Christians around the world will unite for the International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church this Sunday, Nov. 2, to petition for brothers and sisters in Christ who face oppression, imprisonment, and at an increasing rate, death for their faith.
Sponsored by the Religious Liberty Commission of the World Evangelical Alliance, this year's theme 'Don't Stand in Silence' echoes the commands of Hebrews 13:3, "Remember the prisoners as if chained with them - those who are mistreated - since you yourselves are in the body also." This event calls on believers to bear one another's burdens, and also to pray that God would change the hearts of persecutors.
The event, which will be recognized the first two Sundays of November, is a call to action under a wave of modern day Christian persecution that has reached unprecedented heights. Prayer is critical during these changing times.
"The IDOP gives us the privilege of joining together with over half a million churches in 150 countries to pray for the suffering church," said Godfrey Yogarajah, WEA Executive Director, in a statement on the organization's website. "It plays a vital role in encouraging and strengthening the persecuted church and also awakening churches in places where there is no persecution."
According to Yogarajah, more than 100 million Christians worldwide face persecution each day for their faith in Christ.
Pastor Saeed Abedini is one of those under intense oppression for his allegiance to Christ. Imprisoned in Iran, he has become the face of modern day persecution and one of several cases that have become the focus of the grassroots Be Heard Project. The organization's petition - signed by more than 305,000 people - demands his immediate release.
Arrested by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard on September 26, 2012, he was sentenced to eight years in prison just four months later. He received the sentence due to his efforts in evangelizing Iranian youth away from Islamic teachings.
Abedini's harsh punishment mirrors the growing epidemic of persecution at the hands of militant extremist groups like the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. Their violent activities have spilled into many countries, beyond Iraq and Syria, and have flourished in Nigeria, India, Pakistan, Sudan and Sri Lanka. David Curry, CEO and president of Open Doors, believes the lack of attention surrounding the plight of Christians has contributed to the rise in present day oppression.
Open Doors is a Christian persecution watchdog group that offers resources for IDOP, as well as webcasts where believers can join together in prayer and listen to commentary on the specific relevant issues.
"Unless we understand that threat, not just to Christians in the region but to people worldwide, we're not going to respond properly," Curry told the Christian Post in an interview. "I think it has risen because of a lack of attention and a lack of concern for Christians and other minority groups."
Even in the U.S., harassment of Christians has increased at an unexpected rate. This weekend, thousands are expected to gather in Houston, Texas for the 'I Stand Sunday' event in support of area pastors whose sermons and communications were subpoenaed by Mayor Annise Parker. Following an outcry from the Christian community, the mayor chose to withdraw the subpoenas this week, but attendees still plan to gather in Houston for prayer, fellowship, and ongoing dialogue regarding increasing persecution locally and globally.
Curry believes that Americans must come together in this manner to support one another, and pray as one body, and IDOP provides the perfect opportunity for just that.
"I think it's important considering all that has happened in the last year, from Iraq to Syria, to the issues of persecution in North Korea; that we have a time here in America to come together and pray as one body of believers for the people who are part of our family, who are persecuted," he said.
The Open Doors webcasts will be aired at 5 p.m. PST on Saturday, and 4 p.m. PST on Sunday.