LONG BEACH, Calif.–Gia Chacon, 23, grew up in a devout Christian household in Laguna Niguel, California, with “one foot planted in the world and one foot planted in faith,” she told The Epoch Times.
She didn’t always envision her life dedicated to humanitarian efforts, but that calling came to her during a trip to Egypt with her grandmother to provide aid to Christians persecuted for their faith.
It was 2017, and she was feeling unfulfilled with her work in the cosmetics industry. She saw the Egypt trip as an opportunity to get out of Orange County and figure out her next steps in life. It ended up being a transformative experience that led her to start For the Martyrs, a nonprofit that raises awareness and funds for persecuted Christians around the world.
“It was the experiences not only in Egypt, but also with the Iraqi and Syrian refugees” that had an effect on her, she said. She spent three years total in the region.
According to the Open Doors Watch List, more than 260 million Christians—that’s about 1 in 8 believers—face high levels of persecution globally.
“Being able to sit with them, hear their stories, and understand firsthand the atrocities they face at the hands of extremism—it changed my life completely," Chacon said. "I really felt that the Lord was calling me to make an impact in the lives of the persecuted."
She shared the story of a 19-year-old Iraqi woman she met and what her Christian family experienced living in Baghdad. Islamic militants came into her home, killed her brother in front of the family, and kidnapped her sister.
The ISIS terrorist group often carries out such actions against Christian minorities and other religious groups in the region. The ISIS militants told the woman's family they would be killed or forced to move if they were unwilling to convert to Islam.
“Her whole family left everything they knew; they left their home. They left their country, their jobs, everything, and fled to Jordan, because they were not willing to denounce or renounce the faith,” Chacon said.
“What resonates so deeply with me is the faith of the young girl. Even though she had suffered so many atrocities—she lost everything, she lost her brother, her sister was kidnapped, and she had nothing living in Jordan—she still had hope.”
“Even though they lost everything in this world, they know that going forward their reward is in heaven.”
Chacon’s grandmother, Dr. Michelle Corral, is the founder of Breath of the Spirit Ministries. Corral organized the 2017 trip to Egypt as part of her ministry's humanitarian work.
In Egypt, about 90 percent of the population is Sunni Muslim, and about 10 percent is Christian, according to a 2019 U.S. Department of State religious freedom report. It noted that, although the country's laws forbid discrimination of various kinds, human rights groups in the country report continued discrimination in private-sector hiring, and militants continue threats and violence against Christians.
For the Martyrs raised over $17,000 in aid over the last three months for suffering Christians in Africa. The nonprofit also provides grocery programs for refugees in Jordan and a Bible-smuggling fund where hundreds of Bibles are sent to restricted nations.
Chacon said that the two leading factors of persecution are Islamic extremism and extreme nationalism.
“So we can take a situation like the Middle East ... where we have the systematic oppression of Christians—Christians are seen as second-class citizens,” she said. “Christians are targeted in their businesses, when they're going to buy homes, when they're fighting their court cases."
“In China and North Korea, [there is] extreme nationalism, where it's illegal to be Christian—not because you have to adhere to another religion, but because you have to worship the state as your God,” she said.
Chinese Christian leaders are often jailed and houses of worship are destroyed or indoctrinated with communist propaganda.
“Not only is this issue widely ignored by the media, oftentimes it's widely unknown and untalked about within our communities of faith in the West,” Chacon said.
Chacon said her message to Orange County members of faith would be to “not be afraid to lean in and understand about what our brothers and sisters are suffering around the world.”
“Christian persecution is a difficult topic. It's difficult to hear about people dying and Christians being executed for our faith, but we have an obligation in the West to use our platforms, our freedoms, and our influence to raise awareness.”
On Sept. 5, Chacon organized a march in Long Beach, California, to raise awareness of Christian persecution. Hundreds showed up to rally, march, and worship. Chacon said her nonprofit has more programs in the works, along with a relief trip to the Middle East in the future.