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A 12-year-old boy from Turkey whose family converted to Christianity has been beaten and abused by both classmates and teachers after revealing his newfound faith, but the boy says he is happy to suffer for Christ.
Hussein, whose last name was not revealed in the CBN persecution report that shared his story, invoked the anger of his school by wearing a silver cross necklace to school. Christians are a distinct minority in Turkey – the CIA World Factbook reveals that Muslims make up 99.8 percent of the near-80 million population, while Christians and Jews account for only 0.2 percent.
It is not uncommon for Christians in the country to be targeted for their beliefs, but few are as outspoken and as open about their religion as Hussein.
"It's not the physical cross. It's the meaning of the cross that is important. It is a beautiful thing," the boy explained in the report. "I wanted people to ask me about it and then I could tell them about Christ."
As Hussein began going with his father, Hakeem, to church and started wearing his cross at school, his classmates began spitting on him, calling him names and physically abusing him.
"The boy grabbed me by the arm, squeezed my hand, and yelled, 'I'm going to shoot you if you tell about this!'" Hussein shared of one of the attacks.
The abuse the Christian boy suffered didn't end there – in Turkey, like many Islamic countries, students are forced to attend Islamic studies where they have to recite prayers from the Quran. When Hussein refused to participate on account of his Christian faith, he was beaten on numerous occasions by the teacher with a two-foot long rod.
Hakeem has tried to stand up for his son by confronting the parents of the children who bullied him and the teacher who beat him.
"I thought the father would be concerned about his son's action. But instead, he called me names, threatened me, and said he would shoot me himself if I pursued action against his son," Hakeem recalled in the CBN report.
"The religion teacher said (the beating) was allowed. That the principal and parents agreed that he should do this," he explained.
Despite the fear and threats of continued persecution, however, the Hussein says he will continue following Christ and will never return to Islam.
"Christ said, 'You would suffer for me.' So it's okay to suffer and we should be happy to suffer for Him. The Lord is with me," the school boy remarked.
Persecution of Christians in Turkey is not uncommon. In 2007, three missionaries were tortured for hours before being killed by having their throats slit. Christian Today reported the details of the ordeal, which was videotaped by the attackers. One of the wives of the slain missionaries said that she forgives the murderers, citing the words Christ said on the cross: "They know not what they do."
Religious attitudes in Turkey in general are notably conservative – 59 percent of those who responded to a survey in 2009 said that members of other (non-Muslim) faiths should not even be allowed to hold meetings or publish literature about their beliefs.
Turkish authorities are known for seizing church properties, closing Orthodox churches, monasteries and schools and trying to force Christianity out of the country all together. The head of the Eastern Orthodox Church, His All Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, has said that Christians are treated like second-class citizens in Turkey, and that the government has been unresponsive to concerns about religious inequality in the country.
Open Doors USA, an organization that exposes persecution and injustice committed against Christians worldwide, ranked Turkey as #31 on its list of top 50 countries where persecution of Christians is most severe.