Christians worldwide are being called on to pray for over 200 million suffering believers during the International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church on Sunday, Nov. 14. IDOP, one of the largest prayer events in the world, has heightened awareness of the Persecuted Church since its inception in 1996.
"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."
In a recent release by Open Doors USA, one of several Christian agencies collaborating to sponsor IDOP under the umbrella of Prayer for the Persecuted Church, the persecution watchdog called for Christians to pray for believers in such places as North Korea, Saudi Arabia, and Laos.
“The North Korean regime runs the main politico-labor camps where over 200,000 prisoners are held,” Open Doors reported. “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.”
Currently, North Korea stands at the top of Open Doors' annual World Watch List, which ranks countries where persecution is the most severe.
Meanwhile, in the strict Islamic Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, which is No. 2 on the World Watch List, there is hardly any religious freedom, and 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,” Open Doors reported.
In Laos—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,” Open Doors stated.
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 believer was even killed for his faith. The Hmong ethnic group - many of whom are Christians - face the most severe persecution.
IDOP Prayers topics for suggested by the World Evangelical Alliance’s Religious Liberty Commission (RLC) also include the African religious fault-line, Sudan, China, and Vietnam.
The African ethnic-religious fault-line, which has seen significant religious strife, spans the continent from the Atlantic to the Red Sea, cutting through north-west Liberia; the centers of Ivory Coast, Ghana, Togo, Benin and Nigeria; northern Cameroon, southern Chad, central Sudan and northern Eritrea. As with all ethnic-religious fault-lines, there is the potential for a 'clash of civilizations'.
“Sudan, Nigeria and Ivory Coast have seen significant religious strife instigated by Islamic groups and tribes seeking dominance and the imposition of Sharia (Islamic) Law,” the RLC reported. “However, the problem is wider than those three nations.”
In July and August this year, foreign Islamic militants tried to stir up religious hatred and conflict against Christians in northern Cameroon. Violent ethnic incidents with an overt religious dimension recently erupted in Monrovia, Liberia, and in southern Chad.
According to the RLC, the situation in Ivory Coast is becoming more volatile by the day. “This whole religious fault-line is unstable,” the RLC stated. “The Church in these affected nations needs our most fervent prayers.”
For the predominantly Christian Africans of Southern Sudan, who have lived with civil war and Islamic jihad for 20 years, it has been a turbulent journey since July 2002 when the historic Machakos Protocol opened the way for peace talks.
The last round of peace talks, which started on Oct. 7, are designed to formalize a permanent ceasefire, but there is the concern that two years of talks could now be lost to the crisis in Darfur, to Islamist pressure in Khartoum, or to a renewed determination from the Government of Sudan (GoS) to keep control of the south. “The situation is extremely fragile,” the RLC said, “with reports of GoS troops and Arab militias (janjaweed) moving into Southern Sudan, provoking fear of a return to war.”
However, the commission reported that true peace in Southern Sudan would have positive consequences in Darfur and Northern Uganda and would also weaken militant Islamist movements in other African nations.
“While we pray for this peace deal, what is needed is not simply a peace document, but a deep desire for and commitment to peace,” the RLC stated.
The talks are set to resume on Nov. 26.
In China, officials in Beijing are revamping its religious policy to give religious groups autonomy and bring State authorities under the rule of law, thus clamping down on unconstitutional State interference and abuse of power. However, Religious Affairs Bureau (RAB) officials are not united, the RLC reports, with some fearing a possible threat to social cohesion. “This debate, and the fact that a fresh human rights dialogue is about to start with the USA are issues we must pray through,” the RLC wrote. “Ask that God will bring religious freedom to China, so the Church can be released from suffering, for its mission of salvation and righteousness.”
Meanwhile in Vietnam, where a new ordinance on beliefs and religions is due to come into force this month, the RLC reports that the government may use the new Ordinance to perpetuate and justify its severe persecution of the Church, which it accuses of being a threat to communal harmony and national security.
“The Ordinance offers full religious freedom to all, but promises to crush anyone or anything that threatens communal harmony or national security,” the RLC reported.
In a recent statement regarding the new law, the Vietnam Evangelical Fellowship said: "[The Ordinance] will create many problems and disadvantages for the church, especially for our gatherings for worship. At the same time, it is likely to permanently outlaw our house church organizations, none of which have been recognized since 1975. Many articles in this ordinance will also provide a legal basis for local authorities to hinder and persecute the church."
The statement also asked for prayer that the government of Vietnam would withdraw the new law and to stop all forms of persecution and hindrances to church activities.
The proposed law on religion, which was issued on June 18, is due to take effect on Nov. 15, the day after the IDOP.