This summer at Open Doors' request, Barna Research polled more than 800 American believers nationwide to measure their interest in hearing a sermon on Christian persecution throughout the world. The findings uncovered a startling disconnect: 74 percent want to hear about Christian persecution, but only 48 percent of pastors want to introduce the topic.
The survey is a powerful wake-up call to American pastors who care about what captivates church members' attention. In this second decade of the 21st century, most church leaders have been exposed to global issues, such as missions or relief and development. They've also witnessed the advent of the 24-hour news media cycle and social media, providing easy access to international stories like never before.
For instance, the violence against protesting Coptic Christians in Cairo, Egypt, on Oct. 9 made international news. That’s just a tip of the iceberg as persecution against Christians and other minority religions worldwide is getting worse, according to a Pew Forum report.
So lack of awareness isn't the issue. The Barna poll found that while pastors know about Christians around the world whom suffer because of their faith, a number of them believe the message of the persecuted church is not one their congregation wants to hear. They fear it's a downer. And in an era of bad news all around us, who wants to further depress people?
In my stops for Open Doors throughout the United States, however, I've found the opposite to be true. Audiences' response to the message of the persecuted church has been very positive. Christians want to know what's going on with their brothers and sisters around the world. They're hungry for more information. Far from depressing, the narratives of the persecuted hold amazing courage, boldness, strength and perseverance amid difficult, often impossible circumstances.
Persecuted Christians motivate us to face our own situations. These situations may be different from theirs, yet nevertheless challenge us. And if they can endure loss of homes and jobs and worse for the sake of the gospel, I can certainly endure my neighbors' ridicule when I stand up for Jesus.
The International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church (IDOP) on Nov. 13 is a time of intercession through prayer, awareness and action on behalf of those suffering for their faith in Christ. This year an estimated half-million churches of many denominations in 150 countries will take part in the event that has heightened awareness of persecuted Christians since its inception in 1996.
In advance of the upcoming Sunday of intercession, Open Doors USA is sponsoring the "One With Them" campaign. The campaign aims to engage as many Christians as possible in IDOP. A great way to encourage pastors to address the subject of Christian persecution is by encouraging them to download IDOP pastor materials. Videos, lessons and bulletin inserts, plus materials for church leaders, can help church leaders share the story of the persecuted church with congregations, small groups, friends and family. These free downloads are available at www.onewiththem.com.
I urge pastors, church leaders and Christians in the pews to remember the persecuted more than just one Sunday each year. As a reminder to intercede for the suffering church, Open Doors USA is offering "One With Them" wristbands to wear in solidarity with our brothers and sisters in Christ who share our faith but not our freedom.
Through the years Open Doors has seen God respond powerfully to prayer campaigns. One such movement was spearheaded by Open Doors founder Brother Andrew, who began his ministry to the persecuted church with a tiny Volkswagen laden with Bibles he smuggled into nations of the Soviet Bloc. In 1984 the Soviets held at least 325 Christians in prison for their faith. Few Bibles were available in the Soviet Union, where few churches were open and evangelism was one-to-one and secret. Not even Open Doors could make large-scale Bible deliveries into the USSR.
With his spirit empowered by the quiet assurance that God is able to do the impossible, Brother Andrew launched a bold seven-year international prayer campaign for the Soviet Union in 1984. In 1989 Communism began to collapse in Soviet Bloc nations. The Berlin Wall fell. In 1991 the Soviet Union was dissolved.
God answers prayer! Consider volunteering to lead prayer groups for the persecuted. Ready to take an extra step toward raising community awareness about the issue? Open Doors will train you as a "Bridge Builder." Find out more about these opportunities at www.onewiththem.com and www.OpenDoorsUSA.org.
May the hope-filled, triumphant testimonies of the persecuted inspire us to take action on our knees at the throne of grace. God who calls us to pray is faithful to hear and answer our cry.
Dr. Carl Moeller is president and CEO of Open Doors USA, an affiliate of Open Doors International, a worldwide ministry that has supported and strengthened persecuted Christians living in the most dangerous countries around the globe since 1955. For more information, visit www.OpenDoorsUSA.org.
Publication date: October 21, 2011