By Stefan J. Bos, Chief International Correspondent BosNewsLife
BUDAPEST/WASHINGTON (BosNewsLife)– Millions of Christians from Vancouver to Vladivostok were praying Sunday, November 8, for persecuted Christians, amid reports of increased repression in several countries around the world.
The International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church (IDOP) was dedicated to Christians who face persecution from “social discrimination and governmental repression” including the threat of imprisonment or execution for beliefs, organizers said.
“The world watched in horror the unbridled violence that was unleashed on Christians in Orissa state, India last year. There are other places in the world, such as North Korea, where acts of persecution take place, but we often don’t see or hear the full story,” IDOP representatives explained in a statement.
They quoted the founder of well-known advocacy and aid group Open Doors, Anne van der Bijl, or ‘Brother Andrew’, as saying: “Our heroes are not with us simply because they are in prison.”
Annually, Open Doors ranks what it describes as “the worst countries” in terms of persecution. North Korea has topped the list for the past seven years. On the 2009 list, Saudi Arabia and Iran were second and third. Especially Muslims converting to Christianity has been the target of government repression in these countries, rights groups say.
An estimated 100 million Christians worldwide suffer from some form of persecution for their faith in Christ – ranging from interrogation to death, according to Open Doors estimates. Millions more face discrimination and alienation, the group said.
“Almost without exception, the prayer of people in these difficult circumstances is that we not forget them,” added Carl Moeller, the CEO of Open Doors USA.
“When people ask for our prayers they interestingly don’t generally ask for the persecution to stop, but just asking for them to stand strong in the midst of it. Many people do not want to see themselves painted as a church full of supermen or superwomen. They want prayers for God to provide them with the courage to persevere while facing persecution,” he said.
At least over 100,000 churches have taken part in IDOP activities since the day was created in 1996, and churches in more than 130 countries have participated, according to Christian estimates.
In the United States, the Southern California mega church of preacher Rick Warren hosted a forum on the persecuted church with officials, including the vice chair of the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom.
“More than one half of the world’s population lives in places that severely restrict or prohibit the freedom to practice one’s religious beliefs,” explained Warren. “Our prayers and our love are essential to our brothers and sisters who suffer that persecution.”
But an official of Christian rights group The Voice Of the Martyrs (VOM) warned against complacency. The IDOP ““is an important day in the church calendar,” acknowledged Todd Nettleton, a director of VOM USA. “But we don’t want it to be something a church crosses off their list and doesn’t think about for 12 more months. Our hope is that this one day of prayer leads to 364 more days of prayer and action on behalf of our persecuted brothers and sisters.”
Despite an ongoing reported crackdown on Christians in several countries, Open Doors representative Moeller reported more openness towards Christianity in Communist-run China. “We are seeing much more opening to the message of the Gospel. Just as an example, you can go to a Starbucks [coffee shop] in Beijing [where] there are dozens of bulletins about churches and Christian meetings.”
He said however that, “Bibles are scarce in the country even though millions are printed domestically. It’s very difficult to calculate exactly where everything is headed, but there’s no doubt there’s a tremendous opportunity for the church.”
Yet, Moeller still described China as having “one of the most repressive human rights records” especially “how Tibetan minorities are dealt with and ethnic minorities in other parts of the country.” There are believed to be as many as 130 million Christians in China, many of whom meet in house churches, outside government controlled denominations.