WASHINGTON – Leaders of three religious freedom organizations encouraged the faithful in America to intercede for persecuted believers in other parts of the world and to spread the word about their plight.
"Americans can help by just telling others and getting the story out," said Jeff King, president of International Christian Concern (ICC) in Washington. "Most people don't know how bad things are."
David Miller, managing editor of Compass Direct, agreed, saying that various atrocities often don't involve mass numbers of victims and fail to generate headlines.
"There's very little interest in the mainline press," Miller said. "People don't want to read about it. But it's happening, and people need to read about it."
Felix Corley, editor of Forum 18 News Service, said the continuing nature of attacks on religious freedoms of all peoples is particularly bothersome. The issue is so severe, that Corley lists the erosion of religious freedom the past 10 years as the group’s leading concern.
In recent weeks, Forum 18 has reported on the seizure of a Methodist church in Moscow and the arrest of a Baptist pastor in Turkmenistan. Among other situations Forum 18 is following are continued state atheism in Belarus, repression practiced by Azerbaijan and continued toleration of violence against religious minorities in the former Soviet state of Georgia.
"Sadly, there are other countries which could be added to that list, as well as countries like Saudi Arabia and Indonesia," Corley said.
Saudi Arabia and Indonesia were among offenders listed in the latest International Religious Freedom Report, released Dec. 18 by the U.S. State Department. The report also cited Burma, China, Cuba, Laos, North Korea and Vietnam for totalitarian attempts to control religion. Iran, Iraq, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan were listed as practicing state hostility toward minority or non-approved religions.
The ICC reported the slaughter of 10,000 Christians in Indonesia over the past five years. In addition, according to the ICC, 1,000 churches have been destroyed, along with 80,000 Christians' homes. In December 2003 alone, 30 Christians were killed in the highly Hindi nation.
In other parts of Asia, persecution seemingly intensified as more people turned to Christ.
Compass Direct reported Dec. 29 that a Chinese house church leader died while in police custody after her arrest by police Oct. 29. The news service reported that Zhang Hongmei, 33, was seen at the police station in heavy chains and injured, and the next day her family learned she had died.
In Vietnam, spiritual leaders who are not registered with the government were threatened with death. Last year, The Washington-based Center for Religious Freedom reported that police beat three Hmong Christians to death, including the 10-year-old child of a church leader. Compass Direct also reported of an impending trial of a Vietnamese house church leader arrested for resisting an officer last August.
In the Communist “Hermit” nation North Korea, A full-gospel church center was recently confiscated by the government and more than 300 Pentecostals imprisoned for having Bibles, attending house church meetings or sharing their faith, according to Miller.
Among them were 62 teenagers who were arrested last year at a military summer camp, locked in metal shipping containers and told to renounce their faith, Miller said. While most were released, the Compass editor said another 75 soldiers are still being held for the same reason.
"North Korea is a place where they put you to death or put you in prison if you have a Bible," King said. "There's two kinds of death, one slow and one quick. Yet there is an underground church. The more they try to stamp it out, the more the light shines."
In India, a Hindu fundamentalist movement has led to laws against converting to other faiths. Often, Hindus will attack Christian schools, churches or evangelical rallies, beating believers with sticks, he said. If police come, the attackers claim their victims were blaspheming their gods.
"It's a lot like Nazi Germany in the 1930s, where people used anti-Semitic laws to attack the Jews," Miller said. "Hindu nationalists share some of the same fascist ideology as the Nazis in Germany."
The three leaders agreed the situation couldn’t be alleviated with efforts within those nations alone. They urged American believers to assist organizations the provide Bibles, training and supplies to the persecuted families, and to write to leaders at Capitol Hill to act upon these issues. But most importantly, they urged the believers to pray for their fellow brothers and sisters.
“Pray," Miller said. He suggested dedicating a particular Sunday or including it as an ongoing request on church prayer lists.
"They've given us testimony after testimony of how prayer has made a difference," the Compass editor said. "It's the most effective thing we can do, and it's something every Christian can do."