By BosNewsLife News Center in Budapest with Stefan J. Bos, Chief International Correspondent BosNewsLife
BUDAPEST, HUNGARY (BosNewsLife)– Millions of Christians around the world were expected Sunday, November 13, to participate in the ‘International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church’ (IDOP), amid mounting concerns over a global crackdown on devoted believers.
“There are many countries in the world today where Christians are martyred for their faith. Believers in Afghanistan are facing death threats; Christians in Uzbekistan, Nigeria and many other countries all around the world face violence, imprisonment and even death,” IDOP organizers said in a statement.
“There are other places in the world such as North Korea where acts of persecution take place, but we don’t see or hear of it.”
IDOP is a time set apart to remember “our Christian brothers and sisters around the world who suffer persecution, simply because they confess Jesus Christ as Lord,” organizers said, adding that believers are ofcourse free to pray at another date.
The IDOP, which was first organized in 1996, has evolved into one of the largest worldwide prayer events in existence today, according to Christian Freedom International, a major advocacy group supporting the iniative.
Sunday’s prayers came amid new known reports of persecution, including proposals by Hindu hardliners in India to change the constitution to “behead anyone who convert Hindu’s” including devoted Christians.
And, while Christians prayed Sunday, November 13, a jailed pastor of one of Iran’s largest evangelical house church movements reportedly remained “strong in his faith” in Christ, despite facing execution before Christmas for refusing to return to Islam.
“Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani remains in Lakan Prison in Iran’s Gilan Province. He continues to stand strong in his faith and remains in good spirits and health,” Firouz Khandjani, a council member of the Church of Iran, told BosNewsLife.
The 11th circuit court in Gilan who sentenced him earlier still awaits an opinion from Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Khameini on whether to hang the pastor for “apostasy”, or abandoning Islam, trial observers said.
He isn’t the only Christian facing death. In Pakistan, for instance, Asia Bibi, awaits the outcome of an appeal against her death sentence for allegedly violating her country’s controversial blasphemy legislation following an argument with Muslim co-workers. The 45-year-old mother and wife has been confined to a small 8 feet by 10 feet prison cell near the Pakistan city of Faisalabad, awaiting possible death.
Her troubles began when Muslims refused to drink from the same water bowl as Asia, a farm worker, saying it was contaminated because she’s a Christian.
When Asia defended her faith, the farm workers accused her of insulting Islam’s prophet Mohmmed, Christians said. She was taken into police custody soon afterward. A local judge found Asia guilty of blasphemy and sentenced her to death by hanging.
Asia’s husband says he and his two young daughters have endured threats but that their faith remains strong. “I was strong in my faith before this incident, but after the incident I am more encouraged,” Masih told U.S.based Christian Broadcasting Network this month. “It is written in the Bible, ‘In my name you will face persecution and people will blame you and curse you.’ And we are facing that.”
“Asia never left her faith,” he added. “She’s faithful and she never denied her faith.”
His wife is among at least over 100 million Christians facing persecution around the world, according to estimates by Open Doors, a group supporting Christians in dozens of “restrictive countries”, such as North Korea, Iran, Iraq, China and Colombia.
“Our heroes are not with us simply because they are in prison,” explained Open Doors founder Anne van der Bijl, also known as ‘Brother Andrew’.
The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom has said it notes that persecution has become especially prevalent in countries such as India and Iraq, while countries “of particular concern” that have been known for “consistent religious and human rights violations” reportedly include North Korea, China, and Sudan.