Saudi Arabia (MNN) — It’s a big day in Saudi Arabia. U.S. President Barack Obama is meeting today with Saudi Arabia’s new ruler, King Salman, to discuss Yemen and the Islamic State.
Surrounded by volatile neighbors like Iraq, Egypt, and most recently, Yemen, Saudi Arabia plays an important role by ensuring the entire region doesn’t go up in flames.
“Saudi Arabia is one of the key players in the Middle East. It’s one of the key U.S. allies, and so this new relationship is a very important one,” notes Voice of the Martyrs USA spokesman Todd Nettleton.
“That’s, I think, why you see President Obama cutting short his time in India to go directly to Saudi Arabia to meet with the new king, because he wants to get off on the right foot with this new leader.”
No matter what’s discussed at the political level today, Nettleton notes, nothing’s expected to change for Christians.
“Saudi Arabia is one of the most repressive countries in the world when it comes to Christians,” says Nettleton. “The Saudi constitution, honestly, doesn’t recognize even the possibility that a Saudi citizen could be anything other than a Sunni Muslim.”
For the first time in five years, Saudi Arabia is ranked just outside the top 10 in the Open Doors World Watch List. That’s not because religious freedom is improving in Saudi Arabia: it’s simply because persecution is getting worse in other countries.
As the birthplace and homeland of Islam, Saudi Arabia is one of the world’s most dangerous places in which to follow Christ. Leaving Islam is punishable by death, and there are no places of worship in the country except mosques; even foreigners are forbidden to worship anything besides Allah.
“So, when you say, ‘Saudi Christian,’ in their mind that is almost impossible,” explains Nettleton.
“However, we do know that there are Christians in Saudi Arabia. We know there are foreign Christians –Christians from the Philippines, Christians from other nations–that are there working, as well as Christians from Saudi Arabia.
“They have to keep a very low profile. They have to hold services very, very secretly, but we know they’re there.”
The ultra-secrecy is not without reason.
“Oftentimes in Saudi Arabia, if it’s discovered that you have become a Christian, you will be killed: not by the government, necessarily, but by your own family,” says Nettleton.
“It’s such a mark of shame in their minds that they will literally kill a sister or a brother, or a son or a daughter that has chosen to follow Jesus Christ.”
What can you do?
Voice of the Martyrs USA helps persecuted Christians worldwide by equipping, empowering and encouraging them to continue sharing the Truth about Jesus, no matter what. VOM USA also provides physical and spiritual help to families of Christian martyrs.
According to Nettleton, the best way you can help Christians in Saudi Arabia is by praying.
“We need to pray that God will strengthen and encourage them as they serve Him in a very difficult circumstance,” he says.
“Because of the nature of Saudi Arabia, because of how closed off it is to Christians and to Christian influence, our prayer is the most important thing that we can do to help our brothers and sisters there.”