In our world, the name of Jesus Christ causes division and, all too often, suffering. From Vietnam and Laos to North Korea and Saudi Arabia, Christians are jailed, isolated, beaten and even murdered for their faith.
"In some places," says Elizabeth Kendal, a spokeswoman for the WEA Religious Liberty Commission, "there is 'active persecution,' where authorities are involved and persecution is systematic, operating in accordance with discriminatory and oppressive laws. In other places there is 'passive persecution,' where persecution occurs at the community level. The extent of the persecution depends on the nature of the political system."
Christians in some countries are protected from severe persecution by good government and the rule of law, Kendal adds. "In countries where human rights are not respected, Christians lack protection and persecutors appear to have unofficial permission to act with impunity."
So what can people who enjoy religious freedom do to help those who are persecuted? Open Doors with Brother Andrew is calling on Christians to pray for over 200 million suffering believers during the International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church on Sunday, Nov. 14. During that day, churches around the United States and around the world will focus on prayer and support for our brothers and sisters who are being persecuted for their faith in Jesus Christ.
IDOP is one of the largest prayer events in the world and has heightened awareness of the Persecuted Church since its inception in 1996. Open Doors USA collaborates with other Christian agencies to sponsor IDOP under the umbrella of Prayer for the Persecuted Church.
"The International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church presents a tremendous opportunity for millions of people to make a difference in the lives of those being persecuted for their faith in countries like North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Laos, Iraq and many more," says Open Doors USA President Dr. Carl Moeller.
"Those persecuted believers have asked us who live in freedom to pray for them - always their number one request. And on Nov. 14 we have the opportunity to collectively lift our petitions to the Lord on their behalf."
Standing at the top of Open Doors' annual World Watch List where persecution is the most severe is North Korea. The North Korean regime runs the main politico-labor camps where about 200,000 prisoners are held. Tens of thousands of them are Christians, imprisoned for their faith, who face torture, starvation and death in the camps. Their number is increasing as the high number of North Korean refugees being arrested in China are returned and sent to labor camps. Many became Christians after they received support from Korean and Chinese missionaries and were tortured or killed when their contacts with Christians were discovered.
How You Can Pray: Pray that freedom and openness would come to North Korea just as the Iron Curtain fell around Russia and Eastern Europe. Pray for God to strengthen believers forced to choose between death and their faith. Pray that the North Koreans fleeing into the border areas of China will find Christian support.
There is hardly any religious freedom in the strict Islamic Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, which is No. 2 on the World Watch List. Christians and other non-Muslims are not allowed to meet for public worship in the country. Several foreign Christians have been jailed. Some of them were subsequently deported to their home countries in connection with Christian activities such as involvement in house churches.
How You Can Pray: Pray for freedom of religion to come to Saudi Arabia. Pray for the Holy Spirit to encourage the believers who worship with shades drawn and doors bolted. Praise the Lord for the release of Brian O'Connor.
Laos is ranked No. 3 on the World Watch List. The Lao government continues to put pressure upon Christians in the country. Many were arrested and later released, and several churches were closed in 2003. As one local believer put it: "Christians look at prisons as revolving doors, as many leaders were imprisoned several times in the year." There was also an increase in physical abuse of believers to make them renounce their faith. Several families were evicted from their homes for refusing to give up their beliefs. One Lao believer was even killed for his faith. The Hmong ethnic group - many of whom are Christians - face the most severe persecution.
How You Can Pray: Pray that the Laotian government leaders will grant more religious freedom. Pray that the many unreached peoples groups will hear the Gospel. Pray that the church leaders among the Hmong, Khmu and Bru tribal groups will stand strong against the persecution.
There are two key points to remember while praying for the persecuted church, says Elizabeth Kendal:
(1.) The supremacy of Christ. There is no power or authority in all of earth or heaven that is over Christ. Christ created all things 'in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities' (Colossians 1:16 NIV). He 'disarmed the powers and authorities' by the cross (Colossians 2:15 NIV) and now he rules from heaven as King with all 'angels, authorities and powers in submission to him' (1 Peter 3:22 NIV).
(2.) Christ's authority is for the benefit of the Church. 'And God has put all things under the authority of Christ, and he gave him this authority for the benefit of the church.' (Ephesians 1:22 NLT) We must not be tempted to think that Christ is not able to intervene for his children amidst war, famine, plague, cruel persecution or dictatorial oppression. Take up the shield of faith (Ephesians 6:16) and come, believers, as is our awesome privilege, into the very presence of God! And let us bring our suffering brothers and sisters before HIM, and boldly appeal to HIS mercy and favor, without fear or doubt, because Christ is supreme over all creation and this authority has been given to him for the benefit of the Church.
Gary Edmonds with IDOP notes, "It is time to unite around the globe in prayer on behalf of the Persecuted Church. Join your voice with the millions of other followers of Jesus. May I suggest that you find at least one other person with whom you will pray? Your voice is important! Do not leave the persecuted isolated this month."
Mission Network News is airing the International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church special worship service Nov. 14 from Fair Haven Ministries in Hudsonville, Michigan. The broadcast will be taped for airing from 8 to 9 p.m. EST on MNNonline.org and on many radio stations around the country. Western Michigan radio station 91.3 WCSG will air the event live at 6 p.m. EST.
Photo Courtesy of Open Doors: It is estimated that approximately 30 million Christians in China lack their own copy of the Bible.