On the surface, the “peace” of Christmas seems elusive in such beleaguered countries as Syria, Egypt, Nigeria and North Korea.

In those countries, and in many others where Christians are persecuted for their faith, the celebration of the birth of Jesus is taking place, but not in the way many of us in the West are accustomed to -- such as singing carols in warm churches, attending beautiful pageants and coming together with family and friends for a meal with all trimmings.

Instead, in many countries where believers are persecuted, the Christmas season often provides opportunities to reach out when otherwise it would be difficult.

Last year in a central Asian country, Open Doors’ staff was able to bring a Christmas party to a school for orphans and children with poor eyesight -- a party the school would not have been able to finance themselves. Many were surprised that Christians had come to a Muslim community.

Although direct preaching is prohibited, and the party was an open display of a Christian celebration, school officials were thankful for the generosity expressed towards their children. In addition, the Christians living in the community were grateful for the opportunity as well, knowing that it was a way to wisely bring the gospel of Christ to the community.

In war-torn Syria, thousands of Christians will spend Christmas living in tents in refugee camps at the start of the cold winter months. But outreach continues in the true Christmas spirit -- sharing the Good News of Jesus’ birth in the midst of chaos and destruction.

One Syrian pastor shares: “Yesterday a member of our church went to the commercial bank. There was a long line waiting in front of the bank. He prayed in his heart how to reach them [Muslims], and then felt that he should just step out of the line and share. He went to the front, held the gospel up high and said: ‘This is the gospel, the Word of God and it will bring you eternal life. Who wants to read it? If you want one, I will give it to you.’ He gave away all 20 of the Bibles he had with him.”

Also in Syria, a Christian community which received relief packets from Christian partners working with local churches, shared their food and other supplies with their Muslim neighbors.

In one Middle Eastern country, a Muslim Background Believer group (those who come to Christ from Islam), observes Christmas not on Dec. 25, but on another date near Christmas due to security concerns. One Secret Believer says: “Our cell group receives teaching on the Christmas story … that is how we celebrate Christmas.”

I am thankful for the lessons I have learned from persecuted Christians, especially on their observance of Christmas. They return to the true heart of the Christmas message: God sending his Son into the world to be born, die for our sins and return to His heavenly home. No Christmas trees, mall visits, substituting “holiday” for “Christmas.”

Finally, I want to introduce you to Eun-Yeong (a pseudonym), 32, who fled from communist North Korea, the worst persecutor of Christians in the world. She came to know Jesus Christ in China. What will her Christmas look like?

Life in a Prison Camp on Christmas Day

Like every other morning, Eun-Yeong wakes up early in the North Korean prison. The yellow, weak light of the fluorescent tube reflects against the steel ceiling of the barracks. The chill tries its best to pierce through Eun-Yeong’s thin blanket and overalls. Eun-Yeong wants to get out of bed, kneel and open the day with prayer, like she used to do. It is still dark. Probably nobody would see her. But she stays in bed. Every second she can rest, counts. It is better to pray in bed. Before she has uttered a word to God, a scene imposes itself in her mind. In it, she stands at the head of the dining table. Her first husband, her 18- and 12-year-old daughters and sons of 10 and 9 years chatter cheerfully, while they enjoy an abundant meal consisting of soup, rice, vegetables and meat. Next to Eun-Yeong’s plate lays the Bible from which they have just read. Eun-Yeong squeezes her eyes and the tears flow over her cheeks. It is a memory of an evening that never took place.