Malaysia one group of Christian students were told by their local mosque that they would have to convert back to Islam by saying the Shahada prayer, to receive any food aid from the community during the coronavirus lockdown. 

Vermeer asked Christians to pray that humanitarian organisations get food to those who are being discriminated against. 

Listen to Premier's interview with Jan Vermeer here: 

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