It seems like every day we hear stories about refugees fleeing from the terror of ISIS. Most commentary on these stories has focused on the need for the governments of the United States and its allies to act quickly to provide a safe haven for refugees and to develop and implement an effective strategy for defeating the Islamic State. These are critically important steps that must be taken and more advocacy is undoubtedly needed to move government to act.
But is it enough?
According to the Open Doors 2015 World Watch List, last year had the highest level of global persecution of Christians in the modern era. More than 100 million Christians were persecuted worldwide, making them one of the most persecuted religious groups in the world. Unfortunately, it is looking as if this year will be even worse.
While freedom-loving governments must act on behalf of the persecuted, they are not the only ones who have a critical role to play.
Christians who enjoy the freedom to practice their faith must take action to support our brothers and sisters around the world who are being persecuted for their Christian faith. Here are five steps we can all take to care for those being tortured, discriminated against, kidnapped, raped, and even killed as a result of their faith.
1. Spread the word.
Even Christian-majority nations are experiencing unprecedented levels of exclusion, discrimination, and violence. Christianity in the Middle East is almost extinct, as most Christians in the area have either fled or been killed in the rampage of Islamic State extremists.
Here are some startling facts to ponder and share with others:
- Christians in more than 60 countries face persecution from their government or neighbors simply because of their belief in Jesus.
- More than 75 percent of the Christian community in Iraq has been forced to flee.
- Some 700,000 Christians have fled Syria over the past four and a half years.
- While the situation in the Middle East is dire for Christians, it is important to note that North Korea has been named to most dangerous place in the world to be a Christian for the past 12 years.
Share these facts with your friends, neighbors, and family either online or in conversation. I would bet most don’t know the true scope of Christian persecution in the world today.
2. Pray with the persecuted.
Prayer enables us to support suffering Christians in far-away, persecuted countries. During my tenure at Open Doors USA, I have been fortunate to meet many Christians who have been persecuted. I always ask them how we can help, and the responses are invariably the same: “Please pray for us! Don’t forget us.” It is prayer they crave more than anything else — even more than material goods.
Recently, an Egyptian pastor who helped organize large prayer gatherings had a different take on the direction of our prayers. He said: “Don’t pray for us. Please pray with us. If you pray for us, you will pray for the wrong things.”
Then he told us how Christians can pray with them: for the salvation of the country, that God would draw millions to Jesus Christ, for Christians to be bold in sharing their faith, and, finally, to not run away, but be faithful in persecution, even if it costs Christians their lives.
Prayer takes but a moment, and it is felt across the ocean and around the world. Most importantly, it is heard in heaven. I would encourage you to pray daily.
3. Engage your church community.
In the book, Persecuted: The Global Assault on Christians, my friends Paul Marshall, Lela Gilbert, and Nina Shea include several aids to intercession. I encourage you to do at least one of the following:
- Start a persecuted church prayer group and hold a prayer vigil
- Remember persecuted Christians during prayers at church
- Provide bulletin inserts with prayer points
- Read testimonies from persecuted believers
- Use a world map in family prayer time
There are so many ways to engage your own church in supporting persecuted Christians. Be creative and think about how you would want to be supported if you were in their shoes.
4. Participate in the International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church.
The annual International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church is an excellent way to learn more about worldwide Christian persecution and pray for persecuted believers. This year’s event will be held Sunday, Nov. 1.
To prepare your church to participate in the event, Open Doors will hold a special webcast on Friday, Oct. 30, from 8-10 p.m. EST that will include inspirational stories from Christians who live in some of the most dangerous countries in the world. Churches and individuals can tune in to get informed and learn more about why persecution still exists, and how Western Christians can help.
Open Doors has launched an opportunity for Americans to sign a petition demanding action to (1) ensure aid is reaching the most vulnerable, (2) strengthen efforts to defeat ISIS and (3) commit to a long-term investment in the region.
The petition, addressed to Secretary of State John Jerry and Ambassador Alfonso Lenhardt, acting administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), will be delivered to Sec. Kerry and Amb. Lenhardt on International Human Rights Day — Dec. 10, 2015. It can be found here.
It is time to act.
Let persecuted Christians around the world know they are not alone and they are not forgotten. Spread the word, pray, engage your church community, participate in the International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church, and advocate on their behalf.